Educational Theory, Instructional Tools

One-Minute Inquiry: Classroom Quickies to Inspire Critical Thinking

There’s been a big push for inquiry-based learning…and for good reason! Inquiry-based learning (which also houses problem-based and project-based learning) encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, craftsmanship, and so much more. When done well, it’s undeniably a beneficial addition.

Inquiry can be a bit of a tricky dance for educators. On the one hand, inquiry-based learning is largely student-driven and teachers serve as more of a mentor, as opposed to a guide, in helping students construct their own knowledge. They play a support role, particularly if students begin to stray in their thinking or get stuck. This is not to say, however, that teachers simply stop teaching and let students have a free-for-all. Rather, teachers can work with students as a class to generate a common starting point before students venture off on their own individually and/or in small groups. Certainly this method of teaching will engage students meta-cognitively, and they will start to chart their own routes of what they want and/or need to know and how they can get there.

For many teachers, inquiry can seem intimidating and maybe even clumsy, particularly if one has assumed more of a direct instructional role for most of their career and/or training. There is so much room at the table for teaching strategies, and inquiry-based strategies provide another way in which we as educators may reach students. Inquiry, at first glance, may seem like a total overhaul in one’s traditional instructional strategy, but in fact, it’s likely many classrooms already employ inquiry-based approaches without even realizing it.

Feeling stumped?

Here are a few quickie, low prep and high impact inquiry-based approaches that can be added to a variety of subjects.

1) Show Me the Money!

If you’re a traveler like me (or if your colleagues are!), you likely have come home with small coins and bills from around the world. I collect and save money from all of my travels and keep a small stash in my classroom. A fun activity for rainy days is to compile bags of money of various currency, divide students into small groups, and ask them a series of questions related to Social Studies and/or Mathematics curriculum. Generally, students have instant engagement as they look through different currency. Who wouldn’t!? Some questions might include:

  • Discover and list the various types of currency (ex: Rupees, Quetzales, Pesos, Francs, Euros, Dollars, Zloty, etc.) in each bag.
  • Convert all money to CAD or USD. Which group has the most money? The least?
  • Identify all countries each money bag comes from and mapping (use the Mapster app if your school has iPads)
  • Ask students to describe any symbols or people associated with currency. What might we assume about the values of the country through what is represented? Have students engage in mini research projects and explore the various symbols represented on bills and coins.
  • Discuss with students the different forms of currency. Why do some countries have many small bills (ex: Rupees) versus some countries have primarily only large bills (ex: Dollars)?

2) Creepy Creatures

During Halloween week, when attention spans seem to wan, it can be easier to embrace the madness (while also being mindful of students whose families do not observe holidays) rather than fight it. Creating creatures is another low prep, hands-on, collaborative mini-project with a wide range of curricular crossover, including Mathematics, Language Arts, Art, Etc. Gather a supply basket for each group with things in your classroom (especially those hard-to-find-a-purpose-for things, such as dried bits of clay, pencils down to the nub, etc.). Give each group a bin, provide studnets with directions, and a time limit. This is a great ongoing project for free blocks and/or introducing new topics. It can be adapted to include more robust skills, such as paragraph-writing, creating narratives, and/or character development. Check out my freebie to inspire your own creature projects!

3) What happened here?

One of my favourite uses of transition time (beginning of the day, after recess/lunch, in between projects) is some type of daily or weekly ritual. Writing prompts are one of my favourites and are an excellent way to prime students towards imagination, wonder, and critical thought. Thanks to the internet, there are E N D L E S S creative writing prompts available. Here are some of my favourite images and sources. Please use discretion when selecting images, mindful to copyright and sharing, as well as what you are sharing your students.

Thanks for stopping by! What other ideas do you have for quickie inquiry projects?