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Teaching Strategies to Use Inquiry-Based Learning

Janelle Cox

When we think of learning, the first thing that may come to mind is a teacher standing in the front of the classroom lecturing to their students, while the students sit there and try and absorb the facts he/she is sharing.

This traditional learning method has been a staple in most classrooms for decades, until now. Today, many teachers use a variety of different teaching strategies, methods, and models in their classrooms, like the inquiry-based learning model. This method takes the traditional model and flips it around. The students are the ones who do the asking, and the teacher’s role is to be their guide as they find the answers they are looking for.

Here we will take a look at teaching strategies that allow you to use this method of teaching in your classroom.

Teaching Strategies to Get Started

So, you’ve heard about inquiry-based learning and are interested in trying it, but you don’t know how to get started. The first thing that you should know is that you can use it across the curriculum, in math, science, social studies, you name it. Inquiry-based learning focuses on how to teach students how to learn, so your job as the teacher is to guide your students along on their journey. The first way that you can do that is to lay the foundation of curiosity. Children are born curious, so this should be easy. Start by encouraging students to ask thoughtful questions throughout the day. You can even make a game of it, and challenge them to think of five thoughtful and meaningful questions each day. If they reach their challenge, they win a treat from the prize box.

Study Your Lesson Plans

The next thing that you can do is take a look at your daily curriculum. Try and figure out where you can incorporate inquiry throughout your lessons. Science is the easiest subject to choose because students are going to naturally have questions about it. Children like science, but factual information is not very engaging. Inquiry taps into a child’s natural curiosity and helps them understand the information better. If your classroom is learning about the life cycles of an animal, then you can use this concept to develop questions.

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Think of an Essential Question

When introducing inquiry, you can guide students toward an essential question. Once students understand how it works, they can do this step on their own. But since this is probably your student’s first experience with inquiry-based learning, it’s OK to lead them toward a question. For this example we are talking about the life cycle of an animal. Your essential, open- ended question can be, “How do living things change and grow?” or it can be “How do living things survive in their habitat?” Either one of these questions will help spark curiosity and get things moving so students will want to ask more questions. A good, open-ended question will lead to more questions, and that is the goal with inquiry-based learning. You want students to use higher-order thinking, which will require them to produce more information.

Plan for Learning Skills

For this example our plan is to teach students about the life cycle of an animal. But that is not the only thing that we want them to learn. We want them to learn “how to learn” by using essential questions. So your next step is to plan out what learning skills you want to know by the end of this. You may want to use inquiry to introduce students to write detailed paragraphs about life cycles, or be able to read non-fiction text. You may want them to make a presentation or collaborate with their peers on a project. Whatever you choose, now is the time to plan for these activities. More often than not, the students will lead you to the skills they need to learn through their questions. This is when you have to be prepared for anything.

Gather All of Your Resources

To prepare for your inquiry-based learning lesson, you will need a variety of resources. You can choose fiction and non-fiction texts, computer programs, age-appropriate apps, videos, Internet sites, and whatever else will help students find the answers that they are looking for.

Set Expectations

Like any lesson or project that you have students working on, you will want to set some expectations. Collaboration and cooperative learning are a huge part of inquiry-based learning, so students need some guidelines on how to engage and work with others. The traditional rules, like kindly share all materials with others, and be respectful, will work just fine.

So what does inquiry learning really look like? Students start by expressing their own curiosity, then they explore, ask questions, and investigate for answers. While building their knowledge, they continue to ask questions and search for answers, until they are able to share their knowledge with others.

Inquiry-based learning is a process, and students will shift through the stages of it as they learn. Once you try it in your classroom, you will see for yourself how free-flowing and creative your classroom can really be.

Do you practice the inquiry-based learning model in your classroom? If so, do you have tips that you would like to share? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear your ideas.