What is Inquiry?

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SWBAT distinguish factual questions from interpretive questions.

Big Idea

Understanding and applying the shared inquiry method of learning.

Read Aloud

20 minutes

    Shared inquiry is an effective method of learning that teaches students to search for answers to central questions predominant in text. It is an active search, using reasoning and interpretative skills, to decipher the full meaning of text based on evidence gathered in the reading of the story. Collaboration and discussion is a large part of this process.   My favorite text to use is Junior Great Books.  Junior Great books are collections of stories consisting of complex texts that have central themes within the context.  Common Core asks students to analyze text in order to gain a better understanding of its central message, so these make for great texts to use to teach Common Core standards.

     I began with a discussion about how stories can be read more than one time for different reasons.   I explain to my students that the author uses themes to bring our attention to human behavior by observing a character's behavior whether it is positive or negative. We will get different ideas from the same story since everyone has a different perspective or point of view.


  Prior to reading aloud, I ask students to predict what this story might be about.  I write their suggestions on post its and place it on a chart labeled: My Predictions.  We begin to talk about what a moral of a story or theme means to them.   

      I begin reading aloud a story entitled The Fisherman and His Wife by the Grimm Brothers.  The Fisherman and His Wife is a great story to start Shared Inquiry because it has such an obvious and strong central theme about how being greedy leads to unhappiness.

Second Reading and Note Taking

20 minutes

   When students read the book a second time, they take notes and ask questions.  My favorite way is to use post-its and stick it right on that page.       

   I introduce and model the process for the second reading. I tell students that as I read the story, I would like them to raise their hands should they have questions along the way regarding any questions they think is important, parts they don't understand, or parts of the story they feel is very important.  They are to focus on those three items as I read.  If they have a question, I will call on them and write it on post its and attach to the page I am reading where the question or remark occurred.  In time, students will learn to note take independently. This is the first step of a multi-step process called "Marking Up".  Common Core encourages students to delve deeper into the central messages of stories. This activity deepens students' understanding of a story.

    While I read aloud for a second time, I ask students to focus on the following:

  • Questions or comments about the main character and his/her personality, choices, motives, and actions.
  • Questions or notes about the author's style,choices of story structure, hidden messages, symbolism (something that stands for something else).
  • Questions and notes about what makes this story interesting, what story elements stand out

Question Categories

20 minutes

After the second reading, I read the questions on the post its that students dictated to me. Then, we discussed what the questions have in common and how they are different. I ask students if they can classify their questions into categories. I direct students to two categories: Simple and Complex. We discuss the characteristics of each and write down on chart paper.

Simple Questions:

  • short 
  • simple to answer (only a few words)
  • shallow (does not help you understand deeper meaning like theme)

Complex Questions:

  • Leads to more questions
  • Takes lots of explaining (layered)
  • Deep ideas 
  • Helps you understand the theme better

     Understanding the differences in questioning helps students to move from simple recall to more interpretive and complex inquiry.  Based on Bloom's Taxonomy, students are led to more rigor and higher order thinking through this inquiry technique. Common Core instruction builds a foundation for reading closely and deeply in order for students to gain rich content knowledge from complex texts.

     As we complete this question sorting activity, much discussion takes place.  We came across one student generated question that we decided could be in either category, depending on how we interpret the question (see resource).  We placed the question "Is the fisherman happy with his life?" in the middle section of the chart.  This question can be answered with a yes or no, classifying it as a simple question. However, one can delve deeper and look for clues in the text to decipher if the fisherman is happy with his life.  This requires both making inferences and using text supports, which makes this question a complex one.



Preparing for Shared Inquiry

20 minutes

     Now that students understand the difference between simple and complex questions or inquiry, we begin to discuss the qualities of shared inquiry.  I like to show a movie clip of a demonstration because students often learn by watching other model. 

As we observe the movie clip of shared inquiry, we list the qualities of complex questions. We list them as follows:

  • More than one possible answer
  • Can be supported by evidence from the text
  • Asks readers to analyze story carefully
  • Keeps you focused on the theme
  • May be opinions that are based on evidence to support them

. In order to participate in shared inquiry, students need to understand types of questions they need to ask during this type of collaborative discussions.  In addition, students discuss the rules of Shared Inquiry Discussions (see resource).  The Junior Great Books Series 2 also has introductory pages that explain the process of inquiry for second graders in more child friendly terms that includes pictures demonstrating this process.  It is a complex process that requires modeling and role playing prior to the actual Shared Inquiry session.



Teaching Shared Inquiry

Mr. C's Shared Inquiry Method

Great Books – The Foundation of a Liberal Education, New York – Simon & Schuster, 1954.