Ohio Resource Center


An inquiry approach recognizes the need for students to engage in the processes of doing science while deepening their content knowledge. According to the National Research Council, classroom inquiry consists of five essential features:

Scientifically Oriented Questions. Learners develop and investigate questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.

Evidence. Learners give priority to evidence, which allows them to purposefully construct explanations of observed phenomena.

Explanations. From the evidence, learners formulate explanations that address their scientific questions.

Evaluate. Learners evaluate their explanations, in light of alternative explanations, to determine whether or not their findings and conclusions make sense.

Communicate. Learners communicate and justify their proposed explanations.

Inquiry follows the learning cycle as it moves from engagement with scientifically oriented questions, blends into explorations that gather evidence, and emphasizes the need for explanations based on this evidence. During this process, students’ evaluations of their findings often give way to expansion, which leads back to inquiry questions and the continuation of both the inquiry and learning cycles. As is the case with assessment in the learning cycle, communication in the inquiry cycle is envisioned as an integral portion that is woven throughout all parts of the cycle.

In classrooms, an effective working definition distinguishes inquiry in the general sense from inquiry as practiced by scientists. Effective patterns of instruction, differentiation, and assessment may be viewed as occurring along an inquiry continuum, based on how people learn and the identified learning needs.

It is a best practice to match the level of shared responsibility for classroom inquiry with the specific learning need, the environment, and the readiness of teachers to provide instruction. Students should be encouraged to assume responsibility for their learning as much as possible.