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How to Guide Learners Through the INQUIRY PROCESS

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

You are probably faced with a ton of random questions from your learners all day long!

Every. Day! Young learners are curious.

They want to know things. They want to know random things.

Right. In. the. Middle. Of. Your. Lesson.

We are inquisitive by nature.

We wonder about things all the time!

We want to know things.

We want to find answers to those things.

We go through the process to finding answers to that which we are so interested.

Your learners have those same tendencies.


They wonder ALL THE TIME!

However, they probably need to develop the skills necessary to find answers to those questions. They need guidance in finding answers for their many wonderings. Readers need nonfiction reading and research skills.


Readers need to understand the inquiry process to find answers to their many questions.

When you take your learners through the inquiry process, you should take them through these 4 key steps:

  1. The "I WONDER" step—Asking QUESTIONS




Students can use the inquiry process to develop their own questions about topics they are interested in and then organize to conduct research relevant to their own questions.

Let's walk through each of the steps in Inquiry Investigations.

The 'I Wonder' Step

This step is all about asking questions! Learners need to be given time to create a list of questions they have always wondered about. Questions they would like to have answers to. It can be about anything small to large.

Your learners should create a notebook or note box full of questions they have—their wonderings. I had much success when I would give my readers a small note card box with a stack of notecards. They collected one question per index card. We called it their Wonder Boxes!

This strategy was perfect for when I had my readers sorting through their questions to group by topic, each question was on one card. They would then have stacks of questions organized by topic.

Best of all, when they asked me a random question at a random time, I could say you should put that one in your wonder box.

Finding and evaluating relevant resources

When readers conduct inquiry research to answer questions, they must determine the relevancy of the resources they are using to get answers.

These resources will lead your learners to answers for the questions they have about the topic so their resources should be relevant & factual and not just random opinions of an author.

This step also includes organizing & conducting the research. In order to best keep track of the new learning, your learners will need tools to keep their notes organized and easy to access. This could be a notebook, graphic organizers, notetaking tools, etc.

Back to the Wonder Box I mentioned earlier. Those notecards were the perfect place to gather the inquiry research notes that would answer the question on the card. Students could collect the notes and write down the source from which they gathered the info. Everything was in one place.

Preparing the research to present to the public

The first cycle of inquiry research is all about your readers answering questions that are important to them. However, your learners must be held accountable for actually doing the work.

Therefore, they will need to review and finalize the inquiry work to share with others.

How they share the work can be totally up to the teacher or your readers can have a choice.

Give options such as, a research booklet, a poster, a presentation, a brochure, a slide show… whatever your learners are equipped to create!

Reflecting on using the inquiry process

Inquiry is not a one and done kind of lesson or unit of study.

The first time you take your readers through the inquiry process you are equipping them with the tools they need to complete future inquiries.

With that said, reflecting on the inquiry process is important so that your learners can decide how they did and set a goal to up their game for their next inquiry project or assignment.

When your learners self-evaluate their use of the inquiry method, they will be more intentional in the choices they make within their next inquiry investigation.

When your readers are taken through these steps of inquiry, they will be guided through the process of investigating questions about topics that are relevant to them. Your learners will gain the tools they need for future inquiries.


Guiding learners through inquiry investigations

When taking your learners through the inquiry investigation process, there are several key teaching points.

These key teaching points will engage your learners in the inquiry process and start filling their toolkits with strategies and skills for reading nonfiction, researching and answering their own questions.

Teaching Point 1

Why Research?

Research can get a bad name with all the talk about research papers and library searches and notetaking and citing sources… The list goes on.

Help your readers understand that inquiry is research but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and scary. Learners can be curious about a variety of things and can easily go out to get the answers.

The first step in inquiry research is asking questions. Have your readers collect questions about all that they wonder about.

Teaching Point 2

The Research Notebook

This lesson is all about getting the tools necessary for inquiry ready to go and organized.

When readers are engaging in research they need a special place to hold all of their work.

This could be a research notebook, a section in a binder, a note card box, or whatever creative way you have for helping your readers get organized. You may wish to use a notebook (as shown above) or have something a little more specific that helps guide readers through the process.

Teaching Point 3

Our Wonderings

Once your readers have a collection of questions or as my learners and I liked to call them--Our Wonderings--students would work to sort all of their wonder questions into groups and give each group a category name.

Each student would then have a group of topics to start investigating.

From here learners can begin to prioritize which questions they want to answer first.

Teaching Point 4

Thick and Thin Questions

The next teaching point would be for your learners to distinguish between thick questions and thin questions.

Sometimes a question isn’t really researchable because it’s a one and done kind of question. Meaning it has a quick answer. These are thin questions. Easy one and done kind of research.

There’s nothing wrong with Thin questions but when conducting inquiry research we want to find researchable questions also known as Thick questions.

Thick questions require more than just one answer. These kinds of questions have many different layers and require research from different sources of information.

Knowing the difference between Thick and Thin questions could lead your readers to further divide their questions within each topic or category into Thick questions and Thin questions.

Teaching Point 5

How do we answer our questions?

This is the point when your learners are moving out to answer their questions but need tips, tricks, tools and strategies for locating relevant resources.

This search could take them to the books, magazines, articles and websites. This the opportunity to help your readers understand what relevant, valid & credible means. So if they are asking questions about the cold virus, then looking up would be more relevant than

This could lead to a conversation about credible sources, such as, WebMD articles are written by medical professionals. Whereas, Susie is a teenager that blogs about her daily health struggles. Which source is more reliable and credible? Which source is backed by actual facts and research?

Teaching Point 6

Tracking Our Thinking and Learning

This teaching point is all about making sure your readers have the tools they need to organize their research notes.

  • Will they be using a Using a Question Web to Organize research?

  • Will they be using notecards to organize research?

  • Will they be using a research booklet?

Decide which tool or tools your readers will experience in this inquiry cycle. You could introduce a new tool within each cycle.

Teaching Point 7

Preparing our learning for the public

This is where your learners get creative in how they want to share their work with the public…aka…their peers.

Learners could create an oral presentation, a poster, a slide show, a podcast episode, a song, a brochure--the possibilities are endless. This is where student creativity will shine.

You know your learners best and will know which types of choices you can give them for sharing their learning.

Teaching Point 8

Sharing our learning

This is the fun day!

Readers share their inquiry investigations with the class.

👉Fun Tip:

Give each student a stack of post it notes.

As they listen to classmates share their projects, they can write one kind compliment about the work that was done. At the end of the day, every learner will have a collection of compliments on their work.


What's Next?

This will take readers through one cycle of the inquiry process. They will be introduced to the process and begin collecting the tools they need for research and answering their own questions.

You could guide your learners through another personal inquiry project until it becomes an independent choice.

After taking your learners through the process to explore their personal questions, you can apply the inquiry process to topics that you are required to study in the different content areas.

  • If you study the Civil War, have students create a list of wonder questions they want answered about the Civil War.

  • If you study the Great Depression, have your students create a list of wonder questions they have about the Great Depression.

  • If you study simple machines, force and motion, have your students create a list of wonder questions about how machines work.

Your lessons can then be centered around their questions and the learning will become more relevant to them keeping your learners actively engaged throughout the content area unit of study.

There are so many strategies and skills readers should understand in order to start answering the questions they have about different topics.

The key teaching points shared here will get your learners moving in the right direction.

Until next time...

You might find these instructional resources helpful when taking your learners through the inquiry process.



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