Inquiry Based Learning, Teaching, Teaching Resources

The Starters Guide to Inquiry Based Learning

inquiry based learning, what is inquiry

Inquiry Based Learning is very encompassing.

According to Edutopia, who published an article discussing the differences between problem- and project-based learning, all of the following fall into the category of inquiry based learning:

  • Case-based learning
  • Challenge-based learning
  • Community-based learning
  • Design-based learning
  • Game-based learning
  • Inquiry-based learning
  • Land-based learning
  • Passion-based learning
  • Place-based learning
  • Problem-based learning
  • Proficiency-based learning
  • Service-based learning
  • Studio-based learning
  • Team-based learning
  • Work-based learning

Here are two of my favorite resources for Project Based Learning: April over at Performing in Education and, of course, Buck Institute of Education (BIE).  FYI – I’ve been trained on Project Based Learning and used it in the classroom, which is why I’m offering up my faves.

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BUT…after trying (and probably failing) with PBL, I realized that regardless of whether what I was doing was Project Based Learning, it was still, Inquiry Based Learning.

In my classroom…

I rarely stand at the front and lecture.  My students are free to research and learn through discovery each and every day.  So, what do I do in class, you ask? Well, that’s easy, friend! I monitor, facilitate, mentor, and more!

inquiry based learning, what is inquiry

What is inquiry based learning?

Inquiry based learning (IBL) is a way of structuring a classroom that enables students to learn through inquiry.  IBL is an umbrella that covers many other strategies, but it usually starts with a question.  The starting or driving question guides the task/topic/unit for the learners.  It provides somewhat of a focus, but is also broad enough that students have flexibility in how students can answer it.

Is there a specific order?

So often inquiry based learning starts with a question.  After that, it’s very much about the process.  Inquiry based learning goes hand in hand with a growth mindset.  I’m sure as an educator you’ve heard all about Carol Dweck and her research on growth vs. fixed mindsets.

My favorite thing that happens in class…

Pretty much everyday, students seek me out for clarification on something they just discovered, to “test” them on their level of understanding, and/or to ask me questions just so that I can tell them “Oh, hmmm…I don’t know”.  My students get a kick out of knowing something that I don’t.  Yep, that’s middle school!

How can I get that in my classroom?

There are lots of ways that you can begin incorporating inquiry based learning in your classroom.  BUT, it has to start with you, the teacher, deciding to give up small pieces of control.  Yep, that’s right, babe, you have to let your students run the show for a bit.  WHY? In order for students to actually inquire about something, they need to discover something about that topic for themselves, they need to really get interested in it.

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Can I get a real example of inquiry based learning?

In my 6th grade science class, we’re knee-deep in a body systems unit.  In this unit, my students had to complete specific tasks, as well as tasks that they could choose.  These tasks included stations; creating models, posters, scavenger hunts, or videos.

One of the tasks was to create a life-size poster that includes major organs from each body system.  I gave them no information about what any of the body systems or the organs do or where they are located in our body.  My students had to research and discover for themselves.  After about thirty minutes I had at least five students (that’s about one from each group) come tell me there’s no way to draw this! There’s just no way that ALL of this could fit on their poster.  To which I replied, “It all fits in your body, plus some”.  Off they went, full of amazement for how much was actually inside of us.  And, yes, they were determined to “fit it all in” on their posters.

Fast forward two weeks…

I bring out our half-man body model with removable pieces.  I simply set him out on a table and continued with my conversations.  Students immediately went over and began figuring out the puzzle that is our human body.  Both of those activities required my students to use inquiry.

Use this FREE quiz + step by step checklist to help you plan for inquiry in your classroom

Your Challenge: Learn more about inquiry based learning.  Grab this FREE tool, too!

If you’re not quite there yet, send me an email: and let me know what I can help you with!

A bientot!




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