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  • Writer's pictureLidia

8 Steps to starting an inquiry in your classroom!

Inquiry-based learning should never stop! Whether we are teaching in person or online, inquiry-based learning is always possible. It is crucial to not forget your goals as a 21st-century teacher and continue your own personal inquiry journey. Teachers are spending hours, upon hours, creating lesson after lesson and google slides for their students. Lessons and Slides for Math, Language, Science, Social Studies etc. What if you were able to have all of your subjects, weeks of learning, and all you needed to do was pre-make ONE, maybe two slides?


Check out these 8 easy steps that you can do in order to begin an inquiry with your students.

It all begins with presenting one provocation to your students and then let the inquiry learning journey unfold. In this blog post, I will walk you through starting an inquiry journey, beginning with a provocation and working our way through each step.

Before I get into it, I should note that some explicit teaching of certain skills will be very important. Check out my previous blog post 4 SKILLS TO TEACH when beginning an Inquiry to get some ideas on how you can do this!

Throughout this blog post, I will be giving you some concrete examples of what each step looks like in the classroom. The examples I will be sharing are reflective of the journey that my students had during one of our inquiries. I will try my best to attach links or posts from social media or online resources showing a portion of each step.

If you are looking for a planner that will help you navigate your way through each of these steps in an organized and thorough way, visit my TPT store where I have posted the 8 Steps to Get Started with Inquiry - Teacher Planner.

Step 1: Pick a Provocation⠀

"Provocations are intended to provoke a response from students – a question, a wonder, a thought, a feeling of curiosity – any of these signs of engagement are what provocations seek to evoke. They are designed to spark excitement and wonder in students and get them thinking about what’s next." -

Provocation in Action:

Our initial provocation, as a class, was a Nature Walk. During this nature walk, students made discoveries, took photos and collected samples of nature that we could take back to our classroom.

Step 2: Make Observations

Observations are used to help students collect and record data. This data allows students to come up with theories and explore their ideas further.

Observations in Action:

With the collections of samples and photographs that students collected during our nature walk, we were able to make some observations on what we found. Students used microscopes to take a closer look at what we collected in the forest. Upon further observations, we were pleasantly surprised when a visitor emerged from one of our samples. In the tweet that is linked, you can see that a snail came out of one of the shells (which we thought was vacant). This experience got students questioning how the snail survived and also what it would need to survive.

Step 3: Ask Questions⠀

Asking questions is VERY important when doing inquiry. Students engage in questioning based on the observations they have just made while exploring the provocation. These questions are used to deepen student knowledge or also to test ideas and theories.

Questioning in Action:

Students used a PADLET to ask more questions about what they observed. This was done to help students with formulating their guiding questions that would lead to their very first, self-created, experiment in the

beginning stages of their class inquiry.

Step 4 and 5: Record and Review Ideas

These steps are used to reflect and organize questions and observations students have made.

Some tools that my students have used include: Flipgrid, Google Slides and Forms, Book Creator, Nimbus Screen Recorder, Padlet, Adobe Spark and more!

Record student questions on an anchor chart, documentation board, whiteboard etc.

Some things to think about when you are REVIEWING include; What common themes do you notice? What common words are presented? List possible categories (e.g., animals, food, space, the world, poverty, etc.)

Step 6: Categorize

Up until this point, explorations, observations, questions and conversations have been student-led and very open. During the above 5 steps, we as teachers are listening to what is happening and you will see themes that begin to emerge.

Categorize in Action:

As a class, we looked at all of our questions and began to think of different categories they could fall into. The categories that we came up with included: Survival, environmental impact and Natural Changes.

In each category, we had 3 or 4 questions that students wanted to explore. From there we worked as a class to formulate ONE GOOD question for each category. These were our ESSENTIAL questions. The questions were as follows:

Step 7: Make Connections

Waiting until step 7 to make curriculum connections may sound completely insane, and I understand that. It is important to let the students openly explore up until this point so their thinking and ideas are not limited to a list of specific curriculum expectations. This will make the learning more meaningful, genuine and authentic.

As the teacher, you will constantly be thinking of ways observations and questions are connected to the curriculum, but it isn't until this step that those connections are explicitly laid out on the table.

Making Connections in Action:

For this inquiry, it was obvious to the students that our starting place was going to be science. I broke out our curriculum and listed the four different areas of study that the students would be exploring in grade 4. Students quickly identified that the areas of study that connected to their questions and categories were Understanding Life Systems and Understanding Earth and Space Systems. From this moment on we had a direction for our inquiry!

Step 8: Begin Planning⠀

After a lot of discussion, questioning circles, knowledge building circles and more (which took us about 3 weeks) we were finally ready to plan the first part of our inquiry. We used part of the "My Inquiry Goals" planner to map out the journey we were about to take.

Students came up with the 2 questions below. Over the course of more discussions, research and hypothesizing these are the questions they wanted to explore further.

From that point on we were on our inquiry journey. We had some ups and downs. We had moments that we were unsure that our inquiry would work out, but we kept going on our path. This inquiry snowballed into something incredible. We explored the living conditions of South African penguins, discovered what a Blood Moon was and then finally we explored what life would be like in space, how it would affect our health and bodies and also, what life on Mars would be like.

We learned so much as a class and as individual inquirers. From what started as a Science inquiry we were able to connect Language Arts, Math, Coding, Art, Media and even Social Studies. A fully cross-curricular inquiry.

All of this amazing learning stemmed from ONE PROVOCATION, a nature walk.

If you embrace these 8 steps, you will be on your journey to amazing things as a learning community. You do not need to give up your teaching ideologies and practices completely, this is just a different way of approaching your curriculum guidelines. With each of these steps, teachers can explicitly teach inquiry skills that will allow students to grow as inquirers. Once a skill is taught, put it to work. Students will make subject connections and from there, you can guide them towards planning your first online inquiry.

If you want to know more about HOW TO GET INQUIRY STARTED IN YOUR CLASSROOM:

Let's talk, collaborate and share ideas and opinions!

- Lidia

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