Are you looking to boost student engagement in your classroom? Use inquiry-based learning!

Students doing research and writing activities Photo by CDC on Unsplash

What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Inquiry-based learning involves students asking questions and researching real-world problems.

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From a student's POV: Look at a question or topic.

They must:

  • Ask questions

  • Get information for support

  • Explain the evidence

  • Make a conclusion

  • Show conclusions

  • Use journals, presentations, graphs, etc.

Icon of a teacher in front of a blackboard

From a teacher's POV: Move students from curiosity to understanding.

They must:

  • Ask for questions

  • Run the process

  • Show students what to do

  • Use difficult topics

  • Use science experiments, field trips, debates, projects, group work, etc.

How do you plan an inquiry-based lesson?

A scene from Hey Arnold. A teacher has misplaced her lesson plan, and another teacher is worried.

Consider the 5 E's teaching model:

  • Engage students on a question or topic

  • Have students explore it

  • Help students explain it

  • Have students elaborate on their findings

  • Have students evaluate (demonstrate) their understanding

1. Engage Students

Introducing a new topic? Find out what the students know. Identify areas that students don't know about.

Spongebob and Patrick Star Fish sitting engaged watching something and snacking.

Some classroom activities you can use to implement inquiry learning during the "engage" phase:

  • KWL Charts: list of what the students know, want to know, and what they learned

  • Class discussions

  • Warm-up activities

  • Worksheets

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  • Ask questions

  • Share thoughts

  • Show what they currently know

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  • Bring up questions

  • Help students connect information

  • Encourage the sharing of thoughts

2. Student Exploration

Teachers help students explore and solve problems in a hands-on way.

A podcast host researches information from a box of files.

Some classroom activities you can use to implement inquiry learning during the "explore" phase:

  • Online simulations

  • Experiments

  • Create models

  • Station activities

  • Reading articles

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  • Check guesses

  • Look into things

  • Solve problems

  • Compare with others

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  • Watch & listen to how students work together

  • Support teamwork

  • Ask deeper questions

  • Give enough time

3. Help Students Explain

The teacher runs the class and supports an entire class discussion.

American Scientist Bill Nye spins a globe and explains geographic facts.

Classroom activities to provide while doing inquiry-based instruction in the "explain" phase:

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  • Show understanding

  • Listen to others

  • Give reasons why you think that

  • Share your ideas

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  • Ask students what they mean

  • Define things

  • Add to what students say

  • Invite others to share

4. Student Elaboration

Students use what they have learned. They take their understanding and connect the new information to form a conclusion.

Annie from the Nickelodeon Television Show It's Pony raising her hand in a classroom

Classroom activities to implement inquiry-based learning during the elaboration phase.

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  • Make conclusions

  • Connect new and old learning

  • Ask new questions

  • Use what you know in new situations

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  • Ask follow-up questions

  • Help make conclusions

  • Explain reasons why someone might think that

  • Use relevant vocabulary

5. Student Evaluation

The student's understanding will be assessed. Use formal and informal assessments.

American Actress, Lauren Ash who plays, Lexi From the American Television Show Not Dead Yet assessing reports

Classroom activities to promote inquiry-based learning during the evaluation phase:

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  • Check yourself

  • Get feedback from classmates

  • Follow a teacher-given guide

  • Answer questions

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  • Use multiple types of assessments

  • Let students assess themselves

  • Identify what students understood

  • Ask questions requiring a lengthy answer

Mr. Chen's Tidal Mystery Lesson

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Mr Chen is a passionate 11th-grade science teacher. The school he works at is 2 blocks away from the beach. He employs many methods to engage his students. His students are active high school students, who are interested in the ocean.

Mr. Chen set up the desks in his classroom to overlook the ocean, puts up posters of sea life and beaches, and plays a recording of the sound of waves.

Mr. Chen introduces the concept of ocean tides and divides students into groups to create models illustrating tidal movements.

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Students begin to hypothesize about the causes of tides, manipulate models to observe changes, and engage in discussions about the influence of celestial bodies on tides.

The class concludes with students leaving with a deeper understanding of tidal phenomena.


Pretend you're Mr. Chen what would you have the students do next? Select all that apply:

Take Action

The 5E teaching model can aid students in successfully participating in inquiry-based learning.

Young boy is at the board answering a question and a young girl is raising her hand as the teacher looks on


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