Inquiry Strategies
for the Journey North Teacher

Supporting Productive Discussions

Discussing ideas, data, "ahas," and possible explanations is vital to inquiry-based learning and it reflects the way scientists work. Full- and small-group discussions build community and allow students to explore ideas, clarify their thinking, consider different theories, challenge one another's views, and defend their assertions. As they do so, they begin to build coherent, shared understandings about data and concepts.

Open-Ended Questions That Inspire Scientific Thinking
  • What patterns did you notice?
  • Why do you think that ____?
  • What else might have caused _____?
  • Why do you suppose _____?
  • What did you expect to find and why?
  • How was it different than ____?
  • How can you explain ___?
  • What do you think could be an alternative explanation?
  • What evidence do you have?
  • What were your assumptions?
  • How will you know if ____?
  • Have you considered ____?
  • Do you think you could ____?
  • How did you decide _____?
  • What reasons did you have _____?
  • How would your hypothesis have differed from that of the scientist?

General Strategies for Facilitating Discussions

To ignite classroom discussions and support active thinking and reasoning, use these strategies:
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage observation, reflection, evaluation, and new questions.

  • Minimize factual questions that have just one right answer or those that require yes or no response.
  • Pause for a minimum of 3 seconds after you ask a question or after a student responds to a question. (Research has shown that this "wait time" improves the quantity and quality of student responses and increases participation by slow learners.)
  • Accept student responses and arguments at face value even if they are incorrect. Follow up by probing for elaboration, clarification, and evidence to support their statements. Have students respond to and challenge one another's ideas. If appropriate, encourage your young scientists to further observe, review data, or research to test their ideas. At times, you will want to correct students' misconceptions by sharing current scientific thinking.
  • Encourage students to question one another (following your modeling) by asking probing, open-ended questions. Eventually, enable small groups to have discussions without your input. (Researchers have found that this to be an ideal situation for building understanding.)
  • Keep a running class chart of "productive" questions students can reference as they participate in discussions, review classmates' investigations, or question scientists. Use Open-Ended Questions That Inspire Scientific Thinking for guidance.