Inquiry Activities

inquiry, hands-on activities

UDL 5.1

Inquiry Activities are strategic experiences developed by the teacher that build knowledge based on sensory experiences, questioning, and research in order to inspire or further develop writing. Students are challenged to pursue inquiry on a deeper level and engage with information through investigative research inquiry or hands-on, interactive experiences (e.g., listening to music, viewing artwork/photos, sensory experiences like tasting, feeling, observing objects) that they write about. Inquiry Activities improve creative writing because students practice describing experiences concretely and more precisely than before, experiment with language, and observe the world closely to think like writers. Investigative research is deepened as teachers lead students to delve deeper into what they know, formulate questions leading to more questions, and learn about multiple methods of inquiry. Inquiry Activities engage students’ students interests, spark curiosity, and provide choice. Students’ engagement and writing quality improves as they draw from a deeper well of background knowledge and experience when writing.

Implementation Tips

Hands-On Inspiration
Create fun, hands-on inquiry activities (e.g., bring in sensory materials like unique foods, materials, or scents, or present an experiment with surprising results that ignite curiosity and lead to writing. Use sentence starters to prompt students to write poetry or fiction about the sensory experiences.
Analyze Prior Knowledge
Analyze knowledge and beliefs that students already possess about a new topic when introducing it. Use a [[ | KWL chart]] or “What I Already Know” list (you can create as a class, or have students record individually) to build on prior knowledge leading to questions for further inquiry.
Experiential Resources for Inquiry
Offer students the opportunity to find answers to their questions through resources beyond printed articles or videos by collecting and presenting tangible items like artifacts, photographs, interviews, or facilitating trips to significant locations (e.g., sculpture park, battlefield site), or museums. Structure the experiences based on students’ research interests.
Inquiry through Unique Perspectives
Structure conversations in partners or small groups so students can respectfully, productively discuss life experiences or different responses to current events or literature. Inquiry Activities require encountering new information, asking questions, and gaining new perspectives. Develop guiding questions and sentence starters and thoughtfully choose engaging, yet controversial texts to discuss.
Use Students’ Questions to Empower
Refer to a previously created KWL chart. Record questions that students formed following exposure to inquiry activities. Student interest will be piqued and students will feel empowered to research answers to their own questions. Students could choose the two most interesting questions to pursue and likely sources for answers.
Offer Varied, Engaging Texts
Gather engaging texts (e.g., contemporary literature, nonfiction texts, investigative journalism, memoir, primary sources) that prompt students to engage in ongoing, deeper inquiry. Prepare texts and questions that ask students to question prior knowledge or reveal a new area of study. Read memoir about writers conducting inquiry.
Inquiry Experts
Team up with a librarian, historian, investigative journalist, or other inquiry expert to share firsthand inquiry experiences and teach students how to inquire through formulating questions, consulting varied research sources, and learning about how one question leads to another on a varied path of inquiry beyond the printed page.


Introducing the Purpose of Inquiry
A teacher is introducing a novel and research project that requires historical context (e.g., Vietnam War, feminist literature). The teacher assesses students’ knowledge through individual KWL charts or group brainstorming. The teacher says, *“We’ll build on what we already know to further explore this topic through our research.”* Next, students formulate their questions about the topic in small groups. *“As we research, our questions will change. True inquiry is about asking questions and gaining knowledge that leads to more, evolving questions. We’ll learn inquiry skills to focus and refine our questions or develop new questions through ongoing research.”*
Sensory-based Writing Mini-lessons
A teacher notices that students are feeling uninspired when approaching writing assignments. The teacher creates twenty-minute inquiry activities each day for a week to spark inspiration based on sensory experiences (e.g., show a compelling photo, play cinematic music, read aloud inspiring literature, taste flavorful food). Students free-write in journals. At the end of the week, students choose one piece of writing (that they feel connected to or see potential to explore more) to develop into a longer written piece. The teacher emphasizes that writing is an interactive act of exploration and a response to new experiences through language.

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