Inquiry Every Day in Every Classroom

No matter what inquiry model or framework you use in your school or district, it is essential that your students are able to practice inquiry skills frequently throughout curricular areas and grade levels. Inquiry instruction should not just be the responsibility of the school librarian; classroom teachers need to be aware of the inquiry framework and know how to use it as well.

For many classroom teachers and school librarians, completing just one inquiry project a year is daunting for a variety of reasons. Teachers may not feel comfortable with all the components an inquiry project requires. Access to technology may be difficult due to online testing windows, network or Wi-Fi strength, or a limited number of devices. Or, the pace of the classroom curriculum may not allow enough time for one or more inquiry projects to be completed during the year.

Consider, though, that inquiry skills do not always have to be taught as part of a lengthy project. One way to ensure students have adequate experience with inquiry skills is to infuse these skills into everyday instruction. Inquiry skills can easily be taught independently from each other and included in daily lessons. When inquiry skills are taught with intention, using the vocabulary of your chosen framework, students gain the experience and confidence that allows them to dive deeper into classroom content. Plus, by practicing these skills frequently, when full inquiry projects come along, you'll save time because you won't have to introduce the basic inquiry skills.

Including inquiry in everyday instruction is easier than educators might think. For many teachers and librarians these skills are already a part of daily instruction—but may not be consciously connected to inquiry. Below are quick and easy ideas for using inquiry daily in any classroom. The skills are organized by general inquiry components that can apply to any research model chosen. Many of the tips are things you may already do every day; all you need now is to intentionally connect them to inquiry.

1. Getting Started: Ask Questions, Audience, and Expectations.

A. Ask Questions

  • Allow 5-10 minutes to practice asking questions every day.
  • Model by sharing what questions you would ask about a topic.
  • Discuss and practice open versus closed questions.
  • Have students create questions as an anticipatory set prior to a lesson.
  • Have students ask questions as a formative assessment during or after a topic is introduced.
  • As a group activity, have students generate questions together or build off of each other's questions.


1. Question rotation: Organize students into small groups. Give each group a different colored pen or marker. Give groups 3-5 minutes to write as many questions as they can on the given topic. Rotate papers. Students will read the previous questions and add questions to the new paper until each group has added questions to all papers. The different colored pens will let everyone easily see what each group contributed to each paper. This activity allows students to see questions they might not have thought to ask and see that other students have the same or similar questions.

2. Write a question for the answer: Provide students with an answer and ask them to create questions that match the answer.

3. Different questions for different purposes: Provide students with examples of different question types and ask them to create their own questions about a given or self-selected topic.

Type of question

Sample Questions: Monarch Butterflies Your Topic:_____
Chronological What is the life cycle of a monarch butterfly (including duration)? Your question…
Procedural How do caterpillars change into butterflies? What do they need to do so? Your question…
Cause & Effect What is causing the monarch butterfly population to decline? Your question…
Problems What does a decline in the butterfly population mean for or about the ecosystem? Your question…
Solutions What can be done to help ensure monarch butterflies are able to survive and thrive? Your question…

B. Audience

  • Discuss what an audience is and how it gives an author purpose.
  • After reading a selection in class, discuss possible audiences who might enjoy it.
  • Create a list of all the different audience types in your school or community.
  • Model how a piece of writing could change for different audiences.
  • Allow students to choose a specific audience for an assignment.
  • Provide students with an opportunity to seek feedback from an audience.

C. Expectations

  • Give clear directions about what is due and when.
  • Post the learning target and refer to it throughout the lesson.
  • Have students repeat back instructions in voice or writing.
  • Explore the purpose of a rubric and how to read one.
  • Let students "grade" examples of strong and weak work using a rubric.
  • Give students a checklist of items needed to complete a larger project.

2. Find Information: Types of Sources, Locate Information, Evaluate Sources

A. Types of Sources

  • Share with students the sources you use during instruction.
  • Have students determine helpful sources for a topic.
  • Discuss where to access sources.
  • Chart the similarities and differences between types of sources.
  • Ask students to explain the difference between different types of sources.
  • Explore the differences between primary and secondary sources.
  • Encourage students to seek out diverse points of view.

B. Locate Information

  • Share strategies with students to determine if a source is at an appropriate reading level.
  • Identify text features during instruction and explain how they are useful.
  • Ask students to highlight text features in a resource.
  • Ask students to use a table of contents or index to locate information.
  • Model how to use navigation tools in a website during instruction.
  • Have students brainstorm keywords that could be used for online searching.
  • Demonstrate advanced search techniques in a search engine.
  • Have students explore search results using limiters (date range, publication, length, Lexile level, etc.).

C. Evaluate Sources

  • Chart facts and opinions on a topic.
  • Explain how you determined that a source used in class is trustworthy.
  • Compare what is currently known about a topic versus what was known 5, 10, 20+ years ago.
  • Explore how information in a source relates to a question posed in class.
  • Point out when similar or conflicting information is found in other sources.
  • Share how the author of a source is qualified to write on the topic.
  • Discuss why you chose not to use specific sources and why.


There are many different types of source evaluation systems to share with students. Just a few of them are: RADCAB (relevancy, appropriateness, detail, currency, authority, bias); CARS (credibility, accuracy, reasonableness, support); ABCD (authority, bias, coverage, date); and for your older students CRAAP (currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, purpose). Pick one or share a variety of these strategies with your students. You can easily find more information about each strategy online.

3. Use Information: Identify and Connect Ideas, Organize Information, Give Credit

A. Identify and Connect Ideas

  • Model how to locate main and supporting ideas in a text.
  • Have students summarize the main idea in their own words.
  • Have students use skim and scan strategies to locate important facts.
  • Ask students what they now think based on what they read/heard.
  • Have students connect ideas between multiple sources.
  • Examine different points of view from different sources.
  • Discuss the importance of seeking additional information to clarify facts.

B. Organize/Record Information

  • Model how you would take notes from a source.
  • Provide graphic organizer(s) for note making.
  • Explore a variety of note making strategies.
  • Model how to use main and supporting ideas to take notes.
  • Explain the difference between a paraphrase and a direct quote.
  • Have students identify strong and weak examples of paraphrasing.
  • Ask students to identify a direct quote and a paraphrase from examples.
  • Discuss when it is best to use a direct quote and when to paraphrase.
  • Have students practice paraphrasing direct quotes.

C. Give Credit

  • Remind students that the work they create belongs to them.
  • Discuss who owns a source you share in class.
  • Discuss why it is important to give credit to sources.
  • Share the sources you used to put the lesson together or to explore a topic.
  • Have students identify plagiarism from given examples.
  • Create citations whenever you use a source in class.
  • Require students to create citations whenever a source is used.
  • Show students how to use a citation generator.


Students at any grade level can create citations. For your primary students, have them write down the title of a book or the author's name. For intermediate students, teach them how to copy a website address or a completed citation from a database or write a basic citation for a book. For secondary students, completing citations using a citation guide or generation tool should be expected.

4. Synthesis & Sharing: Form Opinions and Create New Knowledge, Share Learning

A. Form Opinions and Create New Knowledge

  • Share what you learned about a topic after reading more about it.
  • Model, then ask students to complete the L of a KWL chart.
  • Have students write an opinion statement about the topic.
  • Use specific evidence from the text to explain why you know something.
  • Ask students to use a direct quote from the text as evidence for their answer.
  • Have students compare their prior knowledge to what they now know.

B. Share Learning

  • Have students use elbow partners to share what they learned.
  • Ask students to draw a picture or graph to show what they learned.
  • Model how you would write a 1-2 or 3-5 sentence summary of what you learned.
  • Discuss how requirements and rubrics help you know what to do or create.
  • Explore multiple ways to present information.
  • Give students the opportunity to edit or peer edit their work.

5. Reflect

  • Require students to respond to feedback you have given.
  • Provide examples of times you have received feedback to help make your work stronger.
  • Ask students to think about what they are proud of for this lesson/unit.
  • Have students write about one thing they will do differently next time
  • Share when you have had difficulties with something for class.
  • Brainstorm a list of skills learned/used during the lesson.


Select one or two questions students can answer either verbally, as part of an exit ticket, or as a short, written answer to help reflect on their use of the inquiry skill.

Educators in any content area or grade level, including the school librarian, can support inquiry skills by adding just a few of these tips to their teaching toolbox to use with students on a regular basis. Just like other skills, the more exposure students get, the better they will be at using them over time. School librarians can share these tips with colleagues through staff meetings, emails, personal conversations, or newsletters. To begin, choose a small selection that will fit best with the instructional strategies already implemented in your building. Remember to connect these skills to components of your inquiry framework. One way to do so is to start by asking classroom teachers to see which of these tips they are already using and consciously connect them to inquiry when using them with students. When ready, they can try adding one or more each quarter or semester until it feels like a natural part of their teaching routine. As more teachers start highlighting these skills, the benefits to student work and communication will become more apparent.

About the Author

Courtney Pentland, MEd, is a lead teacher and research librarian for library services for Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, NE, and an adjunct instructor in the library sciences program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She earned her master’s in secondary education and master’s endorsement in K-12 library science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

MLA Citation Pentland, Courtney. "Inquiry Every Day in Every Classroom." School Library Connection, November 2017,

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Entry ID: 2129167

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