Inquiry Learning
Steps of Implementation

  1. Planning and Preparation planners

    Answer the following questions. For convenient online planning, use a free service such as NCRTEC Lesson Planner or a subscription service such as Intelligence Online to compose your lesson plans.

    Note: Although the NCRTEC Web page says, "As of September 30, 2005, the North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium is no longer in operation", the lesson planner still operates and allows for easy printing. Be sure to save your document in another application.

    • Who?
      • Decide which content teachers, librarians, technical support, special guests, etc. will facilitate this inquiry-based learning unit.
      • Decide which classes or students will be involved in this unit.
      • Decide if and which community agencies, organizations, institutions, or businesses will partner with the school in this unit.
    • What?
      • Decide on the learning standards and objectives/outcomes that this unit will encompass. Align the objectives with standards that will address both content and process. Here are the Illinois State Learning Standards, the National Educational Technology Standards for Grades 9-12, and the 21st Century Library Learning Standards.
      • Choose a theme, major concept, or big idea that a.) spans several content areas within your discipline and b.) will facilitate the learning standards and objectives you have chosen. This will be the central theme of the unit. Read On the Nature of Inquiry: Choosing a Topic for more information.
      • Convert the central theme into an essential question or questions that will frame the unit and guide the learning toward the selected content standards. According to Harada and Yoshina, essential questions have the following characteristics:
        • are open-ended, global, and abstract in nature
        • focus on key elements of the discipline
        • help students remember lasting truths, even after they have forgotten specific facts
        • recur several times throughout the investigation
        • have real-life applications
        • guide the students to other important questions, problems, and issues

        See this Mapping the Big Picture, Galileo, and From Now On for more guidance on forming essential questions.
      • Choose subsidiary questions that are open-ended and related to the essential question, but more specific.
      • Decide what resources to provide the students (e.g. which print sources, subscription databases, pathfinders, online Web sites, primary sources, etc.). The students can choose from among these and/or other resources that are relevant to their research.
      • Decide what training the students need to use the resources provided (e.g. information-seeking, resource evaluation, critical analysis, etc.).
      • Decide on criteria to assess and evaluate academic performance, or facilitate a process whereby the students select assessment and evaluation criteria. Make or select tools such as rubrics, checklists, etc., to communicate these criteria. RubiStar is a convenient online tool for creating rubrics.
      • Make the necessary preparations for final presentations (e.g. reserve the facility and equipment, appoint a set-up/clean-up crew, invite people, etc.).
      • Delegate the preparatory work to the various staff involved.
    • How?
      • Decide how to generate enthusiasm among the students for this unit (e.g. fieldtrip, debate, media, literature, guest speaker, group activity, etc.)
      • Determine which teaching strategies and best practices to use to:
        • motivate, instruct, and support the students (e.g. tutorials, point-of-need instruction, mini-lessons, individual instruction, group projects, etc.)
        • encourage predictions and hypotheses related to the problems and themes of the unit
        • build skills in locating, retrieving, extracting, understanding, summarizing, and organizing data related to the unit
        • build skills in interpreting, evaluating/critiquing, analyzing, synthesizing, and responding to information related the unit
        • build skills for decision-making, weighing the evidence, forming opinions and defending them
        • foster clear and creative thought and presentations
        • and promote the students' self-reflection of the learning process
      • Decide how the students will demonstrate their new knowledge and skills (e.g. design a community project, write a paper, create a visual presentation, take an action to address the problem, make a speech, conduct a storytelling program, etc.) or whether the students will choose their own way to share their research. See Willard's list of Possible Products and Performances for more ideas.
      • Determine how collaborative student groups will be formed, whether by teacher-choice, student-choice, or students' choice of theme. Keep student groups small (2-3 students per group) so students realize that they cannot hide behind the efforts of their team mates.
      • Decide on methods to measure levels of performance. Forms of assessment include (but are not limited to) direct observation, checklists, rubrics, student journal entries, teacher-student conferences, graphic organizers, and process-folios.
      • Decide how the staff will communicate during the inquiry unit.
      • Decide how and when the staff involved in this unit will meet to assess the process and the students' progress, and make adjustments as necessary.
    • When?
      • Choose a start date and create a tentative timeline of activities and due dates. Realize that this timeline is tentative and will be adjusted according to the pace and needs of the students.
      • Decide how many weeks this unit will take.
      • If the unit will be initiated or culminated with a fieldtrip, a special activity, or guest speaker, decide on these dates so they can be planned in advance.
      • If students will need to make special arrangements, inform them well in advance and remind them as the date approaches.
    • Where?
      • Determine which parts of the unit will be conducted in the classroom, school library, other libraries, computer lab, places outside the school, etc.
      • Make any special arrangements necessary to secure these facilities for the necessary times (book the computer lab, schedule library visits, plan field trips, etc.).

  2. Classroom Instruction and Activities
  3. classroom

    • Generate student enthusiasm for the unit. (This can be done through class discussion, role play, a fieldtrip, a special activity, a debate, a guest speaker, engaging media or literature, an experiment, newspaper/magazine articles, television news clips, an interesting lecture, etc.)
    • Introduce the themes, problems, and essential questions of the unit to the students. Then facilitate class discussion on these themes, problems, and questions. See Youth Learn for more information about asking good questions and leading discussions.
    • Through whole class and small group discussion, create a web that lists related questions and problems. This helps students see the theme's breadth.
    • Explain the major assignment(s) for the IL unit. Provide the students with a written list of your expectations and the rubric of criteria you will use to assess their performance.
    • Facilitate the process of students developing and choosing their own related questions to explore.
    • Have students make predictions about the information, approaches, solutions, perspectives, etc. that they might find in their research.
    • Provide the students with at least one resource center, such as a school library, a public library, computers with an Internet connection, a set of resources brought to the classroom, opportunities for conducting interviews, surveys, studies, or experiments, etc.
    • Guide students in the information literacy process by using a research model (e.g. The Big6, Pathways to Knowledge, STUDY, FLIP IT, Scarborough's Research Model, Kentucky Virtual Library's How to Do Research, The Essential Eight). Be sure to model skills, give guided practice, and require independent practice.
    • Encourage the students to take a "spiraling research path" which will help them to explore the theme in depth:
      • Students asks their own question(s).
      • Students choose resources that might lead to information relevant to their search.
      • tudents investigate answers, solutions, approaches, perspectives, etc. that relate to their question(s).
      • Students ask another question based on their research and increasing understanding of the theme.
      • Students research this new question to find more solutions, approaches, etc.
      • Students repeat the process until they have explored the theme in depth and are prepared to share their new-formed knowledge with the class.
    • Ask the students many types of questions to help them become self-monitoring:
      • questions that engage them in learning and help them focus: "What do you want to accomplish?" "How are you going to approach this problem?" "What sources will you need?" "How will you know when you're successful?" "What steps will you take?" "What keywords will you use to search for information?"
      • questions that foster divergent thinking: "Can you think of another solution?" "Is there another approach or perspective?" "How would _____ think about this problem?" "Who else has deals with this issue?"
      • questions that help them clarify their own position: "Why?" "How do you know?" "What evidence convinces you?"
      • questions that guide students through research obstacles: "What caused you to become stumped?" "What resources do you have that might help you get 'unstuck'?" "Can you use a thesaurus to help you find alternate keywords?" "Should you take a new direction or change your question?" "What strategies could you use to make sure you're correct?"
      • questions that assess their progress: "What new things have you learned?" "What do you wish you knew more about?" "Are you able to understand your resources?" "Are you able to make connections between ideas in different things you've read?" "Are you ready to form your own opinion about this matter?" "If not, what additional information do you need?"
      • questions that help them apply what they learned: "What does this have to do with our world today?" "Have you seen anything in the news that relates to your research?" "Who might be able to use what you learned?"
      • questions that help them reflect on their learning process: "Which steps were most difficult for you?" "Why?" "What criteria did you use?" "How might you do things differently next time?" "What did you do well?" "What part of the process was the most interesting?" "How did you grow as a researcher?"

      For more information, read The Art of Questioning and consult A Questioning Toolkit.
    • Use several types of assessment of student learning throughout the entire process. Give frequent (though brief) feedback to each student or group of students working together.
    • With other faculty involved, assess the inquiry unit at regularly scheduled meetings. Make necessary adjustments to instruction, approach, timeline, etc.
    • Have students assess their own work, applying their own criteria and setting their own standards.
    • Provide the students with the skills they need to present a product (oral, written, visual, etc.) that communicates their findings and the meaning they have created from their research.
    • Provide a supportive, encouraging context within which students can make their presentations.
    • Make final preparations for student presentations.
    • Evaluate each student's work, giving meaningful feedback that 1.) praises genuine successes and 2.) helps them improve their performance the next time.

  4. Evaluation of the Inquiry Learning Unit clipboard
    • Debrief with the students afterwards about the IL unit. Have them reflect on the learning process and product in detail. Help them to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Invite suggestions for how the unit can be improved the next time you facilitate it. This could be done via discussion, survey, journal entry, etc. SurveyMonkey is a free tool for creating online surveys, collecting responses, and analyzing results.
    • Provide a forum for parent feedback about the unit.
    • With all staff involved, discuss strengths and weakness of the IL unit. Record notes so that you can refer to them the next time you facilitate this kind of unit.
    • Celebrate the students' accomplishments through announcements on the school intercom, school bulletins, local newspapers, or other media.
    • Display student work in a prominent place in the school.


Exline, Joe. Concept to Classroom Workshop: Inquiry-based Learning. Ed. Godwin Chu. 2004. Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 22 Oct. 2007 .

Harada, Violet H., and Joan M. Yoshina. Inquiry Learning through Librarian-Teacher Partnerships. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing, Inc., 2004

[an error occurred while processing this directive]