An Introduction to Inquiry in the Primary Grades

Hello! Nicole from Mrs. Rios Teaches here, today. I'm so excited to be writing about how I have used an Inquiry model of learning, with both first and second graders. (Once again, I feel the need to give a disclaimer that I am by no means an inquiry expert. In fact, I've only started using inquiry within the last two years or so. But, I am enthusiastic about inquiry, its potential, and am always willing to share my successes and failures with others.  So, there it is.)

This will be Part 1 in a series of posts that I will continue on my blog, Mrs. Rios Teaches.  Let's start with the basics...

What is Inquiry-based learning?

When we think of the traditional learning model, we might think of a teacher at the head of the classroom, lecturing, and the students somewhat passively "absorbing" the facts and information that are being shared. The teacher then poses questions to his/her students. Students answer them, but very rarely ask their own questions.

In contrast, Inquiry-based learning takes the traditional learning model, and flips it on its head.  Learning begins with a question or a problem, that is often generated by students. Teachers serve as facilitators, guiding students to resources and practices that will help them find the answers they are looking for.

"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)

The steps that I follow for inquiry are based on the work of Stephanie Harvey and Harvey "Smokie" Daniels. (Thanks here, to Amy Illingworth).  They have written a wonderful resource on inquiry called Comprehension and Collaboration.  (Click on the link below because it takes you to a great page full of printable resources and lesson samples.)

Steps include..

  1. Immerse
  2. Investigate
  3. Coalesce
  4. Go Public

Why "Inquiry"?

Inquiry-based learning:
  • develops research, problem-solving, and communication skills
  • increases student responsibility for their own learning
  • increases student engagement
  • fosters independence
  • provides opportunities for meaningful collaboration
  • encourages students to tap into their natural curiosity
In inquiry-based learning, the focus is on teaching students "how to learn", with content knowledge being a natural outcome. As you can probably figure out, teaching students "how to learn" for themselves, has the potential for long-term and very powerful results.

When can I use an Inquiry-based learning model?

Inquiry-based learning can be used across all disciplines, including art, math, and language arts!

How do I start?

Ok, here's the big one, right? Well, there are lots of ways to go about inquiry-ish learning.  Project-based, problem-based, and design-based learning are just a few that come to mind. Regardless, your first step is going to be PLANNING. So what do you need to do to get ready for inquiry-based learning?

1) Encourage Curiosity:  Before you jump into a round of inquiry with your class, I recommend that you lay a strong foundation in "questioning" and the value of leading a "curious life".  My school has a high ELL population, so we spend a lot of time in the beginning of the year, just practicing how to ask a question that is grammatically correct. But, I find that even my native English speakers need quite a bit of practice in asking authentic, and thoughtful questions.

Expect and encourage students to ask questions throughout the day.  Visit websites that will play into their curiosity. We love frequenting a website called Wonderopolis ( ) This site is all about asking questions, and being curious about the things going on around us.

2) Look at your Curriculum: Take a look at where you can incorporate inquiry into your day. 
  • Look at what the "big ideas" are in your chosen subject area: While inquiry is largely student driven, teachers must focus the learning around appropriate grade-level goals. For example, I am preparing to do a round of inquiry in science (Mostly, I chose this area because it just naturally lends itself to questions, and always results in high student engagement.) One of the big ideas in our science curriculum is "life cycles".  
3) Begin with an Essential Question: Our first round of inquiry for the year is very guided. I normally begin by "gently leading" my students towards an essential question that will focus our work around a "big idea". (I know this is a little bit of a "cheat". But, since this is usually my students' first experience with inquiry, I allow myself this little indulgence) So, going back to life cycles, my essential question will be: How do animals survive in their habitats? 

A good essential question...
  • is open-ended 
  • will spark curiosity and lead to further questions (I can pick one animal to use as a "guide animal".  I will be choosing bats. But, after we have completed the round, students can repeat the inquiry cycle by researching the animal of their choice. Then, we can compare/contrast how different animals survive in their habitats to gain a deeper understanding of life cycles and adaptation.)  In short, a good question will lead to more inquiry...Ha,Ha..See how that works? 
  • demands higher-order thinking (The answer to my essential question has several components, and will require students to synthesize a lot of information.)
  • will lead learners to relevant and real-world issues (This question can lead to further inquiry into climate change, habitat destruction, and animals vs. human need)
  • reflects true curiosity (meaning we don't already know the answer)
  • can be answered 
  • does not have a yes/no answer,  or just one simple answer 
Need more guidance in forming your essential question.  Check out...

4) Plan out the "learning skills" you want your students to learn. Yes, I want my students to learn about life cycles. But, that is actually not my main objective here. Remember, we are trying to teach students about "how to learn".  So think about some of the skills you want your students to walk away with at the end of the inquiry cycle.  In my case, I use inquiry to introduce students to how to: read non-fiction text, determine importance, use non-fiction features of text, write main idea/details paragraphs, question, collaborate, make presentations, paraphrase, find resources, summarize, and use technology.  Plan for those lessons and activities. But, remember to be flexible. Teachers are co-learners, in many ways, with their students during an inquiry cycle. Often, you have to see what lessons the students lead you to.

5) Gather Resources: You will need to gather as many resources as you can in preparation for your inquiry cycle. I usually hit the public library. Don't forget to try and find a mix of non-fiction and fiction. We want our students reading a wide variety of text, and making connections. So, alongside non-fiction texts, I will be using a few favorite fiction titles like (affiliate links ahead)


I create some of my own resources. Here is a new flip book on bats that I created with my learning goals in mind. Click the image below to learn more.

I also look for age and topic-appropriate videos. In addition, you can plan for guest speakers and field trips. What about starting a Pinterest board? Here are a few of mine.

Finally, I browse the internet for appropriate sites where my students can safely conduct their research.

I highly recommend (See my webmix for animal inquiry, here.) It makes it so easy for students to access sites that you have pre-screened. Read more about how to use Symbaloo, here. Once again, be flexible. One of the skills that students should leave this experience with, is a knowledge of how and where, to find appropriate resources. So, part of your inquiry should leave room for students to bring in resources, as well.

6) Set Expectations: Collaboration is a huge component of most classroom inquiry circles, especially in the primary grades. So, setting some ground rules will be very important. We have always created ours as a class, and it is a living document, in that, it grows and changes throughout the year. Each time we engage in inquiry work, we always end our time with reflection. What worked? What didn't? What solutions do we have for obstacles that came up during our inquiry work?

Whoo! That was a lot. But, I'm going to stop there, and let you just "absorb". Join me next Sunday, October 18, 2015 over at Mrs. Rios Teaches, for the next post in this series on Inquiry.

Thanks for stopping by,


Adjectives are Sweet!

Hi guys ~ it's Vicky from Teaching and Much Moore..I'm here to talk about adjectives with you.  My sweet, smart 3rd graders are having some trouble with adjectives this year and I feel like I have tried everything!! grr!  So I decided to try something very visual and hands on to help them out a bit. 
If you know me you know I LOVE FALL ~ like really LOVE FALL!  I'm all about the leaves changing colors ( and yes don't believe the rumors they DO change colors even here in Southern California ). 

 So why not buy a pumpkin and have them come up with adjectives to describe the pumpkin and guess what?!!?  I WROTE right on that pumpkin.  Yes I really did, I broke all the rules of:
1) carve the pumpkin
2) scoop out insides and toast/cook the seeds
3) put a candle in it to 'glow'
Yep, I just totally rebelled and got a sharpie ( oh the horror! ) and wrote all over that guy.  The kids mouths dropped a bit...I think one little guy in front had a little saliva drop down on the carpet even...I know gross.  But really that's what I did.  OK well FIRST what I did was I called kids up to touch it, try to pick it up ( it was heavy ), roll their fingers along it, etc.  Then they told me an adjective to go with what they noticed or felt.  It was great fun!

We worked on these fun pumpkin patches and sorted nouns and adjectives.  They look so fun and festive in our hallway.

If your students can use some work on this skill you can grab this pack { here }

We then still needed more work so we did an oldie but a goodie from my Fall 'bag of tricks'.  We did this FUN project and it's a freebie in my store.

I always create a LARGE candy corn and fill in everything but the middle.  Then I ask kids to give me adjectives to write in the middle.  They love it and then they make their own little one.  You could also hand out little candy corns as they are working to make it even more enjoyable.  Unfortunately I couldn't due to several special diets and allergies in my class this year.

You can grab this fun freebie { here }

I sure hope you can use these ideas in your own classroom and teach your students how 'sweet' adjectives are!  Enjoy and tell me how it goes! 
xox, Vicky

More BATS!

Hey everyone, Alyssha here from Teaching and Tapas. I am one of those people who LOVE everything October. Aside from it being a way-too-busy teaching obligation month (progress reports AND open house for some of us), it is so fun to get into the fall spirit!

One thing I love to do in October is a class vote/graph - Are Bats Cute or Creepy? Hang it up at the beginning of the month. Make sure the kids are able to change their votes because by the end of the month, you can convince the most squeamish students that bats are definitely cute. Like, the cutest of all animals.

On Monday, Matt from Digital Divide & Conquer wrote up a post about Bat resources using Symbaloo. I may be the last teacher alive who hasn't heard of Symbaloo. It looks AWESOME!
There was one video in particular that you MUST show your students. Lil' Drac is the epitome of every cute animal video on the internet. Seriously, so sweet.

Here is another one that you have to play with the sound on -

Okay, here is one more can't miss. This one goes beyond just cuteness - it's a great learning video.

I love surprising my students with little surprise videos every once in a while. They're short and awesome!

Along with the bat theme, I have a great close reading freebie on bats that you may find useful. It a passage that is written at two levels (yay for differentiation!). It's perfect for 2nd and 3rd grade but could be used 1st-4th. Snag it up here!


Remember, it's free and super awesome! Enjoy!
Link -

BATS & Symbaloo

Matt here, from D:D&C.   It's October, which means Halloween and all things fall and that means it's time to share a little BAT knowledge. That's right, one of our most misunderstood animals that has gotten a worse rap than sharks.

Now, we're teachers--so of course we've done all our work and have told students how great they are?  We even understand that they're powerful bug killers that can take out more than a 1,000 in a night...especially mosquitoes because those things are worse than the plague.  So we know all this, but do our students.  Maybe?  Bottom line.  Bats are great.  

So how do you teach your students about bats?   I really try to tie in technology which is why I use Symbaloo boards with direct links to all the information I want them to learn.

Here's my most recent one ONLY ABOUT BATS:

Symbaloo tiles are an easy and effective way for me to share online resources with my students.  They click the tiles and see the site.  Boom!

Here's the direct links for this one:  

So what content is on this board...
-20+ sites
-9 links to videos on bats that vary from National Geographic to Bat Sanctuaries.
-Information articles from Halloween symbolism to fact sheets.
-Even 4 read aloud books on bats.

I LOVE Symbaloo!  It allows for diverse content and allows kids (even some teachers) to practice navigating and problem solving with technology.

If you're looking for a project have your students make Bat Houses.  A simple shoe box makes a great  diorama for bats, and also allows for great class discussion on their importance.

How can you go wrong with these little bundles of greatness?
A little flying fox burrito!

If you still can't get enough bat resources, check out my latest Project Based Learning Activity: BATS!



Nocturnal Animals

Hello! It's Cyndie again from Chalk One Up for the Teacher and now that we've finally made it to October, I'm here to talk to you about one of my students' favorite all-time topics...nocturnal animals.
Who doesn't love things that go bump (and "hoo", and "caaa", and "eek") in the night?

As a teacher, I love this unit, too, because you can work so much into it!
Plus, if you do Genius Hour or PBLs this fits in so nicely.

Here is a list of nocturnal animals from Buzzle that you could study.

Here are some great ways that you could integrate nocturnal animals into your curriculum. 

  • Informational - Have your students research a nocturnal animal and create an informative piece.
  • Narrative - Have any or maybe several of your students had an encounter with a nocturnal animal?
  • Opinion - I'll bet your students have plenty of opinions about at least one nocturnal animal!
  • Compare the weight and size of various nocturnal animals.
  • Graph various nocturnal animals found in different regions.
  • Graph the class' favorite nocturnal animal.
  • Compare the various species of nocturnal animals with others using <, >, and =.
  • Measure how far nocturnal animals travel in a night.
  • Create pie charts that show how much time each animal spends doing various activities.

Here is a list of fabulous books about nocturnal animals.

Where Are the Night Animals by Mary Ann Fraser
Nocturnal Animals by Kelli L. Hicks
Raccoons by J. Angelique Jackson (There are several nocturnal animals in this series.)
Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies
Owls by Valerie Bodden
The Pebble First Guide to Nocturnal Animals by Joanne Mattern
Night Creatures by Wade Cooper

Science is my favorite part of the day!
  • You can order and dissect owl pellets.
  • Sort nocturnal, diurnal, and crepuscular animals.
  • Conduct echolocation experiments.
  • Include a phases of the moon study.
  • Create a can, have, are anchor chart for the various nocturnal animals based on research.
As  you can see, nocturnal animals can lend themselves to a great deal of learning and loads of engagement!

If you are looking for products based on nocturnal animals, here are a few of my favorites.
(Just click on the picture to take you to the product.)

So that's it! I hope you'll try it out and watch your kids light up as they learn about this super cool topic!