Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry… But how do I do it?

A few weeks back I shared a post about using the question “What Do You Notice? A First Step Down the Path To Inquiry”. Although this is a fantastic question and has many applications across all subject areas, there are more pieces to the puzzle of “How can I teach using inquiry?”

If I know anything about teachers, it is that we love to walk away from PD or collaborative meetings with something practical to put into action right away. So that is my goal for this week’s post; to compile a collection of practical strategies from various blogs and resources about how to infuse your classroom with more inquiry.


From “If Inquiry Is So Great, Why Aren’t We Doing More Of It?

Written by Kimberly Mitchell

Originally found on the Work on the Work blog

1) Create Emotional Bonds

Inquiry teachers create some sort of emotional bond or connection between the teacher and students (“Let me tell you a story about when I…”), the students and one another (“Turn and talk to a neighbor about…”) and/or between the students and the topic (“Reflect on your experiences with…”).

2) Ask Great Questions: Talk Less

Inquiry classrooms are bursting with higher-order questions coming from both the teacher and other students, like “Which argument was the most convincing and why?” or “Was this experiment well- designed?” Inquiry teachers aren’t big lecturers but rather provide information and questions to help students verify, debunk or build off what they already know. Teachers also help students practice asking their own questions. Check out the Right Question Institute, an organization whose entire focus is on helping people of all ages ask better questions.

3) Encourage Evidence

Ready for the understatement of the year? There is a lot of information out there. Students do not need more information; they need to know how to better evaluate and use what they have. By habitually referencing the author, publisher and copyright date, ruminating on the potential bias and the possible perspective from which the information comes, inquiry teachers model this practice. Students and teachers in inquiry classrooms regularly ask one another: “How do you know that?”

4) Maintain Neutrality

When students are taking risks with their ideas and making conjectures, inquiry teachers encourage them by not reacting negatively OR positively to what they say. In an inquiry classroom, for example, you won’t hear a lot of comments like “Great response!” or “Hmmm” or “That’s interesting” coming from teachers. Instead, you will hear them simply asking more questions or turning to other students to comment or respond.

5) Extend Thinking Time

Schools generally work within extreme time and space constraints. This can produce a suffocating and stressful environment – one in which it can be very hard to breathe, let alone learn. Inquiry teachers 1) pause frequently, 2) offer time for students to gather their thoughts before moving into groups or responding and 3) slow down movement and talk.


From “Inquiry As A Pedogogical Approach”

Published in the “PYP: A Basis for Practice”

Found on the IBO Online Curriculum Center

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.


 From “How Do Inquiry Teachers… Teach?”

Written by Kath Murdoch

Originally found on the Just Wondering blog

  1. They talk less.  It’s that simple (I’m still working on that one myself!!)
  2. They ask more.  The discourse in an inquiry classroom is rich with quality questions – inquiry teachers know how to use questions to help students uncover their own thinking and understanding.
  3. They relate – with the heart as well as the head.  The BEST inquiry teachers I see genuinely enjoy their students and know them.  Knowing your students is the key to successful facilitation – particularly of personal inquiries.
  4. They let kids in on the secret – inquiry teachers have a transparent style. It’s not just about putting learning intentions up on the wall – they constantly ensure their kids know why they are doing what they are doing.  Inquiry teachers often think aloud – they reveal the complexities and the joys of learning to their students by being a learner.
  5. They use language that is invitational and acknowledges the elasticity of ideas.  Words like ‘might’ ‘could’ ‘possibly’ ‘wonder’ ‘maybe’ ‘we’ are used far more  than ‘must’ ‘is’ ‘will’ ‘I’.    They remain open to possibility…. and you can hear it in their voice.  Inquiry teachers speak what Claxton calls “learnish”  – and they help their students speak it too.
  6. They check in with their kids – a lot.  The teaching itself looks, sounds and feels like an act of inquiry.  They listen, observe and ‘work the space’.  They do not spend most of their time at the front of the room.  The teach beside – sometimes ‘on the side’ and not – for the most part – on the stage.
  7. They collaborate with their students. They trust them!  The ‘asymmetry’ of power in the traditional classroom is challenged by inquiry teachers – they allow role reversal and are comfortable letting the learner lead.
  8. They use great, challenging, authentic resources– not just the ones that are easy and on hand.  They are hunters and gatherers – looking for objects, people, places, texts that will bring the world to their kids.
  9. They are passionate and energetic.  And that includes some of the most calm and quiet teachers I have ever worked with!  I think that’s true of all the best teachers – inquiry based or not  – but these teachers are passionate about investigation, about the thrill of discovery, about seeing patterns and the learner ‘getting it’ – they are genuinely interested in the world and relentlessly curious.  And it shows.
  10. They see the bigger picture – they have a good grasp of the significant concepts and skills relevant to the focus of students’ inquiry.   They may not know all the facts – but they DO have a ‘birds eye’, conceptual  view that is invaluable in scaffolding learning for children.  You can hear it in the way they question.
  11. They invite, celebrate and USE questions, wonderings, uncertainties and tensions that arise from their students.  They may not be the questions they expected – but they use those questions to scaffold learning.
  12. Traditional pedagogy sees the teacher provide a set of instructions, make sure everyone ‘knows what to do’, explain everything and THEN students might be given some time to do a task themselves. It’s about 80% teacher led and 20% student.  Inquiry-based pedagogy gets kids doing, thinking and investigating – and the explicit teaching happens in response to what the teacher sees and hears.  The 80:20 ration is reversed. Good inquiry teachers know how to get more kids thinking more deeply more of the time.

If you have any other great resources that provide practical strategies for inquiry please leave a comment and share them with us.


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