Building Communication Skills with your Students

Building Communication Skills with your Students

Have you ever had a chatty class?

Umm yeah!!¬†who doesn’t

So I assume that because I have a chatty class that they we are going to have these great discussions when we sit down to learn.

And then……nothing

Nada, zip, zilch

There is no talking when I ask a question. These kids who wouldn’t be quiet and took forever to get focused because they were so chatty are now all staring at me with blank faces….saying nothing.

Here is what I realizedNeed help engaging your students in discussion? Click through to learn how you can build communication with your students!

Working Memory Problems

-I have had students in my class with working memory difficulty. These kids struggle with on demand tasks like academic conversations on the fly. These kids need supports to help them participate in class. Giving them thinking time and the ability to write things down is important. Scaffold the discussion with a prompt page or simply let them take some notes during the conversation.

The Awkward Pause

So people are naturally inclined to fill in silence, my students were doing this to me. If they waited I would just keep talking. I would inevitably answer my own question and they would just get to passively take a break while I just gave them all the answers.

Boy was I talking too much

So it was time to flip the script and sit and wait give them the awkward pause and see if they took the cue to start talking.

Sure enough some of them did. It worked!!

Sound easy? It totally wasn’t it was the hardest thing ever. As my voice was screaming “let me out” but I had to keep that cage door shut!!! ūüė≥

So slowly but surely a few of them started to talk. Now I just needed more of them talking instead of just a few.

Engaging the Sidelines

Normally it is a few students in the class that do the majority of the talking.

This was something I wanted to improve my goal was to have rich discussions with everyone in my class not just a select few.

So I could have done the old method of just calling out random kids off my class list. But….that is terrifying for many kids so I rarely do it.

Planned sharing… as my students would work on their differentiated math pages I would walk around the room occasionally and see students who were doing well or better yet a student that had struggled previously and had just had a breakthrough. I would ask if they would be willing to share their learning. We would look at their failure and they would then share their breakthrough.

Adding their voice in a strategic way increased their confidence in talking in front of the group. They could share their learning from their place on the carpet.

Student to Student

In many classrooms if you map the conversation patterns it would look like a bouncing ball between you and a student. If I really wanted a student centered classroom then I needed to get out of the center of the conversation. So I explicitly talked to students about how to talk to one another. We talked about how to ask questions of each other, how to build on to conversations and how to disagree with respect, Use the acronym IDEAS to help your students learn how to add to a class conversationI – inquire: ask questions of the speaker to build on the discussionD- Disagree: part of having a conversation is hearing different view points. Teach students to disagree respectfully with each other. E- Expand: get students to extend the conversation by digging deeper and asking why. Go bigger or deeper with these questions. A- Agree and Add On: show your support and add on by offering additional evidence S- Summarize and Clarify: sometimes saying it in a different way to clarify a point is an important part of conversations Brainstorm different sentence stems and slowly introduce and model these for students.

Listening for Speaking

If you have ever had an argument with someone….like maybe your spouse. You will know that sometimes you listen to understand their point and other times you are just waiting for your next chance to jump in and say something. So instead of listening you are planning what you are going to say next. Students quickly learn who to listen to and often it is not each other. So this is an area that we should try to change. Because it is important that students not only listen to us, their teacher but they should also listen to each other Using the accountable talk IDEAS strategy mentioned above is one way to increase listening since they have to listen in order to understand. Another is to explicitly teach them what good listening looks like. Eyes on the speaker, body still, mouth closed, hands free. So get them talking byIdentifying and gaps is memoryUsing the awkward pauseEngaging the sidelinesIncreasing student to student conversations.

Design Your Classroom For Inquiry

Design Your Classroom For Inquiry

As I think about teachers going back into the classroom this is one of my most favourite times.  Getting my classroom ready.

It is often the cleanest that it will ever be and the most photo ready.

Classrooms today look different so as we are getting ready to go back to school, perhaps we have to think differently about how our rooms are designed.

If we are using a student-centered inquiry approach in our classroom then responsive design can be translated into our classroom too.  Below are the three must have design elements that are essential for inquiry.

Learning Areas

With inquiry you need to consider that there is going to be a few different learning styles that you will ask students to participate in.  I feel there are three different types of spaces you need to have.

First you need a large gathering space.

  • a carpet area for students to sit on
  • an area to move chairs to sit together
  • the ability to move tables surrounding a large gathering space.

What you don’t want is students sitting apart. ¬†Group them close together instead.

This also means that your desk/table placement does not need every student to ‘face the board’ if their learning space is reserved for independent work then they do not need to be able to face the board. ¬†Get them moving and changing locations throughout the day. ¬†This is easily accomplished if you have a gathering space.

Small Group Learning

In inquiry, students should be grouped together so that they have opportunities to learn from one another.  Grouping desks or tables together so that students can learn from one another will help to foster more inquiry and better conversations in your classroom.

This does take a bit of work to teach students to work in groups but with enough practice and routine students can do this.

You also need a space for independent work.

provide some spaces where your students can work independently in your classroom. Think about different levels and not just sitting in a chair at their desk.

If your goal is work completion then does it really matter where this happens? I think it doesn’t.

So think creatively about where students can and want to work in your classroom during independent times.  Kids like to stand, sit, lie down, hide, and move and adjust. Some like silence while others like music.  If it works for them and work gets done can we be more flexible about how and where they sit in our rooms?


There are a few things that could be considered essential materials for all inquiry classrooms.

  • chart paper is great for recording learning goals, student ideas, brainstorming and a whole lot more.
  • markers cannot be erased so it helps students share their thinking in a permanent way. ¬†It is also easy for others to see and great for your chart paper.
  • scrap books or duo-tangs are an alternative to binders. ¬†For me binders just take up too much space and there is so much loose paper. ¬†(I can’t take it really). ¬†Duo-tangs are easily portable for me but I honestly prefer scrapbooks or books of lined paper that easily fit an 8.5x 11 paper.
  • clip boards are an essential tool needed if you want students to be working with flexible seating.
  • technology – it is inevitable that in today’s inquiry classrooms tech tools are becoming more and more prevalent. ¬†This means that you should work towards getting more tech in your room. ¬†Lobby your admin or apply for grants if necessary to get more tech tools. ¬†Bring your own device is another option to supplement when you don’t have enough tech to start with.


Colour choice is important for making or breaking the feel and energy in our room.

Here is what I have learned. ¬†Pick a colour and repeat it…everywhere.

My first year in my classroom the boards were a dull army green, not the atmosphere that I was trying to convey.

Then I painted. ¬†I picked three colours for my boards. ¬†Blue, green, and yellow. ¬†I liked it at first but it always looked messy and cluttered to me and I was forever trying to organize it. ¬†It seemed busy and I didn’t know why.


I then read a blog post? or podcast? from School Girl Style!!

She has an amazing design sense and if you ever need to see a Pinterest worthy classroom she is amazing.

However, her¬†tip was that all the boards should be the same base colour. ¬†This was because when you walk in the room with multiple colours yours eyes don’t know where to focus. ¬†However, if every board is one colour then you don’t focus on that¬†and they don’t steal the focus.


It makes a difference.

So here is my tip for you.

  • Pick a border that you love perhaps one that has a few colours in it.
  • Choose a solid colour border for layering either plain or patterned (dots, stripes, chevron)
  • Choose one colour¬†for the board background. ¬†For all the board space.

Some colours are better for certain age groups.  Primary colours for primary like an 8 pack crayon box, secondary colours for junior, more sophisticated colour combinations for intermediate and high school.  Check out this blog post for great colour combinations.

What goes on the walls?

In my opinion nothing right away.  Leave them blank.

When designing your classroom for inquiry you have to know that your room should be a reflection of the learning that your students are doing.

That means save your money on all of those posters, cutesy quote boards, or any other boards that you put up. ¬†If the information doesn’t reflect the learning of your students then take it down, or don’t put it up in the first place. ¬†Ask yourself if a large birthday board really a great use of space? Save those Pinterest worthy boards for outside in the hallway.

This means that really you can save yourself some time by not putting much up at the beginning of the year.

Let your walls grow with your students.  Make them living learning walls.

My goal is that when a stranger walks into my room they should be able to tell what has been happening in my room and what we are learning.

I generally try to have one board area for the core subjects taught in my room. ¬†Language, Math, Science/Social Studies all have a dedicated space in my room. ¬†I am lucky to have great board space in my room. ¬†If you don’t then get creative and use any available vertical space that you have access too.

Use the back of shelves, or file cabinets, windows, doors, or trifold boards as additional board space if you need it.

As for art or other types of classroom decor Рput that outside in the hallway or on your door.  Keep the inside of your classroom for learning and set this as a priority.


How do you plan to design your classroom to get ready for inquiry? Join the discussion about this topic here 

Then grab your free checklist to help you plan out the design for your own classroom.

Keep reading about classroom design on these other blog posts below

Want to learn a bit more about why I use tables instead of desks? Read the blog post about this here!

To learn more about how design is important for language you can read more here. 

Build Online Student Research Skills

Build Online Student Research Skills

These key ideas are important for research skills! Get a skim and scan anchor chart as a free bonus upgrade to help with online research too

Research is one of the many tasks that students need to develop especially in today’s classroom with many inquiry projects, google and student led activities. Building student research skills is so important, and how to sort through too much research to find what they need, especially at their reading level is important.

By grade 4 students are finally ready to conduct some simple independent research.  However, up until this point, they often have very little experience with doing this.  This is one of the many tasks that needs to be explicitly taught.

Here are some tips to help your students research

Teach Them How to Skim and Scan

This skill will help them to determine if the text they are reading is a good fit for what they are looking for.

Skimming is a skill that involved students determining if the article is appropriate for what they need so that they don’t waste time reading a whole article that isn’t relevant. ¬†They will skim through the not fiction text features to find out if they need to read more or skip it.

This skill is best modeled for students by the teacher.  Show them exactly what you want them to do and talk through your process to doing it.  This can be repeated as necessary for students in guided sessions if they need additional support.

Scanning goes a little deeper to determine if what they read answers their question.

Once they have skimmed the text to determine that it is a good fit then they need to skim the sections of the text for the facts that answer their questions.

This is also easily modeled to students and this skill can be practiced.  Use this anchor chart to help your students to follow along with key steps to help them skim and scan.

Skimming and Scanning are best taught in conjunction with summarizing.  This skill is essential to help students to get the GIST of the article that they are reading to make sure that they pulling out key details.  Summarizing and research are two skills that work very well together.

Get your skimming and scanning anchor chart here now.

Teach them How to Google

When I was in school I was taught how to use the Dewey Decimal System. ¬†Today as teachers it is important to teach them how to Google. (is it just me or do you hear the song “Teach them how to Dougie”)

I use the analogy with my students that they wouldn’t walk into a library and yell “How many years does a bear live?” and expect a book to fly off the shelf and hit them in the head. ¬†They would also not expect to see a book titled “How long ¬†a Bear Lives”

They would look simply for a book on bears.

Google works the same way.

They cannot ask Google a  question and automatically get the information they are looking for.  We need to teach them how to google.  Here is a helpful page to use to help you learn how to google more effectively. 

Learning how to Google is an important skill and this lesson can also touch on many cross-curricular expectations to make these lessons a good bang for your buck.

Assessing Websites

Once your students know how to skim and scan a text. They understand how to summarize a text and they can google effectively it is now important that they learn to sort the good, the bad, and the ugly (fake news)

To build student research skills there are things that students can look for to help them determine if a website is a good quality site that may be reliable.

Recognizable Brand

Sites like National Geographic, Scholastic, Encyclopedias, PBS, BBC and other news agencies are reliable and recognizable websites that are good places to start with student research.

Look at the URL

The URL gives many clues about how credible the source.  Web sites that have the domain of .edu, and .gov are restricted and can only be used by certain institutions.  These are generally considered reliable.  If you are looking for information from specific regions the country domains such as .ca will let students know what country the website is from.

If you are looking for information from specific regions the country domains such as .ca will let students know what country the website is from.  This will support student research when they are looking for content that is region specific.

Complicated URL sources with long unrecognizable names or blogs that are not simple .coms may be someone’s personal site and the information should be validated on multiple sites.

About Me and Bias

Web sites for student research should be clear about who the author is and who is producing the content.  The author should be identified on the article themselves with a bio.  If this is not present there should be a detailed about me page that identifies who wrote the information.

Authors should be experts on the subject area.  Are they credible?  Sometimes many popular research sites are not curated by experts and some are even student created websites.  This is fine to use as a source but again the information should be validated in multiple places.

Another factor is bias.  On the web, anyone can post their opinion.  It is important for students to understand bias and how to recognize this in what they are reading.


Whenever you talk about student research skills you inevitably talk about plagiarism. This is a great time to introduce your students to the concept of plagiarism.  Today it is easy for students to simply just copy and paste what they read online into their notes then copy their notes into their own writing.

For me, this is a very simple concept.  The original author owns the sentence.  They have put the words together into a sentence.  This is something that you cannot copy.  However, at this age, they are not doing research into topics that may be unique or based on original research.

So this means that they can use the fact from the sentence but they cannot use the whole sentence.

student research skills with skimming and scanning

Help your students to skim and scan a text to help them build their student research skills.

Again this is where the ability to teach your students how to do a GIST summary will help.  Extracting the keywords from what they read.  They assembling them into a summary is a very specific strategy that is similar to making research notes.  They have to focus on the key ideas and ignore the fluff to write a summary.  This is the same skill that students use when extracting information for researching too.

More information about the GIST strategy with summarizing can be found here.

Don’t forget to grab the Skim and Scan Anchor chart page that goes with this blog post.

Researching by using the web,  is an important skill for student to master

inquiry, research, Madly Learning

Join Madly Learning in the Teaching with Inquiry Facebook group

Did you know that this post originally started off as a Facebook Live Video? This and many other things are talked about every week in my Teaching With Inquiry Facebook group. ¬†If you aren’t already a member click here to join us and learn more about how to start using inquiry in your classroom.


Classroom Tech Tools That Support Inquiry

Classroom Tech Tools That Support Inquiry

classroom tech toolsTechnology in the classroom constantly changes and so are the classroom tech tools that we use every day with our students.

Sometimes it is just hard to stay with it when everything is changing right?

Classroom Tech Tools, Tech Tool tip sheet FreebiePutting these classroom tech tools to work in your classroom goes hand in hand with building a 21st-century learning environment.   

So what tech do you need to use in your classroom today?

I compiled my top five classroom tech tools you need to try right now in your classroom.  These are tools for my students and help me to streamline my teaching with digital resources.

I talked about these five tips and added 6 more just for you in this freebie that you can get by signing up here.  This link will give you access to my Tech Tips for Inquiry freebie and access to many more free resources too from both my TPT store and my FB live session freebies.

So without further ado…here are my top five classroom tech tools to use in your classroom now.

Classroom Tech Tool #1: Google Classroom

This tech tool is number one for a reason.  If you are doing anything digital you need a digital learning management system.  (a term that really just means digital hand in bin).  Google Classroom is my tool of choice. I have blogged about it here on my site here.  This tool supports your ability to manage students digital work and helps to keep the work out of your inbox and in a highly organized system right in your google drive.

Google Classroom also helps you to manage and provide timely feedback which helps to support you through the cycle of assessment and learning (more about that here).  I love being able to leave feedback that is easily accessible to both the student and I all the time.

Classroom Tech Tool #2

Ok this one is an oldie but a goodie and maybe a bit surprising. ¬†It is on my list because if you are going digital you need a way to create templates for students. ¬†Graphic organizers, templates, worksheets etc can all be created on…

Powerpoint or Keynote

If you like these pages to look familiar (and pretty) then this is your go to tool.

Make a page that you would normally make to print.  Then export the slides as an image file.  Once you have these saved as an image file they can be used as templates and backgrounds in other apps like google drive, google classroom, pic collage, and explain everything.

Classroom Tech Tool #3

If you are looking for an app that helps students do just about everything, then Explain Everything is your app.  This app is like having an interactive smart board on every iPad.  You can draw, annotate, record, write, film, and take photos all within the app.

To capture thinking students can take a picture or video of their work. Then they can record themselves telling you what they see and what they did.  Their work can be easily exported into a variety places making it easy to share with you.

Classroom Tech Tool #4

QR code readers make accessing tech simple and easy for students.  With the snap of a picture, students can quickly access a web resource that you want to send them too without the need for copying a complex URL into their browser.

Another tool that helps students access web resources quickly is ““. ¬†If students are working with a desktop computer, a qr code isn’t your best option. ¬†So, shortening the complex URL to a short easy to use one is. ¬† is an easy way to shorten these links into easy to remember custom short links.

Use both of these tools in conjunction and you have a winning strategy for students to access web resources quickly and easily.

Classroom Tech Tool #5

Use a camera and take photos and videos of everything.  You should be taking photos and so should your students.

There is no better way, in my opinion, to capture learning, save ideas, gather assessment data, record observations, save lessons, etc.  Then a simple portable device with a camera (and backed up using google photos to save your storage space)

I have used the camera to share with parents what is happening in our classroom.

Students have used the camera to record what is happening in our classroom on Instagram as a student reporter. (here’s how)

I have recorded observations of student learning, filmed presentations, recorded lessons, share our learning with others, stored lesson ideas,and saved memories through the use of the camera.

It is simple and we may take it for granted but in our busy classrooms, we barely get a chance to pee in a day if a photo is worth 1000 words that photo sure saves me precious minutes of writing down that observation.

Don’t miss out on 6 more tools that I use in my classroom by getting access to my Tech Tools Resource in my Free Resource Library.¬†


technology | classroom | inquiry | elementary

If you missed me talking about this live,¬†then you need to join our private FB group “Teaching with Inquiry”. ¬†Join like minded people to talk teaching strategies and share your journey with others and get inspired to do more with inquiry in your classroom.

Ready, Set, Go  Get Started with Differentiated Instruction

Ready, Set, Go Get Started with Differentiated Instruction

Understand why differentiation is important, but not sure where to start? Click through to learn how to get started with differentiated instruction! differentiation | elementary | ontario | teachers | student

So if you understand the concept and benefits of differentiated instruction for the students in your classroom but are not sure where to start then hopefully this post will help you to set the stage and get started with differentiation.

My biggest motivation for differentiated instruction is my students with different learning needs.  This started with teaching ELL students and continues within my classroom walls.  In my time as an ELL teacher going into others classrooms there were many times that the DRA assessment would level the ELL student and then all other materials would be given to the student at that level.  This was always a problem for me as a teacher.  These students were not cognitively working at a grade one level and many of them were at grade level in their home language just not in English.

They knew what time it was but couldn’t communicate that understanding to you in English. ¬†That didn’t mean that they needed to learn how to tell time.

I watched too many students disengage with work or pretend or hide that they didn’t know what to do in a classroom because they didn’t want to look stupid in front of their peers.

For me as a teach this is my main motivation for differentiation.  To allow the students who need the modifications or accommodations to get them without making them feel dumb or stupid or lose face in front of their peers.

If we really want differentiation to work we need to understand that in some way we need to set up routines, and a culture in our classroom where students understand that everyone is working on a different level and that there is more than one way to meet a goal.

Set the tone

In your classroom you need to model that there are many pathways to success.  Showing students multiple ways to do things is critical.

Don’t Judge a Kid by His Reading Level

There are many many times where a student may struggle with reading but have amazing potential and cognitive abilities.  Learning to access these is a key component to differentiation.  We need to stop associating a students ability to read with their ability to think.  By building on the strengths of the student we can help them access far more material. Reading is a complex task involving many skills, understanding which part of reading will help you to better differentiate.  But if your task assesses other subject areas how can you accommodate for the weakness in reading?



If you have multiple students doing multiple tasks at once in your classroom then you need to have solid routines set in place that describe how students function and work within your classroom. ¬†It makes in much more difficult to just make it up as you go if you don’t have a structure or a framework to rely on. ¬†At the beginning of each year or again later in the year when I feel that some of my routines may be slipping I revisit this list I made. ¬†I use this every year to remind myself of how I want my classroom to run. ¬†Check out my free routines pack here¬†

Classroom Management

This is another important skill that needs to be firmly established before you begin to differentiate your instruction.  There is no way that I could have 30+ kids all doing different types of tasks without good classroom management strategies.  Incorporating ideas from growth mindset, whole brain teaching, brag tags and many more classroom management tools I began using this past year.  Many different strategies will work but whatever strategy you use for classroom management you need to be confident, consistant and firm.  I may be open to a variety of learning opportunities.

Build Independence

This is another area that may take some time to establish. ¬†It is the number one excuse for why teachers cannot embrace inquiry and cannot do centers and therefore cannot differentiate. ¬†All most all students can gain some independence skills. ¬†I set the expectation that students should be able to work independently we work together to establish the routines and the expectations that will allow them to be successful. ¬†For example, in a writing conference, I ask students to identify when they feel their writing will be done. ¬†We negotiate a reasonable time line for completion. ¬†Then they are trusted to complete their work. ¬†But guess what some of them don’t do anything and complete nothing. ¬†Well, building this skill often requires that student experience safe failure.

Create opportunities for Safe Failure.

Safe failure is an important feature for my students.  I set reasonable expectations for my students and prepare an environment for them to work independently.  However, then I need to trust them to do what I have asked them to do.  However, some of them need to learn that when they do not use their time wisely they will fail to meet the deadlines.
This is a failure.
Yes, they fail, acknowledge they fail but make them reflect on this failure and identify why they failed and make a plan to not fail again. ¬†Students don’t learn from failure they learn when they are helped to bounce back after failure
Tweet: Students don’t learn from failure they learn when they are helped to bounce back after failureFor some students this may take a few times and you may need to reset and realign their goals. ¬†For these students it is baby steps but when they experience success after this failure then they will see that success feels better and is achievable. ¬†When you trust that your students are capable of learning, being independent and letting them fail safely then you have a recipe for great differentiated instruction.
Remember this is a hard one for parents to swallow it is probably a good idea to let parents in on this shift in your approach that you are setting expectations and that together your job is allowing them to fail safely and to coach them through it.  Knowing that failure at the beginning will help prevent failure at the end because failure is a part of learning that should be embraced.
This one is a little tricky. You need to trust that your students want to be good.  For this to work you need to




Planning for Inquiry Based Learning

Planning for Inquiry Based Learning

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!


These 8 ways to plan for inquiry will change how you teach! Click through to see how! inquiry based learning | activities | projectsIf you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare for something that is student led. Although using an inquiry approach removes you, the teacher, from the absolute power position you,  still have plenty to do to prepare yourself to get ready for inquiry.  I wanted to share a few of the steps that I take to plan my inquiry units.

Planning for inquiry is different.  There is more to do ahead of time.  You have to be purposeful and knowledgable.  However, once this is planned the day to day planning is so much less as you work with students day to day to direct the learning together.

Here are a few of my steps for planning inquiry.

Look at Your Standards / Curriculum

What are you expected to teach?  Get familiar with the contents of the learning expectations.  Where does the expected learning start and stop?

Pull it apart

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!Start to take the expectations apart.  Put them in your own language.  In the Ontario curriculum, it is often structured in a similar fashion.  Big idea expectations are first, skills are second and basic knowledge is third. Knowing this will help you to decode the and order the curriculum in an easier way.  It is also important to differentiate between knowing the difference between the expectation and the examples.  The examples are just that, examples they are not the learning outcomes.  This will help you to know that following different lines and topics within the larger theme will be okay to do so.  I will often re-word the expectations at this point into meaningful language so that it is easier to understand.

Put it in order

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!Once I have pulled the curriculum expectations apart I then begin to put them into order.  In a split grade classroom, this is especially important because you will need to order the learning in a way that makes sense. But remember that you are going to approach this with an inquiry perspective so you are looking at the knowledge that students will need to have first, second and third, in order to meet the expectations of the big ideas for inquiry.  Doing this will help you to guide students where they need to go.
For example, in the matter and materials unit, students will need to know what matter is and the vocabulary.  The best part is that students will naturally ask these questions when presented with the answers. Show them a vocab card with the word sublimation and they will naturally ask what does that mean and try to guess by using their background knowledge.
If you know where they need to go you can plant the clues to get them there.  But by doing it this way you spark curiosity and interest as people naturally try to solve problems and look for answers.  This is why putting the learning in order is important.  You are not necessarily planning the lessons but planning the trajectory and logical progression of the learning.

Find common ground

If you are like me you might be teaching a combined class.  At the very least you will have students in your classroom that require accommodations and modifications beyond the grade level you have been assigned.  So this is where you need to find common ground and activities where there is common ground.  

Sometimes the content is so different that you can’t and you need to look for similar tasks with different subjects like experiments or research opportunities to align together so that the instructions are the same but the learning is different.
To differentiate the learning for different abilities you need to plan some tasks that have multiple entry points so that the output of students can be adjusted to meet individualized learning needs.

Begin to Research

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!I cannot stress this enough, if the teacher doesn’t understand the content then the students

won’t either. ¬†If you are conducting inquiry you need to know your stuff. ¬†You can’t always rely on textbooks.

Hop on google, ask your own questions and know the content.  I often have to do this when creating my units.  Learning the content at a more in depth level than your students is important.

Do you understand how a catalyst is used to speed up the polymerization process to make plastic? This was one of the many topics I explored when creating my unit on matter.

Planting the Evidence

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!Starting your learning off with a provocation and beginning to build your WonderWall is animportant step to begin your inquiry. ¬†This is where your selection of materials will help you to set the stage for your inquiry and to help you to guide the students to focus on the questions that relate to what they MUST learn. ¬†If you put at word card with the word Sublimation then usually at least one student will ask the question “What is sublimation?” By setting up your WonderWall discussion with activities and questions such as


  • Look at the artifacts and cards, one at a time share what you notice about something you see
  • How could you sort these artifacts
  • What questions do you have or what do you wonder about what you see?
In my human body unit choosing a picture of a microscopic image of the air sacs in the lungs inevitably leads to the questions “why do we have grapes in our body?” or “What are the grapes used for?” This opens the door to a lesson or activity about the parts of the lungs.


You Don’t Need All of the Answers

Yes you need to be prepared and yes you need the knowledge of you subject content but there will come a time where you simply just don’t know the answers to your student’s questions. ¬†Sooo… it’s okay, you don’t have to know and you can admit it. ¬†Simply say “wow that is such an amazing question we really should look into that further. ¬†Let’s look it up!” In inquiry, you are the guide not the giver and constructor of knowledge. ¬†Allow your students to see and watch what you do when you don’t know the answer. ¬†Being a model will show them what to do when they encounter a question or problem.
But this is inquiry, sometimes the learning happens in finding the answer themselves and their ability to retain this information is dependent on their ability to find their own answers.
In fact, one of the most amazing lessons I learned through my inquiry journey was to stop answering their questions (even when I did know the answers).
I had one moment of ‘out of body’ (not really…but for some reason I was super reflective that day) where I realized that the students were simply just looking to me to answer everything for them. ¬†Learning and struggling¬†to stop myself from answering their questions was hard, but watching them learn to solve their own problems and find answers to their own questions was very rewarding.

Final Thoughts

Inquiry is different from traditional teaching.  This is not traditional unit planning or the backwards design model.  You do not plan the activity that students will complete at the end.  If you are looking for an activity that everyone will do you are in the wrong place.
Inquiry means the students help to guide their learning.  There are still teacher directed lessons, there are still key concepts they NEED to learn and be assessed on.

However, you can guide and lead the student there in authentic ways.

If you are getting started with inquiry you may wonder where to start and how to prepare. Click through to learn about planning for inquiry based learning!

Save a few steps…

Need a break and want to skip a few steps?  Since I have done this already why reinvent the wheel.  I may not be able to help you teach it day to day, but you might as well benefit from the time I have already put into planning for inquiry lessons.  Check out some of the grade 4 and 5 inquiry science and social study lessons in my TPT store.