Using Inquiry in the Classroom

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Using Inquiry in the Classroom

Amy Knoke


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The meaning of ‘knowing’ has shifted from being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find and use it.” (National Research Council, 2007)
Inquiry is not merely ‘having students do projects’ but rather strives to nurture deep, discipline-based way of thinking and doing with students. 
As an entry point, inquiry involves learners:

tackling real-world questions, issues and controversies

developing questioning, research and communication skills

solving problems or creating solutions

collaborating within and beyond the classroom

developing deep understanding of content knowledge

participating in the public creation and improvement of ideas and knowledge
Stephenson, Neil. "Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning." Introduction. Web. 30 Oct. 2014. .
Chalkboard Splash

  1. Create a sentence starter, prompt, or question for which you would like all students to see all of their peers’ responses.

  2. As students generate responses, ask them to copy their responses onto random or designated places on the chalkboards, whiteboards, or chart paper.

    • Alternative: Have students create both a visual (literal, abstract, symbolic, etc.) and write a sentence description/answer at the bottom of the page.

    • Alternative: Have student generate responses on a post-it note or half-sheet of paper that can be taped around the room or in a hallway or pod.

  3. Ask students to walk around, analyze, and jot down similarities, differences, and surprises that they see in the answers of their peers.

  4. Debrief activity in small groups or as a whole class.

Graphic Organizer for Walk Around




How to Ensure Higher-Order Thinking

Chalkboard Splashes are great for addressing the big picture and the relevance factor with whatever topic you are teaching. For example, you may want to periodically use Chalkboard Splashes to address the following prompt: So what? Why is this important?

Himmele, Persida, and William Himmele. Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. Alexandria: ASCD, 2011. Print.

Costa’s Levels of Questions

Level 3:

Applying Information

Connections and Opinions

  • Apply

  • Create

  • Evaluate

  • Generate

  • Hypothesize

  • Imagine

  • Judge

  • Modify

  • Predict

  • Speculate

  • What would happen to _______ if ______?

  • Pretend you are a character in a story and…

  • What do you think will happen to ______? Why?

  • Could this story really happen? Why or why not?

  • How would you solve this problem in your life?

  • What is the situation changed to___; how would that impact the outcome?

Level 2: Processing Information
Implied or Inferred: read between the lines

  • Analyze

  • Categorize

  • Compare

  • Contrast

  • Demonstrate

  • Develop

  • Group

  • Infer

  • Organize

  • Relate

  • Sequence

  • Synthesize

  • Would you have done the same thing as…?

  • How are ______ and _______ alike and different?

  • What was important about…?

  • What is the main idea of the story (event)?

  • What information supports you explanation?

  • What does _______ suggest about ________’s character?

  • What is the author trying to prove?

Level 1:

Gathering Information

Facts or Details:

the answer is on the page

  • Define

  • Describe

  • Find

  • Identify

  • List

  • Locate

  • Name

  • Observe

  • Recite

  • Report

  • What information is given?

  • Where does ______ happen?

  • When did the event take place?

  • What are…? OR Where did…? OR What is…? OR Who was/were…?

  • What part of the story shows…?

  • What is the origin of the word _______?

  • What events led to _______?

Everyone Shares: Questioning Strategy

Option One:

  • Have students write or come to class with questions prepared for a discussion on a particular topic (novel, textbook chapter, test prep, etc.)

  • Have each student stand up behind their chair. As students contribute to the conversation, have them sit down. Everyone participates!

  • Students can participate in the discussion either by asking a question or by responding to a classmate’s question.

  • Each question must get at least one response before the class moves on to a new question; however, multiple people can answer and add to a single question.

Option Two:

  • Objective: Everyone must answer and ask a question.

  • Divide the class in half and line them up on opposite sides of the room. The idea is that the conversation bounces from one side of the room to the other.

  • Students can only ask a question once they’ve answered a question. A student question is asked immediately after they answer a question.

  • Each student contributes only one question and one response. No one is dominating the conversation, and all students have an opportunity to participate.

Question Matrix













Developing Reading Prompts


This statement can provide background of the text or isolate the information that you want the reader to focus on during the reading.

(Example: In her essay “On Self-Respect,” Joan Didion uses irony and allusion to communicate her personal journey towards developing self-respect.)

Set the Reading Task:

Identify the “marking the text” strategies—what words or elements you want the reader to circle and underline. These should align with the extended activity you have planned. You will also need to provide direction on notations to write in the margin.

(Example: As you read, circle words or ideas that are unclear or confusing and underline examples of irony and allusion. In the margins, explain why each underlined example is ironic or why you think Didion used that specific allusion—use your vocabulary awareness chart to remember what the allusions refer to.)


Provide general information on the extend beyond activities, so that the reader is reading with purpose.

(Example: Develop two questions you would like to discuss with others as you explore this text further in Socratic Seminar. At the end of your reading and discussion, summarize your margin notes and discussion notes to answer these two questions:

  • How does Didion’s use of irony help communicate her main point about self-respect?

  • How does Didion’s choice of allusions help to communicate her main about self-respect?)

The Write Path English Language Arts: Exploring Texts with Strategic Reading. San Diego: AVID, 2012. 16. Print.
Driven to Distraction: Our Wired Generation” Assignment

In Larry Rosen’s article “Driven to Distraction: Our Wired Generation” he discusses technologies place within the classroom. As you read, circle key words and terms essential to topic of technology in the classroom and underline the author’s claims. When you finish, develop two level two or level three questions you would like to discuss with others as your explore this text further in Socratic Seminar.

Socratic Seminar

“The goal of the Socratic Seminar in elementary and secondary school is not to arrive at a ‘correct’ interpretation of the text via the seminar teacher’s skillful questioning. Instead, it is the assumption of this method that knowledge and understanding are constructed by learners themselves, rather than discovered or received. In other words, understanding is emergent, uncertain, and subject to revision; it is connected to what learners already know, and it is a new creation by cooperative action, rather than a product solely of the author’s or teacher’s effort.” –Peter Winchell, Socratic Seminars West

Before the Seminar

  1. Pre-read by previewing the text and determining how it is structured, thinking about any background information you already know or your discussed in class and noticing the questions you have before you read.

  2. Interact with the text so you read it closely. This includes annotating by:
    Marking the text:

    • Number the paragraphs

    • Circle key terms

    • Underline important parts of the text that are connected to your purpose for reading

    • Making notes in the margin

  3. Extend beyond the text by writing several open-ended questions that have no single right answer and will encourage discussion.

During the Seminar

  1. Be prepared to participate and ask good questions. The quality of the seminar is diminished when participants speak without preparation.

  2. Show respect for differing ideas, thoughts, and values—no put-downs or sarcasm.

  3. Allow each speaker enough time to begin and finish his or her thought—don’t interrupt.

  4. Involve others in the discussion and ask others to elaborate on their responses.

  5. Build on what others say: ask questions to probe deeper, clarify, paraphrase and add and synthesize a variety of different views in your own summary.

  6. Use your best active listening skills: nod, make eye contact, lean forward, provide feedback and listen carefully to others.

  7. Participate openly and keep your mind open to new ideas and possibilities.

  8. Refer to the text often and give evidence and examples to support your response.

  9. Discuss the ideas of the text, not each other’s opinions or personal experiences.

  10. Take notes about important points you want to remember or new questions you want to ask.

After the Seminar

  1. Summarize: Use writing to think about and summarize the content of the seminar, especially to capture new understandings of the text.

  2. Reflect: Use writing to think about and reflect on the process of the seminar—both your contributions and the group’s process.

  3. Set Goals: Be prepared to set goals for improvement in the next seminar.

The Write Path English Language Arts: Exploring Texts with Strategic Reading. San Diego: AVID, 2012. 325-326. Print.

Socratic Seminar Sample Class Arrangements

One Large Seminar

Discussion questions can be teacher generated, but the goal is to have students run and shape the discussion.

Inner/Outer Circle or Fishbowl

Half of the class participates in the conversation while the other half surrounds the group and listens and quietly observers. Groups can switch half way through so that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the discussion.

Wingman or Triad Seminars

Students can work together either in groups of two or three. One member is responsible for being a part of the discussion and the other students can convey information for the “pilot” to share either through writing, quiet sharing, or designated times throughout the conversation to confer together.


The Write Path English Language Arts: Exploring Texts with Strategic Reading. San Diego: AVID, 2012. 322. Print.

Academic Language Scripts for Discussion


  • Could you repeat that?

  • Could you give us an example of that?

  • I have a question about that…?

  • Could you please explain what _________ means? What did you mean when you said…?

  • I think what _________ is trying to say is …

  • Let me see if I understand you. Do you mean _________ or _________?

Probing for Higher-Level Thinking

  • What examples do you have of…?

  • Where in the text can we find…?

  • I understand… ,but I wonder about …

  • How does this idea connect to…?

  • If ___________ is true, then …?

  • What would happen if _____________?

  • Do you agree or disagree with his/her statement? Why?

  • How are ____________ and _____________ similar?

  • Why is _________________ important?

Building on What Others Say

  • I agree with that _____________ said because…

  • You bring up an interesting point, and I also think…

  • That’s an interesting idea. I wonder…? I think… Do you think…?

  • I thought about that also, and I’m wondering why…?

Expressing an Opinion

  • I think/believe/predict/imagine that… What do you think?

  • In my opinion… OR It seems to me that…

  • Not everyone will agree with me, but…


  • Excuse me, but…(I don’t understand)

  • Sorry for interrupting, but…(I missed what you said)

  • May I interrupt for a moment? OR May I add something here?


  • I don’t really agree with you because…

  • I see it another way. I think…

  • My idea is slightly different from yours. I believe that… I think that…

Inviting Others into the Dialogue

  • Does anyone agree/disagree?

  • What gaps do you see in my reasoning?

  • What different conclusions do you have?

  • We haven’t heard from many people in the group. Could someone new offer an idea or idea or question?

The Write Path English Language Arts: Exploring Texts with Strategic Reading. San Diego: AVID, 2012. 218-219. Print.

Personal Goal

What ideas did I learn or was I reminded about today that I want to try?

How do I plan to implement this idea in your my classroom at least one before the end of January?

For Next Time:

  • Between now and the end of January, implement an inquiry strategy in your classroom (from the cohort or another inquiry strategy you haven’t yet tried).

  • Come back to the cohort with some evidence, anecdotes, or insights to share with the group

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