Top 5 Tips That Will Transform Your INQUIRY Projects

Top 5 Tips That Will Transform Your INQUIRY Projects

Take your inquiry projects from teacher directed to student focused with these tips that will help you to reframe the way you look at inquiry projects.  inquiry based learning | activities | projects
Whenever I check the teacher message boards that I am a part of, I always see many requests for ideas for culminating tasks for the various units that a teacher teaches throughout the year.  This stems, I believe, from the backward design process where teachers begin to plan their new unit of study by first planning the culminating activity.  However, if you follow this blog, you may have realized that I am moving away from the teacher-directed model of instruction and moving towards an inquiry approach where the students and teachers authentically develop the culminating task within some standard parameters.

The problem, as I see it, is not in having a culminating task but in planning an event or task that limits a student’s creativity or expression in order to do what the teacher tells them.  Placing restrictions on what students do to show you what they learned is where you are restricting student creativity.  I know that there is a lot of anxiety as teachers when we don’t have complete and total control.  I get it, I myself am a recovering control freak (ok maybe not so much recovering), but I have changed the aspects that I control within the classroom.  At the end of the unit, if every student’s product looks the same then how creative and differentiated is that really.

1. Plan the criteria, not the product

It is possible for students to design a variety ways to show their learning that respects their interests and individuality while all still meeting the same expectations.  These little projects are called “show what you know” projects.  With these we make a list of concepts that student need to know about these are generally derived from our learning throughout the unit.  It is then the student’s responsibility to design a project that meets these criteria.  How they present it is not as important as what they present.

2. Fun means differentiated

Many times as teachers are requesting help to find project ideas, they are also requesting fun and engaging activities for their students.  Generally, as teachers, we are not interested in boring our students and making learning disengaging.  However, we teach individuals, not robots and their interests are their own.  If you want them engaged, let them choose the format.  At first, many students will probably pick traditional presentation strategies.  However, throughout the year as one or two students begin to push the traditional boundaries other students will start to take more risks in their style to pursue their own interests that reflect their skills.  We have to remember that in our classrooms there are many students who have strengths in different areas and those that do not fit well in a traditional classroom will struggle with traditional tasks but can and will amaze you with their ability to show you what they know in alternate ways such as using Minecraft, designing a song or dance, or creating a website.

3. Student-led inquiry

Inquiry means that students are helping to lead and own learning.  They are not leading their learning if where they are going and what they are doing is already mapped out.  This does not mean that we don’t have to plan because we do.  There will be certain concepts that are essential to building their knowledge and understanding that they can learn what it is that they are supposed to learn.  However, these are general.  If you have ever seen my units on TPT you will know that they generally follow the same format.  Provocation/Wonderwall-> Big Idea / Questions -> Building Background Knowledge and Understanding Lessons-> Knowledge Building Circles -> Reflecting Activities -> General Research Project -> Open Ended Sharing of Knowledge.  You will also notice that the pages are general enough that there are very few question and answer rote learning pages.  Students are generating their own knowledge and reflecting on this.  However, the focus and scope of these lessons allow a variety of different avenues and flexibility for the teacher so that each year your focus could be a little different.  The shift relies on the teacher understanding that they are guiding the learning not giving the learning.

4. Share the workload

there is a quote that is often used with inquiry that talks about the workload.  The teacher should not be working harder than the students.  In reality, this is true.  If you are working so hard to plan every little detail then simply just giving the students work.  This is not inquiry.  Inquiry involves students and teachers working together.  If you want an engaging activity for your students, ask them to tell you what they should do.  Plan it together.  Instead of taking hours and hours at home planning a lesson for students.  Stop planning at home and plan with them during knowledge builiding circles.  Even if that means that you pull out the curriculum document and list the things that they need to know about and asking questions about these things and then going from there.  Let them help you plan it.  Do it with them, and save yourself some time.

5. Learn the content, deeply

This has to be the biggest advantage for me in planning detailed units for TPT.  It has forced me to really learn the content.  Stop spending your time planning the unit and the lessons and learn the content and not at an elementary level but at a high school level.  Read the Wikipedia page on tension and compression and challenge yourself to be able to understand it.  This will help you when you go off script in class.  If all you know is what is on the lesson plan then it will be that much harder to teach this using an inquiry perspective.  You need to know your content at a much more complex level.  This is why it takes me so much longer to create a complete unit and why I include teacher background notes for you so that you can understand the concepts that you teach.

Are you ready for inquiry?  Use this quick checklist to help you get started and plan ahead for inquiry.  It’s in my free resource library along with many other tools that you can access free.  Just sign up below.

If you want to connect with me about inquiry why not join me on facebook inside my teaching with inquiry facebook group.  Join the conversation every Monday at 9 pm as we talk about all things inquiry and teaching.



Talking Inquiry – Letting Go of Control

Talking Inquiry – Letting Go of Control

Learn how to let go of control.  Changing the way you teach from being the center of learning to simply just facilitating is can be scary and intimidating.  Learn how and why you should let go of control and let your students lead.  inquiry based learning | activities | projects

Who I am as a Teacher

I am a teacher the thrives on organization and control over certain things in my classroom.  So I
  • Number student workbooks
  • Match all components of my program everything is colour coded
  • Classroom needs to match (my red pocket charts annoy me since they don’t match)
  • So picky I make all of my own stuff or remake things so the fonts match and it looks pretty


Despite this I am still a person that likes change but being stubborn I like to do it my own way and hate being told what to do.  So if you are like me then you need to commit to changing but find a way that is authentic to you.

Tech Support and Inquiry

Technology is an important tool to have when using inquiry but worry less that you only have some and embrace this and commit to proving that you can use it and you will get more.  I started with a computer lab and just booked time or used the on laptop kit.  If you are like me and teach a split you have a unique advantage since only a portion of your class needs to research at the same time.  Other subjects can be rotated through during this time such as language so that you can minimize the amount of need on limited devices.  Allowing students to bring in their own device helps even if it is as small as an iPod touch with an internet connection or any device that connects to wifi and has an internet browser.  If you have an internet connected computer hard wired you can make this into a wifi device by buying an old but working router from a thrift shop and plugging the ethernet cable from your computer into the router to broadcast the signal.  Many districts and school boards may not approve of this but my argument is if they can’t give you what you need, then do what you can prove that they need too.  Just remember to unplug it when IT tech people come by.


Getting Started with Inquiry

I started with one simple step by introducing an open-ended project for Rocks and Minerals and Energy Conservation.  Students did some research then chose their presentation with some suggestions how they would present this information.
WHAT I LEARNED – Students need to learn how to research but there was increased engagement in capable students.  I also learned that I needed to do more to support Special Education Students they needed a bit more scaffolding.  But overwhelmingly I learned that my students needed to learn how to research.  So this was my next step that I could integrate into language.

Great Learning Comes out of an Emergency

So what do you do when you have a student teacher with no plans.  Well, you do what any teacher does and you improvise.  Give them a problem and hope they solve it.  Impromptu lessons like build a bridge with textbooks that holds some weights….and go.   But I had to commit to not jumping in and helping them solve it I needed to let them do it on their own.  I needed to guide them to the learning they needed through questioning.  This was hard to do and I had to fight the urge to get up and intervene.
Reflection – But at the end of that lesson through power struggles and arguments between students I saw learning REAL LEARNING.  They have the capacity to solve problems…. arguments yes, failure yes, encouragement needed but learning was more authentic then simply reading about it.  They needed to learn with your support that failure was not the end of the world and that they can do this they can learn.   However teaching students how to talk to each other and disagree with each other is important.

Change your Plans on the Fly

Once you teach them how to talk to one another and they understand the concept of a knowledge building circle.  Start to listen to them and change your plans if necessary.  When teaching about government two students came in and asked if anyone had seen the leaders debate on tv.  My first thought was “umm they watched the leaders debate that is so awesome…”  I had a choice.  Do I follow my plan today or do I scrap it and follow this interest as the two students continued to talk to other about what they watched enthusiastically with others.  Well, I went with it.  Thank full for youtube we were able to watch it.  The thoughts and the conversations that resulted engaged more students in election issues, comments on hairstyles that seemed to take a prominent place in this race.  I still had a backup plan and knew enough of my subject matter that I was prepared with the knowledge to support their learning.  But I also realized that I didn’t need to have all the answers and that whatever we didn’t know would lead to new lines of inquiry that started with real opportunities for learning.  I was inspired by their curiosity and enthusiasm and was able to encourage it and what I noticed was that this was contagious from student to student.  I can change and let go of control it is okay and it works.  When you see your students engaged and learning you will convert too.

Value of Learning Goals and Success Criteria

Talked about this last week but…
This is when I saw how important it was to my students.  Students could decide how they would show you what they knew.  I didn’t plan a project, no rules, no limits, no planning.
I said here is what I need to prove that you know…SHOW ME YOU KNOW IT

I got a lot of “can I do……”  and that was okay.  I conferenced with students, met with them during their research process.  Checked in with them.  We co-created a rubric that outlined what a level 2-3-4 looked like.

They showed me what they knew  – Minecraft, story, rap, websites, PowerPoints, games, dances, (students used their own interests and strengths to express their ideas).  We drew upon students strengths and needs to help them show their learning.  I also learned that less control means less planning for me (more time with my kids at home)


How do I push it forward and build on this next momentum

  • Ask them to share their learning with others – Full school Energy Conservation Assembly
  • Can’t find research on some topics – contact experts and ask for help -> First Nations and Small Pox
  • BYOD – you don’t need to supply everything.  Let them bring in their own things.
  • Apply for Grants – just don’t forget to tell your principal.


  Overall Reflections

  • Ask them more questions.  Question instead of Tell…questions will help your students to draw their own conclusions when they are ready.
  • Sit back and watch and let them fail safely.  Failure is an opportunity to learn and improve and set this up as a culture in your classroom.
  • Arguments are not bad but opportunities for learning.  Just teach them how to talk to each other.
  • Surprising leaders emerge.  Students who know the value of hard work and constructing their own understanding will often become your leaders.  Students that typically do well at school sometimes struggle because they will wait for you to tell them what to do and when you don’t it increases their anxiety.
  • Not every student comes on board as quickly as others that is okay they will just keep reaching students one student at a time.  You don’t need 100% buy in 100% of the time.  Just grow your buy in one student at a time and you will eventually get them all.
  • Parents are lost…. so help them understand the changes that are happening in your classroom.


Where are you on your inquiry journey? What has worked for you? Share with me below.
Talking Inquiry – Learning Goals and Success Criteria

Talking Inquiry – Learning Goals and Success Criteria

Learn how to use learning goals and success criteria to help support student inquiry in your classroom. inquiry based learning | activities | projectsToday I wanted to focus on learning goals and success criteria and how they are the center of your inquiry teaching practice.  I talked about a lot of things today on my broadcast and wanted to share my notes with you and some pictures of how these look in my classroom.  Check out the video here if you missed it.

What is Inquiry:

Inquiry is student-centered teaching that turns student interest and curiosity into real learning through questioning, investigating, observing and collaborating.

Learning Goals and Success Criteria

A learning goal is your big idea often based on your curriculum expectations or standards.  They are sentences written in student-friendly language and often start with key-word sentence starters such as

  • “We are learning about…”
  • “We want to know more about…”
  • ” I can….”

Some examples that we have used in my classroom about learning goals are

  • First Nations and Early European Explorers – “What was life like for the First Nations before contact”
  • Human Body – We are learning about the digestive system and how it helps to keep your body working and healthy
  • Structures – “We are learning about internal and external forces that impact the strength of a  structure”
Here are some examples of the process we took to get from student questions to Learning goals to the criteria for success.  As you can see it is not alway pretty or ideal.  Sometimes they are not worded perfectly but they reflect the conversations that we had together.  Sometimes it is a multi step process to refine your ideas down to key big ideas and sometimes they change but in the end we knew where we were going together. This process took some leading by me to get us here.  Less than was needed previously but with the lack of background knowledge that my students had on this topic there was more to do to support them.
Summarizing and narrowing down student questions
Our Learning Goals in the center of our bulletin board with the picture of the wonder wall surrounding it.  For this unit we used questions as our learning goals instead of typical learning goal “We are learning about…” statements.
This is the list we co-created about the success criteria for the first learning goal of our unit.  Again not perfect but it reflected our conversations and understandings of what we needed to explore.
Although they are too small to read here, this is a picture of our whole human body unit with learning goals and success criteria for each system and learning activities.  We added our learning as we went along to our wonderwall board including evidence of activities that showed our learning and accomplishment of learning goals and success criteria.

Why are learning goals important?

Students need to know where they are going and what they are doing.  Learning Goals and Success criteria are the road map you give you students at the beginning to know what they will be assessed on as they learn.  This is very explicit.  These are the test questions that you give them weeks in advance and a guide to have them show what they know by the end.  If they can show you that they have learned what you set out to have them learn then they have been successful.

How to use them in an Inquiry Classroom.

  • Co – create them with students and have them contribute their interests and knowledge to the learning decisions.  This will increase engagement because you are helping them learn what they tell you they are interested in.
  • This part of your inquiry journey happens after your knowledge building circle and Wonder wall session.  This is the step that guides the rest of your learning.
  • take their questions from their wonder wall and group them into categories and try to make sense of the themes of their questions.  This is not totally on them your selection of the questions help you to manipulate the direction of the learning while students may identify the themes or focus.
  • Introduce the subtopics to your students and have them discuss the themes of where they are going in their learning.  Have them help you to explore where they will be going and what they will be learning about.  Ask them what they think the big idea is.  We want to know more about…, or We will be learning about…
  • From there organize your sentences into an order for learning.  What organ system will you learn about first, second, and third.  What makes the most sense to learn first.  Often this should start off from simple to complex allowing students to build the necessary background knowledge that will be needed and necessary prior to them using higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, and applying what they are learning to solve real world problems.
  • Once they have developed the learning goal statements it is time to break down the first learning goal and determine how they are going to accomplish this task.  Depending on your students comfort level and knowledge of the topic they may need more or less support from you to do this.  Make a list of things they need to know.  This may change as you go along and they gather more information.  This can often be a messy part of the learning and sometime the most difficult but pay attention to what your students are saying this will give you a lot of insight on where students need and want to go with their learning and what gaps you will need to help them fill.  Again you may need to provide more support for them at this stage if all you hear in your classroom is crickets.
  • Remember that you are going to use this to help you students build their knowledge that stems from their own interests (or at least the interest of the collective group) Stop checking curriculum boxes and start helping your students meet their goals.  You are there to guide them and facilitate their learning.  Stop doing all of the work.  It is time, that your students take ownership of their own learning and share the load.  This will, in fact, reduce your planning time or at least change it as you are not preparing lessons but are finding resources to help students guide their own learning.
How to get them to use it?
  • You need to use it.
  • You need to make it the center of your conversations with students
  • you need to reference it
  • you need to point out that this is what they will be assessed on
  • you can follow the cycle of assessment to help keep them focused on this learning through regular conferences, check-ins, and observations.
  • Assessment of inquiry seems difficult, but in reality, if you have strong and explicit learning goals and success criteria, that forms the center of your learning. Then it is very easy for students to show you what they know.  They can use them as a checklist for their learning and you can simply just check off when they have accomplished a learning goal when they show you what they know about that topic and meet the success criteria.  It becomes easier as you do this more often to evaluate whether or not they have shown a thorough understanding, a good understanding, or a simple understanding of the concepts that they have been learning.

Ready for the next step in inquiry? Up next learn how to let go of control so you can let students lead through student-centered inquiry.









Talking Inquiry – Knowledge Building Circles

Talking Inquiry – Knowledge Building Circles

Learn how to use knowledge building circles in the classroom to support student learning through inquiry! | inquiry based learning | activities | projects
So I just completed my very first live video in my Let’s Talk About Inquiry Series on Facebook Live.

My first video was about how I used  Knowledge Building Circles with Wonder Walls in my classroom to help facilitate inquiry.  I wanted to share my notes with you so that you would have an additional copy of the ideas that I shared in my video.

WonderWalls and Knowledge Building Circles

These two components of my inquiry unit help to start off my unit.
Knowledge Building Circles – Start off you inquiry
  1. Collect your artifacts – pictures, items, key terms.  These will generate the ideas that you need to begin your inquiry.  Try to find familiar artifacts that students would recognize and pick a few that they may not know what they are.  Ones where they will be forced to make connections between two concepts or think deeper about various topics.  For example, I use a branch with my human body unit to connect to the branches of the lungs or a pump to show the connection to the heart.  For the forces unit, I show an explosion of Japan and Chernobyl.  For small pox, I show a picture of two native women sick on a bed.  A cross, to show the impact of the Jesuits on first nations or a picture of a gustoweh.
  2. Establishing a space – set a whole group meeting area where the center of the area and focus of the students is on the artifacts.  Students are used to the teacher being the focus you need to shift away from the teacher as the focal point to the artifacts and the teacher as a participant.  While beginning an inquiry and transitioning students from traditional teaching to inquiry I found that it was important to set yourself up higher than students.  This will help them to understand your gradual release of control over the conversation.  Eventually, as this knowledge building circle evolves and develops you can move your position to one that show equality to being removed and fully led by the students.
  3. Setting Conversation norms – before beginning your first knowledge builidng circle establish rules for communication.
      • One person speaks
      • Actively listen to your peers
      • No idea is bad – How to disagree respectfully
      • It is about sharing ideas not answers
      • Know the difference between what you think you know and what you know based on evidence.  Fact, opinion, hypothesis, theory and conclusion.

    These ideas can be students generated and teacher led.  My students this year even established a talking object that they needed to have before speaking.  Good ole Fluffy Sparkle (I didn’t choose it or name it that credit goes to my students.)

  4. Getting Started: Focus on the Wonder and Questions – to get started lay out your artifacts on the ground in the center of your circle.  Provide students with a paper or sticky notes to write on and have them look at the artifacts and ask questions.  Provide students with sentence starters to ask deeper questions.
    • I wonder….
    • What is …
    • How does….
    • Why might….
    • What does….
    • How does _____ relate to / connect to ________
  5. Sharing – Have students share their questions with the group.  Remind students that this is the time for questions, not answers that it is okay that questions asked by our peers do not get answered right away.  (this is really hard for some students)
  6. I think – Students talk what they have been thinking about during the wonder phase and they begin to share their thoughts.  Remember to help students to classify their thinking as a fact, opinion, theory/hypothesis, true knowledge based on evidence.  Ask students if they can group the artifacts into categories to help us focus on what it is that we want to learn. Although this is led by the students ideally, it is most often heavily manipulated by the teacher in order to cover curriculum expectations.  The key is to know when to let them go and when to refocus them.  This takes time and skill and can be very messy at first.  Just know that when it gets messy you can always regroup and refocus another day.
  7. Wonder Again – After the students have grouped and organized your artifacts have them wonder again to add any further questions that they may have.
  8. Record and Model – record student thinking along the way throughout the knowledge building circle this can be done in multiple ways.  Have a student record their personal thoughts as they have them on a sticky note or appoint a secretary a student that will write down questions on a chart paper.  As you begin your inquiry journey you will have to often model and paraphrase student responses in a way that will help to deepen their understanding.  Asking why, why, why, why, or how, how, how is a good way to do this.  As students give you surface level and simple questions ask them why and to justify their question.
  9. Sort And Classify – as the students sort and classify your artifacts this becomes the basis of your wonder wall.  This is the working document that helps us to remind ourselves where we are going and why.  Remember that it is okay if there are some minor misconceptions on the wall as theses will be great learning opportunities.  However, it is very important that you highlight these as you debunk them so that students to not begin to form long lasting misconceptions about the topic you are studying.
  10. Conclusions – looking at your sorted and classified artifacts and all of your questions it is time to focus on the big ideas and what it is that they want to learn.  For example, in the human body unit, the artifacts are specifically from the lungs, heart, and digestion.  They easily come up with these three main systems then from there can see common questions that can be asked about all three.  The same happens in the First nations unit where they can see that some pictures are of first nations communities and others are from early European communities.  Once these big ideas are developed they will form the basis of your co-created success criteria that will frame the rest of your learning in your units.
  11. Coming Back – Over the course of your unit you will come back to this sharing circle to reflect on your learning goals and your wonder wall. You will add new knowledge and build on ideas and information that you put up there.
Want to learn more about inquiry based learning in the classroom.  If you missed lesson #1 click the photo below to learn more about wonder walls.  Ready to learn about inquiry? Click over to lesson #3 to lean how important learning goals and success criteria are to establishing student led inquiry.




Talking Inquiry: Making a Wonder Wall

Talking Inquiry: Making a Wonder Wall

Learning about Inquiry in part one of this video series.  Learn what a WonderWall is and how it is made and used in the classroom through this video series by Madly Learning. inquiry based learning | activities | projects | science | math | process | boardCreating a wonder wall is a great tool to use in inquiry to build a space where students can
  • get students thinking
  • share their learning throughout their inquiry
  • keep ideas concepts and questions visible
  • interact with others
  • share standards, learning goals, and assessment criteria
  • share evidence of learning


This post is part 1 in my inquiry series.  To learn more about inquiry click through to see my many other posts about inquiry.

Also why not connect and stay up to date on all things inquiry by joining my teaching with inquiry facebook group.  


What’s a Wonder Wall?

Wonder wall boards are built at the beginning of a unit and are kept alive throughout student learning.  These are living examples of student learning throughout the unit.

Wonder wall boards are built at the beginning of a unit and are kept alive throughout student learning.  These are living examples of student learning throughout the unit.

Building this board starts when you begin to provoke students thinking about the topic you are beginning to study. Students will look at artifacts and ask questions about what they are seeing.  They activate prior knowledge and share this with others in a knowledge building circle.

Type of Display Board

This is an example of the board that I use for my wonder wall.  It is a trifold board.  One side is for my fourth graders and the other side for my fifth graders.
Sometimes I use these trifold boards and other times I just use my bulletin boards but this is great if you are lacking wall space and it also works to move around the classroom for students to use when you are working with them.
Here are some of the wonder wall boards from my classroom


I use artifacts to help provoke conversations and interests in a topic at the beginning of a unit.  Artifacts can be many things

  • real objects
  • pictures
  • words
  • videos
  • stories
Most of the time I use pictures that I print out in colour. Especially if I don’t have access to real life objects.
If I have easily accessible artifacts like my rock collection or some small appliances from home I might use those as well.

The Role of Questions

To use a wonder wall at the beginning of an inquiry means that you provoke students thinking about a topic.  Providing them with artifacts that gets them thinking.

Having them ask questions is the next step.

Students will take sticky notes and ask questions about what they see.  Use these doodle notes in my resource library to help your students keep track of what they are thinking.

As students share thier background knowledge and their questions the board is built.  These questions are the driving force behind your learning.

Group their questions into themes, use them to develp learning goals and success criteria and to find gaps in their knowledge that may require a teacher directed lesson to fill.

Put student questions beside the artifact or picture on the wonder wall and throughout the learning strive to answer these questions and keep track of unanswered questions.

It is through student questions that learning is constructed.

Lessons Learned

Another thing I learned while implementing my wonder wall is that when students ask questions I really really want to answer them.  I want to share my knowledge and have them soak it all in and teach them something.  I am a teacher!! this is what I do!! I know stuff and teach about it!! STOP STOP STOP.  I had to get myself to stop!
This was not what inquiry was about.  Sure, I am a teacher, but I am not as powerful or as knowledgable as Google.  I mentally needed to stop myself and concentrate on not answering their questions but to ask them to add their questions to the Wonder Wall and allow them to figure out the answers for themselves.
I  knew that I was going to lead them through my lessons to these answers but I needed to stop just giving them the information.  They would now have to start working for this information because I was not going to give them an easy way out.
Sure later on in the unit, we would have a discussion on certain topics and I would explain different concepts to them.  BUT we did this together.  I was not teaching them I was facilitating their learning.
Giving them the tools to let them find the answers to their questions on their own.


And you know what…a funny thing happened.
They started learning faster than I had expected.
They took those questions home and found out the answers to them.  They would read books during independent time and find the answers to our questions.  They were discussing these things with their parents at home.
 It was amazing to see how excited they were about learning these concepts which in turn also allowed our discussion at school to become more vibrant and engaging.
Sure there were times when a teacher directed lesson was necessary especially in the technical aspects of the units.  But overall it was great to see them apply their learning in new and interesting ways.
If you would like to see how I made my Wonder Wall for these units check out my Video below
I now include wonder wall cards in most of my units to help teachers get started with artifacts for students and teachers to use to use as a provocation to get started with the units that they are teaching.  If you are interested in the cards that were used for the wonder wall on the video you can get them in the two units below.
Learn more about inquiry.  Next up in my inquiry series


Inquiry: 6 Tips to Asking Questions

inquiry | teaching | classroom | students | elementary | grade four | grade 4 | grade 5

Being able to ask good questions is an important part of the inquiry process.  However it is often difficult task for students to ask the type of questions that lead to authentic inquiry.  When given a topic then asked to post questions students will often ask lower level thinking questions or questions that are unrelated to the theme they are studying.  Asking question this is a theme that my colleagues and I are exploring in more detail at my school. Through this focused exploration, and my experiences with my students struggling through generating inquiry questions I have come up with a tips that I wanted to share with you.

All Questions are Important

Much of the focus on inquiry is on the higher order thinking questions from the Q chart.  However what I have learned is that all of the questions that the student can ask are important.  At the beginning of an inquiry project students may ask lower-level fact-finding questions these questions are important for students to ask and will form the basis of a student developing their understanding.  Eventually they will be able to ask higher order thinking questions.  What I found is it students have a difficult time asking higher order thinking questions when they don’t have the necessary background knowledge needed to investigate deeper into their topic.

Students may be able to ask the question but the may not be ready to find the answer.

Some students who were given the formula to create a higher order thinking questions were able to do this successfully.  However what I have found is that just because they’re able to ask the question doesn’t mean they’re ready to find the answer.  Being able to ask a good inquiry question does not mean the student is ready to find the answer to that same Big idea question.  First the student must understand the facts.  Getting them to ask WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN questions will help them to build the necessary background knowledge that they need to eventually be able to answer the inquiry question.

Conference by asking questions of their questions.

Some of the most viable conversations I had with my students were of me asking questions about their questions.  Through this process we were able to refine and evaluate the types of questions that they were asking in order to encourage them to dig a little deeper into their topics. Sometimes I found that through my questioning students discovered that they already knew the answers to the questions they needed to ask but through this conferencing process they themselves were able to discover this.  I believe this was much more valuable than if I had just given them the answer, or in this case the question.

Questioning should be more than just one lesson

In social studies and science having the students ask questions should happen all throughout the unit not just the one lesson right before they begin their inquiry projects. Students should ask questions before the unit begins (provocation) this will help assist teachers to understand what they already know and where the students want to go.  Refining these questions throughout the teaching and learning process and asking new ones as we go along will help students to understand the topic of study in more depth.

Key Words

Asking students to ask a question is a very general and open ended task.  I can’t count how many times I have given students and overall topic and asked them to generate questions and then have been disappointed with the types of questions that I get.  Many of them are so off-topic, basic or lack variety that I struggle to move them towards higher order thinking questions with what they give me.  This time, before we asked questions, we generated a list of keywords.  I asked them “what have we been learning about?” The words they gave me made up the list of our keywords.  From there I asked students to make questions to put on an anchor sized Q chart that used our keywords. I was surprised at the difference of the type of question students were able to ask when given these parameters.

Direct teaching still happens

Just because our focus is on student inquiry does not mean that direct teaching no longer happens in my classroom.  It does and it is important.  Skills such as summarizing need to be explicitly taught, developing an understanding of new vocabulary is necessary in order for students to understand the information that they will read.  Directly teaching my students about economic sectors was an important task that needed to be completed before students were able to complete an inquiry project looking at the environmental impacts of a primary sectors in Canada.  The economic sectors seem like such a complicated concept for grade 4 students to understand but in reality when it was taught to them directly they easily got the concept. They were the better prepared to choose an appropriate topic on the environment for inquiry that also met curriculum expectations.
As I learn through implementing inquiry based learning into my own classroom I will continue to refine my understanding of how this process works.  Please join me on my continued journey at implementing inquiry into my classroom!
Do you have any great revelations about questioning in your classroom please share in the comments below