Making Inquiry Visible


I have really been working hard on strategies to make my students’ inquiries visible, not only for my benefit but for theirs too. Over the last two weeks, my students have been conducting research as part of our unit of inquiry. The central idea is:

“People’s ideas and actions can cause a shift in thinking and change the course of history.”

I decided that I would base the whole unit on what the students already know, rather than try to fill their minds with information from videos and texts. I really wanted to take a wholly constructivist approach. To do this, I developed a number of resources and the kids used them in this order:

  1. The Prior Knowledge Tag
  2. The Construction of Knowledge & Understanding Tag
  3. The Research Skills Checklist
  4. The Knowledge After Research Tag

The students did not start any research until they had generated useful questions as a result of filling in the outer section of the “Construction of Knowledge & Understanding Tag”.

After completing each tag, the students pinned them up around the provocation question on the notice boards in our room. This makes their inquiries and their thought-processes visible.



It enables them to use each other’s thinking and it enables me to assess their thinking. It enables my colleagues, other students or visitors to get an immediate idea of what the students are thinking about and inquiring into right now. When our unit of inquiry reaches an end, the students will be able to pull down their tags and use them to reflect and to gather evidence of their thought processes and the paths of their learning.

Classroom displays are powerful when they are dynamic and truly represent the thinking that is going on at the moment.

Classroom displays are powerless and obsolete when they are static and represent the thinking that has happened months before.



  1. Sandra HAHN

    Love this! I’ve been working with VT for about 9 years-and loving the deeper thinking kids can demonstrate! Let’s stay in touch! I’m at ISB!

  2. Mr. Sam

    Hi Sandra,

    Thanks for the feedback. Maybe we should get together sometime to share our ideas – could lead to something great!


  3. Cristina

    Hi Sam,

    I read all the documents you posted on Scribd, your former blog (4 Core Elements …) and I can only say you really inspire me.
    It is however difficult to use all these ideas sometimes. I have 1st graders now and language is a major obstacle still. Kids can’t articulate their thinking in English and despite my guidance, I really do not know when and where to draw the line (sometimes I get to literally translate their thinking in English).
    Any suggestions?

    • Mr. Sam

      Hi Cristina,

      Didn’t you have 5th Grade last year? Big change.

      I make no excuses for most of my thinking and my strategies being mainly biased on older children – I’m definitely an upper elementary teacher! However, a lot of the visible thinking stuff I learned and adapted from my wife who is an early years teacher. She would always write down what children said, she would record them when they were having a particular experience, she would take photographs constantly and she would always have immediate and relevant displays that reflected what the kids had just done, validated their words and provided stimulus for further talk.

      Of course, it’s much harder work with younger kids, particularly ones who don’t yet speak English. It’s also very difficult with older ESL kids… but I always remind myself that inquiry and conceptual understanding is the focus, not the acquisition of English. They are able to use their mother tongue as much as they like – I just need a translator so I can find out what they have said or written!!!

      The conversation about making inquiry visible on PYP Threads:

      seems to have perspectives from teachers of all age groups. I am interested in following that conversation to see how teachers of younger students are doing it.


  4. Pingback: What is Inquiry? « Inquire out loud

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s