Inquiry Oriented Teaching is creating a setting which students feel compelled to pursue solutions to problems that are meaningful to them.  Classroom teachers that employ inquiry based methods increase the chance for student engagement, questions and curiosity. These factors increase motivation which increases the probability of retention and application. Inquiry is the process by which one goes about rationally resolving doubt.

Inquiry is a multi-faceted activity that involves making observations; posing questions; examining books and other sources of information to see what is already known; planning investigations; reviewing what is already known in light of experimental evidence; using tools to gather, analyze, and interpret data; proposing answers, explanations, and predictions; and communicating the results. Inquiry requires identification of assumptions, use of critical and logical thinking, and consideration of alternative explanations.


Rationale/Why Teach With Inquiry?

One goal of the K-12 education in the United States is to create functional, democratic citizens, who can think critically, make informed decisions, solve problems, collect and analyze data, think independently, compromise, question information, and work well with others. By using the inquiry approach in education, each of these factors is being addressed and practice by students.

Inquiry agrees with the Learning Theory, which is:

  1. A motivated learner acquires what he or she learns more readily than one who is not motivated.
  2. Learning when intrinsically motivated is preferably and longer lasting than learning when extrinsically motivated.
  3. Active participation by a learner is preferably to passive reception when learning.
  4. Meaningful material and meaningful tasks are learned more readily than nonsense materials and more readily than tasks not understood by the learner.
  5. There is no substitute for repetitive practice and the over learning of skills (for instance, the performance of a concert pianist), or in the memorization of unrelated facts that have to be automatized.
  6. Transfer to new tasks will be better if, in learning, the learner can discover relationships for himself or herself.

NOTE: One must experience information for it to have an impact on you. Inquiry creates a meaningful experience for learners in the classroom in which the activity is centered around them and not the teacher.

Methods: Common methods used in content areas include the following:
“The 5 E’s to Inquiry”

  • Engage. In the stage Engage, the students first encounter and identify the instructional task. Here they make connections between past and present learning experiences, lay the organizational ground work for the activities ahead and stimulate their involvement in the anticipation of these activities. Asking a question, defining a problem, showing a surprising event and acting out a problematic situation are all ways to engage the students and focus them on the instructional tasks. If we were to make an analogy to the world of marketing a product, at first we need to grab the customer's attention. We won't have their attention unless they have a need to buy the product. They may be unaware of a need, and in this case we are motivated to create a need.


  • Explore. In the Exploration stage the students have the opportunity to get directly involved with phenomena and materials. Involving themselves in these activities they develop a grounding of experience with the phenomenon. As they work together in teams, students build a base of common experience which assists them in the process of sharing and communicating. The teacher acts as a facilitator, providing materials and guiding the students' focus. The students' inquiry process drives the instruction during an exploration.


  • Explain. The third stage, Explain, is the point at which the learner begins to put the abstract experience through which she/he has gone /into a communicable form. Language provides motivation for sequencing events into a logical format. Communication occurs between peers, the facilitator, or within the learner himself. Working in groups, learners support each other's understanding as they articulate their observations, ideas, questions and hypotheses. Language provides a tool of communicable labels. These labels, applied to elements of abstract exploration, give the learner a means of sharing these explorations. Explanations from the facilitator can provide names that correspond to historical and standard language, for student findings and events. For example a child, through her exploration, may state they have noticed that a magnet has a tendency to "stick" to a certain metallic object. The facilitator, in her discussion with the child, might at this stage introduce terminology referring to "an attracting force". Introducing labels, after the child has had a direct experience, is far more meaningful than before that experience. The experiential base she has built offers the student an attachment place for the label. Common language enhances the sharing and communication between facilitator and students. The facilitator can determine levels of understanding and possible misconceptions. Created works such as writing, drawing, video, or tape recordings are communications that provide recorded evidence of the learner's development, progress and growth.


  • Elaborate. In stage four, elaborate, the students expand on the concepts they have learned, make connections to other related concepts, and apply their understandings to the world around them. For example, while exploring light phenomena, a learner constructs an understanding of the path light travels through space. Examining a lamp post, she may notice that the shadow of the post changes its location as the day grows later. This observation can lead to further inquiry as to possible connections between the shadow's changing location and the changes in direction of the light source, the Sun. Applications to real world events, such as where to plant flowers so that they receive sunlight most of the day, or how to prop up a beach umbrella for shade from the Sun, are both extensions and applications of the concept that light travels in a straight path. These connections often lead to further inquiry and new understandings.


  • Evaluate. Evaluate, the fifth "E", is an on-going diagnostic process that allows the teacher to determine if the learner has attained understanding of concepts and knowledge. Evaluation and assessment can occur at all points along the continuum of the instructional process. Some of the tools that assist in this diagnostic process are: rubrics (quantified and prioritized outcome expectations) determined hand-in-hand with the lesson design, teacher observation structured by checklists, student interviews, portfolios designed with specific purposes, project and problem-based learning products, and embedded assessments. Concrete evidence of the learning proceed is most valuable in communications between students, teachers, parents and administrators. Displays of attainment and progress enhance understanding for all parties involved in the educational process, and can become jumping off points for further enrichment of the students' education. These evidences of learning serve to guide the teacher in further lesson planning and may signal the need for modification and change of direction. For example, if a teacher perceives clear evidence of misconception, then he/she can revisit the concept to enhance clearer understanding. If the students show profound interest in a branching direction of inquiry, the teacher can consider refocusing the investigation to take advantage of this high level of interest. Viewing the evaluation process as a continuous one gives the constructivistic philosophy a kind of cyclical structure. The learning process is open-ended and open to change. There is an ongoing loop where questions lead to answers but more questions and instruction is driven by both predetermined lesson design and the inquiry process.

6 Simple Steps to Inquiry No Matter What Content Area You Teach:

Step 1: Define a Problem

Create disequilibrium. This means, create something for students that is new and that is something that needs to be explored in order to be understood.

Three ways to create a problem:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Conflicting Information
  3. A discrepant event.

Step 2: Create a Hypothesis

Once disequilibrium is created, students will then work through creating a hypothesis to explain the cause of the problem, which will help them work their way back towards equilibrium, or understanding.

Step 3: Collect Data

Students work towards collecting data about the problem or disequilibrium created.

Step 4: Analyze Data

After students collect data, they analyze the data in order to support or disprove their hypotheses.

Step 5: Reach Conclusions

After data has been collected and analyzed, students will make decisions in order to reach a conclusion about the data.

Step 6: Test Hypothesis

After conclusions have been reached, students will then compare their original hypotheses with the conclusion reached. This will help them to understand the problem, putting them back into equilibrium.

Book Resources:

Bybee, R., Coates, K., DePugh, L., Hackett, J., Horsley, S. L., Olson, S., et al. (2000). Inquiry And The National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Llewellyn, D. (2007). Inquire Within (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Websites For Teaching Using Inquiry:

Teaching Today

Worksheet Library. Website with tips on teaching inquiry.

Miami Museum of Science. Constructivism And The Five E's of Teaching Inquiry in the classroom

Concept To Classroom. What do inquiry based lesson plans look like?

Lesson Plans And Teaching Strategies for teaching using inquiry.

The Smithsonian Education website. Has many resources available for teachers. This link will take you the lesson plan search page of inquiry lesson plans. The lesson plans found on this page are for upper grade levels, specifically middle school.*%22

This website describes the teaching method of inquiry. It gives you the background of inquiry and tells you how to go about teaching a guided inquiry lesson. 

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