How to Plan Inquiry-Based Learning for the Year

How to plan for inquiry-based learning and phenomenon-based learning for the year

How to Plan Inquiry-Based Learning for the Year 

Hey, y’all! We’re back with another installment in our inquiry-based learning series and this time we’ll be talking about planning our inquiry units for the year. We’ll look at students’ questions, curriculum restrictions, and timelines in our inquiry and phenomenon-based learning units.

First off, before I even meet my kids at the beginning of the year, I look at our curriculum and what the big ideas are for each unit. We are currently using Into Reading from HMH and they group lessons based on an overall science or social studies topic. We start by looking at the guiding questions of those units so we can get a general idea of how we can integrate our science and social studies standards into what we’re already doing in reading.

As I begin to plan each unit around our topic in reading, I look at our math units (we use iReady) and what we’ll be working on around that time to see if and how we can integrate math into our bigger unit.

I also take into account any major holidays and events we know of so that we can highlight those things at the right time. Specifically, we do our holidays around the world unit in December and our garden project-based learning unit in the spring so that they’re timely.

Long term planning for inquiry-based learning units

Long term planning for inquiry-based learning units

These things give me a general idea of what and when.

And then, we meet the kids. One of my favorite things to do is to get them asking questions. At the beginning of the year this year, they had SO MANY questions about letter sound relationships and why some letters work the way they do with other letters. “And what about this word?” “And what about that one?”

Y’all. I learned so much just in trying to help them find answers to these questions. I don’t know everything, but I do know how to coach them into finding their own answers. I mean, they couldn’t read well enough to do this research on their own, but I was able to model it and do think alouds and show how one train of thought leads to the next question and they were eating it up. It was a great way to introduce this kind of thinking so that they could do it on their own later in the school year.

To get them thinking, I ask them things like what they want to learn about this year and what they are interested in. At the beginning of the year in kindergarten and first grade, I mainly get answers like how to count, add, or read. In upper grades, you get more diverse answers.

After we come back from winter break, we do this activity again. Their answers help guide our units in the spring semester.

As student questions come in, I add them into the long-term plan for the year. We may not be able to answer every single question that the kids have throughout the year, but we CAN give them the tools to find the answers themselves and the drive to go do it. Hello, lifelong learners!

Now, putting it into practice, I may have a student ask me why the sun comes up in the morning and the stars are out at night. I immediately know I can tie it directly with our unit on day and night, seasons, earth rotations, etc. I can connect it directly to our district-provided reading unit. I take both of these units for reading and science and do them at the same time so students see the connections across disciplines.

In this example, we’re answering the student’s question by reading about it during our language arts time, exploring it with diagrams, demonstrations, and other visuals during science, and possibly learning about rotation of shapes in math, or tying it to fractions with the amount of time it takes the earth to orbit the sun.

So this week, I challenge you to ask your students two questions: What do you want to learn about? and What are you interested in?

Take their answers and see how you can apply them to the units you already have planned or create units that tie their questions to the standards you still need to teach.

If this seems daunting, don’t worry. Remember, we talked previously about starting small. Think about where you can add in some project-based learning lessons, or where you can have students do a guided exploration or lab related to your topic. Baby steps are okay. And sometimes the biggest step is the first one.

Next week, we’ll be sharing what lesson planning looks like for our inquiry-based and phenomenon-based learning units. Don’t worry, it won’t be as crazy as you think.

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful week. I’ll talk to you soon.

Stay cozy,

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