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  • Writer's pictureLidia

Graphic Organizers and Research Skills in the Inquiry Classroom

During the inquiry process, there is a lot that is happening, not only for students but also for teachers. Keeping your learning, investigation, exploration, reflection and ideas organized and efficient can be overwhelming because learning is happening at different rates. When it comes to the organization and documentation of learning, students should have CHOICE in the method they are using to show their inquiry journey.


In the past, on my blog, I have written about various SKILLS that students need to have acquired and practiced before jumping into inquiry (4 Skills to teach before beginning Inquiry). One of the skills I mentioned in that post was DOCUMENTATION and within that, graphic organizers play a major role.


Why are Graphic Organizers important in an inquiry classroom?

“Graphic organizers are a helpful learning tool for students of all ages to organize, clarify, or simplify complex information—they help students construct understanding through an exploration of the relationships between concepts“ - Edutopia


Organizers are a great TOOL that students can incorporate and get comfortable using throughout their learning journey. Organizers can be used for different stages of the inquiry process; Making Observations, Asking Questions, Collecting Evidence, Documentation and Collecting Ideas, and Reflections. These organizers are tools that are fully interchangeable, but they all have the same purpose; allowing students the choice in how to organizer their ideas and learning.


In my Graphic Organizers for Inquiry product, I have created over 50 organizers that students and teachers can use in the classroom to document ongoing learning.


My organizers can be purchased via TPT individually or as a whole bundle. There are over 50 organizers, printable and digital. (All images on this post are directly linked)



What are RESEARCH SKILLS & how to teach them?


For the second part of this blog post, I wanted to focus a bit more on Research skills and how students can use graphic organizers during the research portions of their inquiry.


Research skills are essential to the inquiry process because they help learners develop new ideas, understand their hypothesis, identify what further learning needs to happen, improve what they already know, and keep up with unexpected changes during the inquiry process.


For me, there are 5 essential components to teaching research skills:

  1. Asking good questions

  2. Searching for “good” information

  3. Using your “network”

  4. Going beyond the surface and Being patient

  5. Respecting ownership

What would this look like in a classroom?

How could I teach these skills to ensure my students

have done effective research?


1. Inquiry and good research start with ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS!


I am not going to go into a lot of detail with this step because I have many times before. Just know that formulating questions is essential to conducting good research. If you want to know more about how I teach questioning skills check out the following:

2. Searching for “good” information:

When you are beginning the research stage of the inquiry process the question “What makes a resource “good”? always comes up. What resources can students use? How do you navigate a website? How do I fact-check?


One activity I love to do with my students when we discuss what makes a “good” website is a “Fact or Fiction” internet scavenger hunt. Here is an example of what I would show to my students:

Once they see this image and read the contents, it is their job to say if this information is fact or fiction. Resources come in many different forms, for the sake of this post, I will be using digital resources for the example. Using books, magazines and other physical resources is encouraged but due to COVID-19, as well as the fact that my school is one-to-one with technology, we have been completely digital.


Things to consider explicitly teaching:

  • Formulating good Google searches

  • What types of websites/resources should we be looking for? (Websites, podcasts, videos, graphics, songs, social media etc.)

  • When you have selected a website, where do I search for what I need? (Locating the website Search bar, using the menu bar and understanding it is similar to a Table of Contents in a book, knowing what a site map is and how to access it on the website you have chosen, etc.)

  • Locating specific things in a resource (using Ctrl + F or a website and reading the VIDEO TRANSCRIPT if it is available, Table of contents, index etc.)

  • Backing up any information you find, by using multiple RELIABLE resources.

An activity like this gives students the opportunity to practice their critical thinking skills. Students will look at the graphic, pull the information that is helpful, look closely at any visual clues and then from there begin asking questions. The question "Is this real?" is probably going to be asked. Run with it! Questions are the first step to beginning the research process.


The organizer that I would introduce to students during this activity is the “Good” Info organizer. This organizer is great for students to jot down their notes, discoveries, ideas and debunk or verify anything they think is FACT or FICTION. Using this organizer is also a beginning step to creating a work cited or resource list.


3. Using your “Network”:


Your network and also your student's network. How do we use our contacts to make meaning of what we are researching? It is no secret that I really DO NOT like Twitter... BUT twitter and social media, in general, are a GREAT resource for learning. You might think I am insane for saying that but, where else would you be able to directly contact EXPERTS in their field? Sure you could reach out via email, but sometimes you want a quick, simple response, that you can then build on. Social media, specifically Twitter, is great for that.


Things to consider before networking for learning:

  • Who do we know in our network that can help?

  • Why do we think they are a good person/ good party to contact? What makes them ”an expert”?

  • Where are we going to contact them?

  • What are we going to ask?

The organizer I chose to share for this portion is a Tree Map. A tree map is a great thinking and brainstorming tool that students can use to plan their communication with EXPERTS in their network.


4. Going beyond the surface and Being patient:


When you are conducting any type of research, you CANNOT take what you discover at face value! Teaching CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS, analysis of concepts, inferencing, creativity and synthesizing, are so important for the students. In order for them to be active participants in their Student-led Action portion of the inquiry process, we must engage in this skill development. How do you do that? What prompts can we ask to get our students thinking and analyzing?

We need to engage in building these skills by covering data analysis, questioning, inferring, synthesizing and so much more. A great resource that I have found very helpful that is PERFECT for practicing these skills is “Developing Research Skills Task Cards“ created by Susan Powers. Susan has more about her approaches to teaching research skills at PYPteachingtools.com or you can find her on Instagram @pypteaching.


These task cards can be used in a variety of ways that encourage the children to reflect and think about the strategies for researching. They offer different scenarios and data that students can access based on prior learning, which in hand develops research skills in an effective way.


5. Respecting ownership and picking equitable and inclusive resources:


Anytime you use a resource we need to CITE and give credit to the creator, author, producer etc. It doesn't matter what type of resource you use (songs, books, websites, videos, photos, podcasts, social media etc.), you must ALWAYS give credit. Even if you created something, if you got inspiration from someone else, you want to make sure you give credit, where it is due.

So how do you do that? There are many different citation methods that learners can use (APA, MLA, etc). Choosing the format of your citation method will be determined based on your students and their needs.


The basic information I ask my students to provide me is author/creator, type of resource, resource, publisher, date published and page numbers if necessary.


We also want to make sure that the resources that our students are using are equitable and accessible by all students regardless of their strengths, needs or learner profile. Having resources from people from different cultural backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds, different life experiences etc. We want to have students engaging with authentic and diverse resources.


Something I looked into a lot when I first became a teacher-librarian ad well as someone who creates a lot of products for TPT was Creative Commons.

"Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s pressing challenges" - Creative Commons

In the inquiry classroom, students are always creating and sharing their own original ideas. Creative Commons licenses can allow students the opportunity to explore various usage rights before sharing with the greater community. Creative Commons offers certain usage rights to the public while allowing the creator to reserve other rights. This is not only great to know for students but also for all educators who are also creators because you can make your work available to the school staff and students for “limited kinds of uses” while preserving your own personal copyright.


Now what? "We did some research, but I don't want my student's inquiry to turn into a research project!"


I hear you and I feel you! I see this very often! Teachers begin a unit of inquiry with the greatest intentions and then... it turns into a research project. Research is a big component of the inquiry process but there is more that needs to happen. When inquirers engage in the Research process, there are many things that take place, for example; searching, note-taking, and writing. Our goal as facilitators in the classroom is to help students locate and evaluate information about any topic they are interested in.


The purpose of the extensive research and use of organizers is to create a learning environment where students are better informed in their area of interest. Once students have asked their questions, stated their wonders and done some investigation, exploration and research, you can move away from a research project.


When students are well informed on a topic or concept,

we can take time to focus on our essential question which

will then lead us to our student-led action.


If you want to know more about what comes next, how to create an essential question or how to begin preparing your kiddos for student-led action reach out!


- Lidia



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