How to start inquiry based learning in your classroom

As you can tell from my previous posts, I'm a big fan of inquiry based learning.  It really allows me to be the intuitive teacher I have always wanted to be, it's easy to differentiate, and it motivates students to learn.  A lot of people have asked me, how do you start inquiry based learning in your classroom?  So, I thought that I would do a post to break it down.

First, and foremost, if you are an Ontario teacher, take a look at the new social studies curriculum.  Not just the expectations, but really read the "stuff" that's in the front, and the break downs of each grade. In this post, I will use some of the diagrams and charts from this document to show you how to start this in your classroom.

On page 8 of the document, you will find this diagram.

 It basically breaks down for you, if you are using the social studies curriculum, start with the "big ideas," then, add the overall expectations and finally turn to the specific expectations to build your program.  These "big ideas" will help you to frame the direction of your program, and help to facilitate inquiry within your classroom.

Next, turn to the diagram on page 10.  You will find this diagram.

This diagram looks that the overall "big ideas" of the curriculum.  Basically, through social studies, you are trying to teach citizenship education.  There are these 4 overall themes, that are further broken down into more specific categories. Active participation looks at being a citizen, and the responsibilities of being a citizen.  Identity looks at the past to determine who we are, as well as our identity as a culture and community.  Attributes look at those character education pieces: inclusiveness, equity, empathy, rights.  And finally structures look at the structure of society.

Once you read through these sections, take a look at page 61 and 62.  This tells you how to use the social studies inquiry process in your classroom.  It specifically tells student and teacher roles in this process.

Start with formulating questions. And as it states in this diagram, students can do this independently, in groups, or with teacher guidance.  If you need assistance with the process, please read below! :) Next, students need to gather and organize. This is the research portion. They need collect the information to answer the questions.  You may want to spend a good portion of time teaching students how to use internet sources correctly and how to examine the information they are given.
From there, students need to interpret and analyse the information they have gathered and figure out what they have learned and if any biases are present (great connections to point of view and media!!!) After that, students will evaluate and draw conclusions.  And finally, communicate their findings.  You can make great connections to your writing program by having students write different text forms and / or media products to showcase their inquiry learning.

But a lot of people have also asked me "How can you ensure that you are teaching curriculum?"  Simple!  Use the expectations.  You can guide your students in the beginning of this process. You can guide them when formulating questions.  First, conduct a diagnostic assessment to figure out what they already know on the subject matter.  I always make sure that my diagnostic question is linked to the big idea of my program.  To get the specific big idea for my unit, I look to the front of my grade level in the curriculum document.

This is a sample from the Grade 3 Living and Working in Ontario. From there, (even if my diagnostic assessment is not a KWL chart), I like to ask students to write out questions or things that they want to learn.  ***Note - the culminating task is always planned at the beginning of the unit and is linked to this big idea - I want my students to show they understand and have an opinion on this big idea!

My next lessons are then focused on the inquiry piece.  And through the diagnostic, I've gathered information of what they know and what they want to learn.  I look through the curriculum, and figure out what questions I want my students to answer.  The best place to find this is the teacher prompts or questions that are found under the specific expectations.

These questions are so rich!  And try to help them answer these questions through your modelled, shared and guided reading texts.  This will help to build their background knowledge on the subject matter, and get them more comfortable when researching these questions independently.

So, what are your thoughts on inquiry and the new social studies curriculum?  How do you plan on, or are currently using it in your program? 

1 comment

  1. Inquiry based learning is mainly involving the learner and leading him to understand. Inquiry here implies on the possessing skills and attitude of yours, which allows you to ask questions about new resolutions and issues while you are gaining new information.