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5 Steps to Teaching Inquiry in Your Science Classroom

Updated September 2016

  1. Start small. Take out the “Data” or “Results” section. If the procedure is thorough and simple enough, students can read and design this section on their own.

  2. Tackle the procedure. Eventually, you’ll want students to write their own procedure, but they may need some practice first. Remove the step numbers from a lab and disorder the steps. Have the students work in pairs to put the steps in the correct order. Next time, try having them write a procedure as a pre-lab homework assignment and then present an acceptable procedure, making sure that the questions, variables, and safety are addressed.

  3. Try a goal-oriented task. Once you choose to completely remove the procedure, prompt students with a question that asks them to achieve something they want to do. At this point, it’s best to choose a lab that students already understand conceptually and that uses simple, familiar equipment.

  4. Let them do the thinking. Next comes an important step: Students choose what they will investigate. Facilitate (rather than help them through) their thought process without telling them what to do. A pre-lab brainstorming session in small groups is helpful in having students develop a question to investigate.

    It’s important to provide students with some guidelines at this step. For example, students need to think about a question, hypothesis, materials, and safety concerns before beginning an open-ended lab. Seeing and approving this in your lab groups helps boost everyone’s confidence (especially yours).

  5. Reap the rewards. Students are significantly more engaged at any level of an inquiry-based lab than they are in a cookbook lab. Enjoy how your students are more focused—and more successful—learning science through inquiry.

Based on the Carolina article “How to Adjust to Inquiry Labs,” by Siobhan Julian. Siobhan teaches chemistry at Webster Schroeder High School in Webster, NY.