classroom management / critical thinking

11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom

eu-63985_640You became a teacher not to pontificate to trusting minds, but to teach children how to succeed as adults. That idealism infused every class in your credential program and only took a slight bump during your student teacher days. That educator, you figured, was a dinosaur. You’d never teach to the test or lecture for forty minutes of a forty-five minute class.

Then you got a job and reality struck. You had lesson plans to get through, standards to assess, and state-wide tests that students must do well on or you’d get the blame. A glance in the mirror said you were becoming that teacher you hated in school. You considered leaving the profession.

Until the inquiry-based classroom arrived where teaching’s goal was not the solution to a problem, but the path followed. It’s what you’d hoped to do long ago when you started–but how do you turn a traditional entrenched classroom into one that’s inquiry-based?

One step at a time, and here are fifteen you can take. One or more will resonate with your teaching style:

Flip the classroom

The night prior to the lesson, have students read the lecture materials so you can spend class time in hands-on discovery.

Don’t answer student questions–show them how to do it themselves.

When students have questions, you guide them toward answers. Don’t give them a fish, rather teach them to fish. When students understand the methodology, they can repeat the process. Without understanding, they are robots.

But this requires comprehensive teacher preparation to be ready for the multitude of directions a conversation can go, not just steer student inquiry where you’re comfortable. Inquiry-based lessons are process-, not product-oriented. How students reach conclusions is as important as the conclusions they reach. That critical thinking is what it’s about. Think back to your favorite school lessons. Were they where you learned the capital of every state or where you came to understand the scientific method? (OK, maybe that comparison doesn’t work, but you get my point–likely, your favorite lessons required you to think, not regurgitate).

Listen when students speak

It’s tempting to think you know what students are going to ask/say. Resist the impulse. Listen. Try to understand what their real question is, not what their words say. Watch them. Are they comfortable with your answer, or does it make them squirm? Take the time to travel the distance to a solution.

Encourage questions.

Class is ticking away and there are too many questions. If you take time to answer all of them, you won’t cover the material scheduled.

That’s OK. Take the time. Make the issues clear. An odd thing will start to happen. As students more thoroughly understand a concept, they will transfer that knowledge to other lessons and those will go faster than expected. By the end of the year, you’ll have covered more material in more depth. Cool, hunh?

Spend time on projects, not lecturing

There’s an old Chinese proverb, although Ben Franklin occasionally gets credit for these words:

“Tell me and I’ll forget.

Show me and I may remember.

Involve me and I’ll understand.”

Inquiry is about doing, not observing, action not inaction.

Lessons are fluid

Learning isn’t linear. It’s a web that grows out from the central question. As such, your lesson plan may change dramatically based on student inquiry. If you teach three fifth grade classes, each will likely be different from the other. That’s OK. Your challenge is to track what you did in each class and pick up from where you left off. That’s OK, too. It’s part of the job of teaching an inquiry-based class.

Publish and share

Inquiry-based classrooms share knowledge. This can be accomplished via a class wiki, blogs, websites, but it’s done. Students understand how to embed articles and projects into the internet or class network so its shared by everyone. They accept that part of their responsibility as a student is to ask questions about these shared materials, read and comment on them, and use them as resources. We all grow when one grows.

Reflection is included in every lesson plan

What did students learn? Where can they transfer it? You as teacher do that after every teaching experience. Your students do it also. Then you understand if what they learned was what you planned. Or something else.

You are a fellow learner

Students learn they are valued in the classroom experience. Their conclusions bend discussion, mold learning. In this way, they understand the importance of their participation in projects, reflections, and collaborative experiences. Encourage this. Accept that the inquiry-based classroom will be noisier than the typical class–and that’s a good thing.

Questions don’t have yes-no answers

Likely, they don’t even have a concrete answer. They are more ‘how’ and ‘why’, which requires investigation into multiple strands to answer well. Assessment, then, becomes the student ability to use problem-solving and thinking skills, not to repeat someone else’s conclusions.

Summative assessments are less paper-and-pencil and more hands-on, creative, and student-centered

They are less about answering teacher questions than sharing student learning. You might even have students create their own assessments in something like PuzzleMaker.

That’s it–eleven ideas. Any handful of these approaches will morph your classroom from passive to sparkling, from boring to brilliant. In the comments, share what happened the first time you tried to remove the pedagogic anchor and set your class lose, the simple goal: learning?




Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, featured blogger for Technology in EducationIMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me

About these ads

68 thoughts on “11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom

  1. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Ask a Tech Teacher | Learning Curve

  2. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Pr...

  3. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | gp...

  4. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Gl...

  5. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Ed...

  6. You said: “Your challenge is to track what you did in each class and pick up from where you left off.” Do you have any tips on exactly how to keep track of that?

    • I keep notes in Excel. I track goals for each class and check off the ones I accomplished. Then, I add notes about a connection students might have come up with that I want to follow up on. It works great–except when Admin books my classes back-to-back-to-back. Then I have trouble getting my notes down and forget!

  7. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Le...

  8. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | In...

  9. Pingback: Mr G's Idle Musings » Blog Archive » My Diigo 05/13/2013

  10. I like what this article says. I have been moving my classes toward this method of teaching for a long while now. I must say I didn’t miss to many of your eleven ideas. I think my biggest downfall is remembering to include reflection time. We often are so busy we don’t watch the clock. However, since my classroom is completely online, (moodle) my students can reflect and discuss anytime day or night.
    My second downfall is publishing and sharing, My district won’t let students publish outside of the district. Therefore, we publish online through moodle and to each other. Then we give feedback and I allow time for correction before the final grade is submitted.

    • I’d love to hear more how Moodle works for you. We looked at Moodle for a bit, but the teachers couldn’t get behind it so Admin dropped it. I spent a lot of time and got comfortable with it and the possibilities and think we missed out. Do you publish your thoughts on Moodle anywhere that I could read? Thanks, Merle, for weighing in.

  11. Two points not mentioned. 1. If your district is into differentiating lessons. This method of coach teaching, using projects and flipped classes works well. 2. I did find flipped classes worked better with older students than younger ones. I would keep it 7th and 8th grade or above in my experience. Even then I have trouble getting them to watch the video, or listen to the podcast before class. I usually have them do that during the (bell ringer time), While I take roll etc..

    • Good points. On the one hand, youngers might do the ‘homework’–preview–better, but it might not make as much sense. How long have you tried to flip the class? Do you think the students will eventually get behind this approach?

      • I do not think that the younger kids have enough self discipline to do the flipped class preview or listen, without a parent or someone pushing them. That’s why I use the flipped class format as a bell ringer for them to work on the first few minutes of class. I do find that they will refer to the video or podcast while working on a project to refresh their memory of the content.

  12. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Hi...

  13. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Gu...

  14. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | iG...

  15. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Le...

  16. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Bi...

  17. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | em...

  18. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Te...

  19. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | So...

  20. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Cl...

  21. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Sk...

  22. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | TE...

  23. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Sc...

  24. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Ut...

  25. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | K-...

  26. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | sk...

  27. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Bi...

  28. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | K&...

  29. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | In...

  30. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Sc...

  31. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Co...

  32. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Di...

  33. What kind of summative assessments do you have students complete as reflections? Exit cards/questions, reflection paragraphs, short answer questions?

  34. Great article! I often feel I need to cut questions short to ensure I am covering all the content. Reading this article let me know it is okay to take the time to answer questions this will allow students the opportunity to thoroughly understand the concepts being taught.

  35. I agree it is a great article! I too often feel I need to cut questions short to ensure I am covering all the content. Taking more time is so important to student learning.

  36. Great article! I often feel I need to cut questions short to ensure I am covering all the content. Reading this article let me know it is okay to take the time to answer questions this will allow students the opportunity to thoroughly understand the concepts being taught.

    • Intuitively, it seems that answering questions slows the class down. It actually simply rearranges material. Students connect information in unique ways. Questions you answer is detail you don’t have to go over later.

      BTW, I’ve moved this blog to http://askatechteacher.com. Please check there for updated articles.

  37. I would liked to do the flipped classroom. I have used Kahn Academy in class. My younger students could look at notes the night before the class.since some don’t have internet access.

  38. The tips were very helpful. As an art teacher, I think project based lessons are awesome to use – the hook is what really gets them going!

  39. Great Ideas. Our district is moving towards this as well. We have many teachers doing the flipped classroom in my building currently.

  40. Your tips are great and really should be easy to implement. The one I could relate to the most was resisting answering the student’s questions and instead guide them in the process of finding the solution. I also plan to start flipping one my classes. I know it will be difficult at first, but will definitely pay off for my students.

    • Flipping is a mindset as much for student as teacher. I actually encourage them do their homework in groups to encourage perspective-taking. I agree, too, about the questions. When I have my youngers (which often come with parent helpers), parents want me to jump in and solve the problem, but I want to ‘teach the children to fish’. Educating the adults is more difficult than the kids!

  41. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Vi...

  42. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Au...

  43. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | IC...

  44. I haven’t utilized having the students publish their material. I’ve recently learned several outlets for this that will make it easier (Smore, for example).

  45. I really love the idea of inquiry-based classrooms. However, I can’t wrap my head around how it would work with my population. I teach high school ELL students basic English vocabulary, reading, and writing using very scripted and structured programs with interactive software components via Scholastic (System 44, Read 180, English 3D). Any ideas how I could flip a classroom like this and move toward project-based learning?

    • That does sound like a challenge. What if you assigned the boring langugae learning as homework–in videos, articles, text–and had the students participate on something like Google Hangout to use the knowledge? Or create Animoto videos using their skills during class time?

      Good luck!

  46. Pingback: 11 Ways to Make an Inquiry based Classroom | Au...

What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s