Lesson 4: Writing Curriculum with the Design Inquiry Cycle

In this lesson, you will apply all you've learned about the Design Inquiry Process to curriculum writing. You will explore a unit that applies the Design Inquiry Cycle, then you will create your own. You will also practice making your unit accessible to all students

Design Inquiry Wordle.png

Lesson Objectives:

  • Generate a design inquiry unit.
  • Generate scaffolds and differentiation for a design inquiry unit.

In this lesson, you will:

  • Identify student needs.
  • Identify learning outcomes.
  • Write the steps of the design inquiry cycle your students will take.
  • Identify places for scaffolding and differentiation.

Example Unit

I have provided an example unit plan for a Design Inquiry Unit. Here is a description of the unit: In 2012, a group called Break the System began some really important work toward creating a program for bullying prevention in schools and began to apply the program at Quest to Learn. As 8th graders, and leaders of the middle school, students are asked to deeply examine the issue of bullying in schools and take over the task of preventing bullying at Quest to Learn. During this exploration, students will explore media coverage of bullying, analyze non-fiction writing on the subject, and use fiction as a character study of various roles played in bullying scenarios. They will create bullying toolkits to bring to workshops they create for elementary school students. Ultimately, they will be tasked with proposing a design for a program at Quest to Learn to prevent bullying which will be enacted throughout the rest of the school year.

The unit begins with a needs assessment and learning outcomes, as well as a list of essential questions and enduring understanding. This method is a combination of ADDIE (Gagne, 2005) and Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Below this, you will find the individual inquiry steps and the activities, standards, and skills attached to them. You will notice that the steps do not always go in order or may repeat themselves. Since the Design Inquiry Process is a cycle, the order of the steps is somewhat fluid.

You may view the sample unit here: Sample Design Inquiry Unit

Sample Unit.png

Create Your Own Design Inquiry Unit!


Now it's your turn to apply all you've learned in this course. Use the template below to design your own Design Inquiry Unit for your students. You will follow these steps:

  • Define the inquiry question your students will be trying to solve.
  • Identify student needs.
  • Generate learning outcomes for the unit.
  • Create essential questions and enduring understandings.
  • Create a sequence of activities that follow the design inquiry steps.* Identify standards and skills adopted during each step.

Go to the template in Google Docs, make a copy for yourself, then fill in each area: Design Inquiry Unit Template


The structure of Design Inquiry Cycles can be very helpful to high need and special needs students. Yet, the unstructured activities that often result from inquiry-based learning can seem chaotic to these students. Additionally, teachers often feel that these students will have trouble with these activities.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to think about where scaffolding will be needed and where differentiation must happen. In the example unit, student choice and collaborative learning play large roles in differentiating and scaffolding. Leveling of texts during the first empathize step attends to students varied needs, while student choice during the other two Design Inquiry Cycles that occur during the unit allow students to take advantage of their strengths.

Look back at your unit. Where are there places where additional scaffolding may be needed? Where will you need to differentiate for certain students? Additionally, think about how you can attend to these needs without compromising the learning opportunities provided by the Design Inquiry Cycle.


In the discussion section of this unit, write a reflection on your first experience using the Design Inquiry Process to design curriculum.

What was helpful? What was challenging? Where do you need additional guidance in this process?


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

Return to: Lesson 1: Inquiry

Lesson 2: Design Thinking

Lesson 3: The Design Inquiry Cycle

Lesson 4: Writing Curriculum with the Design Inquiry Cycle

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