Inquiry Learning

How to Teach Inquiry-Based Learning: A Guide for Teachers

We are sharing our favourite IBL tips and tricks.

The gang here at Wabisabi loves using inquiry-based learning strategies and activities to enhance instruction. If you want to know the best approach for how to teach inquiry-based learning, we can help you! All you need is a clear starting point and a solid process to guide you. We’re going to share some of our favourite tips and tricks with you here.

How to Teach Inquiry-Based Learning

The Foundation

The foundation for inquiry-based learning, and in fact all learning, is built on curiosity. Provoking curiosity in our learners is the first step to engagement, and ultimately to making learning relevant and useful for them. We begin by creating what’s known as a “culture of inquiry.’

What this means is that the culture of a classroom of is made up of the activities, conversations, and beliefs you share as a cohesive unit. In this kind of culture, the teacher is both a guide and a facilitator of learning. 

The foundation for inquiry-based learning, and in fact all learning, begins with curiosity.

This sees you working at modelling the inquiry learning mindset for yourself, and nurturing it within your students. Ultimately the best way to do this is to openly encourage learners to get comfortable asking questions about what intrigues them and makes them curious.

What’s on the minds of your learners? What are they concerned and curious about in the world? How can this relate to what you’re teaching them? 

How can we give our students problems that matter to them? 

These questions and others are ones that will help you begin building that all-important culture of inquiry for your learners. 

The Process

Teaching with inquiry-based learning is a great way to build independence and agency for learning in your students. The Wabisabi Inquiry Cycle, our own unique inquiry-based learning system, gives learners an intuitive path of inquiry they can use anytime and anywhere.

The infographic below is a representation of what the cycle looks like and what happens at each individual stage. 

It begins by presenting the Global Concept, which is the central focus of the inquiry. By “global” concept, we mean “broad” and “overarching” and “universal.” It’s the big idea that learners explore together—ideas that truly matter.

From this concept arises the essential question that drives the inquiry cycle forward. It’s the question that becomes the main focus of the lesson. From this question come more specific or “herding” questions.

With the essential question moving learners forward, we now come to the line of inquiry that’s defined by the 4 Cs: curious, connect, communicate, and create. When we put all these together, our line of inquiry looks like this:

Learners are curious about ______ and make connections to ______ which allow them to communicate ______by creating ______.

If you look closely at what’s happening in the line of inquiry above, you’ll notice a few things:

  • The cycle begins with curiosity, always, every single time. Getting learners curious is the only way to placing them on the path toward meaningful learning experiences. The more curious they are, the more engaged they become and the more responsibility they’re willing to take for the learning. 
  • Connection features prominently in this cycle as well. Curiosity should lead to learners making a personal relevant connection to what they are being taught. Without this vital connection through context and relevance, there is no learning.
  • It’s essential, of course, for our learners to have every opportunity to communicate their understanding of what we teach them. In this way, we can continue our facilitation by providing constructive actionable feedback for them frequently. Additionally, we can ensure that we are assessing mindfully and consistently throughout the journey to help them grow and succeed.
  • Finally, creating something that confirms their understanding of the challenge before them is a fundamental step in the cycle of inquiry. What they create to deliver an answer or a solution reflects who they are—their interests, their desires, their strengths and weaknesses, and much more. Every chance we get, we must let our learners express their efforts through means that speak to them, because it’s how they speak to us and to the world around them.

Once again, the Wabisabi Inquiry Cycle is the basis of our work with inquiry-based learning. It’s a completely versatile system through which inquiry can encourage active curiosity and inspire creativity in your learners time and time again. 

Tools For Inquiry-Based Learning

On the Wabisabi app, our very own reporting and planning tool, you’ll find dozens of inquiry-based lessons built by our own team. You can use them to create your own plans for the day, week, month, or year as well as build your own unique lessons from scratch. 

As part of our discussion of how to teach inquiry-based learning, we’d like to give you a sample of what one of them looks like. This IBL lesson called “Lead On” is one of our best exemplars of how to craft inquiry units that stretch your learners in ways they never thought possible.

We also want to invite you to check out the possibilities for yourself with our exclusive full-day inquiry learning workshops, Foundations of Inquiry-Based Learning. This dynamic full-day workshop will deeply engage you in an exploration of the fundamental elements of inquiry, from questioning to creating authentic learner-centered inquiry that connects to clear curricular outcomes. Everything you want and need to know about IBL instruction, implementation, and assessment is what you’ll learn at this workshop. 

We hope you enjoy your foray into the world of inquiry-based learning. Remember that we're always here to help. Enjoy the journey!