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What is an enquiry-based approach to teaching?

At the heart of enquiry is a good question

Enquiry-based teaching is a student-led approach that encourages learners to question, conduct research, and make discoveries on their own. Through this approach students will question their own ideas and take responsibility to reflect on their own understanding. The teacher often takes on a different role through this approach, acting as the facilitator to enable and encourage discussion in the classroom.

What are the benefits of enquiry-based learning? Helping students learn how to learn?

Helping students learn how to learn

The enquiry-based approach enables children to develop higher-order, information literacy and critical thinking skills. By encouraging students to take a lead in their own education, skills and tools for lifelong learning are developed:

  • Self-organisation
  • Critical thinking
  • Effective communication
  • Collaborative learning
  • Creativity
How to use enquiry: an example for a primary Science lesson

Lessons should begin by providing a context and outlining the learning objectives. This ensures that the class understands what is expected of them and creates relevance, linking the science to everyday experiences. It also gives any enquiry a realistic purpose. You might, for example, ask “what do you wear/do when it rains?” By eliciting examples, you can help students understand that some materials can keep you dry.

The second stage involves using a picture stimulus to spark conversation and questions.

After facilitating the initial discussion, clarify the main scientific ideas, for example, if a material keeps water out, it is waterproof.

Then set the scene to investigate further. The students can devise this or the teacher can provide it until they are sufficiently skilled: which material is best for keeping cotton wool dry?

In this example, the teacher asks questions about waterproof materials for the class to consider such as, “why are waterproof materials important?” Before doing this it’s important to consider the following and prepare before the lesson:

  • What prior knowledge might they need?
  • What resources might you need to demonstrate these ideas?

Allow time for the students to discuss the investigation and plan, check the plans and then allow the class to carry out the process.

Finish by encouraging students to reflect and analyse their investigation and suggest improvements and developments.

How to develop enquiry-based skills for all subjects

It’s important to remember that students do not have to carry out full investigations every time. A lesson or unit can concentrate on one or two phases of the scientific enquiry process. For example, present students with results from secondary sources and ask them to make sense of them.

Asking students to plan an investigation and discuss their plans without carrying out the investigation is also a good way to develop enquiry skills.

However, it is also important to allow the students to put these together and carry out full investigations. This is when they are truly enquiring.

Enquiry skills that are developed through this approach create independent and critical thinkers across all subjects, not just Science but also Maths, English, Geography, Computing and Social Studies.

For more information please ask your local Education Consultant in the UAE:

By Terry Hudson, Author of Oxford International Primary Science