Lesson 1: Inquiry

In this lesson, we will explore inquiry-based learning. In order to understand the Design-Inquiry Cycle, it is important to have clear definition of inquiry-based learning.

Lesson Objective:

  • Classify inquiry-based learning.

In this lesson you will:

  • Define inquiry-based learning as you understand it.
  • Look at various literacy classroom scenarios and compare inquiry-based literacy classrooms with more traditional models.
  • Review and adjust your definition of inquiry-based learning.
  • View an explanation of inquiry-based learning in the ELA classroom.
  • Be exposed to inquiry-based learning resources.

Activity: Defining Inquiry-Based Learning

In Inquiry Activity 1, you will try to answer our driving question for this lesson: What is inquiry-based learning and how is it demonstrated in the ELA classroom? During Activity 1, you will begin with your own prior knowledge of inquiry-based learning, then read and analyze some classroom scenarios in order to develop your definition of inquiry-based learning.

Click here to begin Inquiry Activity 1: Inquiry Activity 1


Inquiry-Based Learning in the ELA Classroom

ELA Inquiry Wordle.png

Now that you have used inquiry to develop your own understanding of inquiry-based learning, let's take a closer look at what inquiry-based learning in the literacy classroom really means. This way, we will have some common knowledge and language to use when thinking about inquiry-based learning.

Darling-Hammond (2008) suggests that reading comprehension is developed through mindful engagement. She states, "the motivational aspects of reading engagement are supported by 'immediate' contexts that provoke short-term interests in the moment (such as wanting to be a part of the group) as well as enduring involvement through stimulating ideas, goals, and tasks." Therefore, inquiry-based learning, in which students are constantly engaged in collaborative, relevant, and exploratory activities will improve students reading comprehension.

Additionally, students engaged in inquiry-based learning are more likely to achieve whole-task learning. Whole-task learning consists of students viewing a process to complete a task in its whole form, rather than broken into parts (Lim, Reiser, & Olina, 2009). Often, in the literacy classroom, we are prone to break a task, like writing an essay, into all its smallest parts. This can cause students to find the reading and writing process to be disjointed, losing sight of the task's goal. We often find our students able to read and write in a guided setting, but unable to apply this in another context. Whole-task learning yields greater transfer to other contexts (Lim, Reiser, & Olina, 2009).

In the literacy classroom, this means letting go of certain structures we have often clung to: guided reading, scaffolded graphic organizers for writing, formulaic five-paragraph essays, and meaningless drilling of reading skills. Pieces of these structures can still be applicable, but we must now rely on more holistic methods. Inquiry in the ELA classroom is far less natural than it might be in, say, science. In order to achieve inquiry in the ELA classroom, we may open our doors to other fields: social sciences, history, technology, psychology, and many more. This allows us the space for deeper, more relevant inquiries for our students to explore.

Barron et al. (1998) identified a set of design principles for inquiry-based activities:

  • Define appropriate learning outcomes that lead to deep understanding.
  • Create scaffolding to support student and teacher learning.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for formative assessment, revision, and self-assessment.
  • Create social structures to help students develop participation and agency.

(Darling-Hammond, 2008)

Keep all these things in mind as you move on to learn about design thinking to integrate these two powerful learning methods in the ELA classroom.


Got the idea of inquiry-based learning? Move on to Lesson 2: Design Thinking to learn about the design cycle.

Go back to the home page: Using Design-Thinking and Inquiry in Teaching Literacy

Skip ahead to Lesson 3: The Design Inquiry Cycle Skip ahead to Lesson 4: Writing Curriculum with the Design Inquiry Cycle

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