Models of inquiry based learning

Which model of inquiry-based learning shall we use?

There are different models of inquiry based learning for you to choose from.  This page presents a number of them.

A good activity for colleagues is to search and justify their own model, using an internet search.

Great source of ideas

Inquiry-Teacher blog by Rebecca Bathhurst-Hunt

#InquiryMindset by Trevor MacKenzie

Vasileios Iosifidis has a great PYP website | youtube Channel with great resources on inquiry for PYP. Visit it HERE.


In this learning engagement, we will explore different models of inquiry-based learning.


  • Research your own model of inquiry based learning, using an internet search.
  • Look closely at the different parts of the inquiry cycle to come up with a description of what an inquiry-based learning model should include and why.

Consider this MYP personal project design cycle:

Models of inquiry-based learning

"I chose this model because I liked how it broke Inquiry into 5 steps.  In my thinking, I think ‘engage’ would be the inquiry part where students are asking questions about topics that they are interested in.  The ‘explore’, ‘explain’, and ‘elaborate’ relates back to the action with doing the research and putting it together for a solution.  The ‘evaluate’ part would be much like the reflect.  Evaluate in the middle and I think the idea was that evaluating/reflecting takes place throughout the process.  I liked the explanations on this model, but liked the idea of evaluating in the middle, relating back to all steps, from the other model." (Karla, William Palmer School, Colorado Springs)

"The GreenLearning Spiral inquiry appeals to me for three main reasons. 1) It is based on a spiral rather than a linear progression or circular process. I appreciated how the source explains that “it is a process with many loops and possibilities and the conclusion of one inquiry can lead to more inquiries in the future.”  2) I really like the idea of inquiry beginning with a spark. That gets at my thoughts around identifying an intriguing problem, question, or idea to begin inquiry, but it is more emotive than just identifying.  3) I appreciate the language used to describe the different components.  The language is easy to understand but nuanced.  Hypothesize indicates that a learner has an idea going into the inquiry but the course of the inquiry could either confirm or disprove the idea.  I like that having a plan is highlighted before entering into explore and research.  Analyze and check reminds learners that they need to do something with the information that has been gathered and verify that their information is correct and sufficient. Communicate captures the notion that sharing the results of the inquiry is important as is acting on results."  (Beth Roach, IB PYP Coordinator, Barack H Obama Magnet Elementary School, Jackson, Mississippi, USA)

A reflection on the role of the teacher and student in this inquiry model:

Teachers role

  • Take Risks – be ok with failure.
  • Expose students to new ideas and issues that are in our world.
  • Provide opportunities for their students outside of the classroom.
  • Help ignite passion within their students.
  • Support their students in finding ways to explore those passions.
  • Help their students learn where and how to find credible information.
  • Support students on learning time management skills.
  • Connect curriculum to their passion projects.
  • Connect students to experts and community members that can support their projects.
  • Model the love of learning and promote lifelong learning.
  • Advocate on behalf of your students.
  • Help students reflect on their learning – what worked, what didn’t and what will you do differently next time?

Students role

  • Think big and figure out what they are passionate about.
  • Have an open mind.
  • Take Risks – do not be afraid to fail.
  • Think creatively.
  • Support one another in their learning.
  • Guide their own learning.
  • Be more self-directed.
  • Learn to time manage.
  • Use non-traditional ways of researching.
  • Connect with community.
  • Reflect on their learning and learn from successes and failures.

Now consider the overlap between inquiry and project based learning:

"I enjoy this Venn diagram because it describes how project based learning and inquiry based learning overlap." (Bethany Henson, William Palmer School, Colorado Springs, USA)

“ I like this picture because I think it help students really see what Inquiry could look like.  It's not really a step-by-step process that is being asked like the 5 E's and such examples others gave, but I like it to understand why it's important and this helped me.” (Kayla McGilvray)

Learning engagement: How do you embed an inquiry approach into all that you do?

  • Subjects as focus of inquiry: Ask subject teachers: 'why are you teaching your subject?' (e.g. what does it mean to be a scientist, a historian, a mathematician?). What are the three big questions your subject is trying to address?
  • Inquiry questions: Within each subject: are unit plans driven by inquiry questions?
  • Learner Profile: How are you embedding and nurturing the development of the attributes of the learner profile within your subject, across the school? Are you living out the attributes of the learner profile as a school? How do you know? What is the impact?
  • In classrooms teachers relinquish some control and go with the flow. Curiosity thrives best in an "environment where the rigid adherence to a plan is not a necessity." (Eisner, E)
  • School action plans: are these framed in terms of lines of professional inquiry?
  • Inquiry led performance management: how do you set performance management objectives for each of your staff? Could these objectives be framed as lines of professional inquiry?

Rich Tasks: An Example of Inquiry-Based Learning

Rich Tasks are open-ended inquiry based tasks and projects that connect the learner to problems to be solved in the ‘real world’. The Rich Tasks are extended performance tasks that combine subject areas. Although originally an assessment tool devised by Queensland, Australia, Rich Tasks are used by a number of educational jurisdictions as a framework for designing a block of work using a number of academic disciplines to inquire into a specific question.

Rich Tasks are engaging because they are associated with real problems and topics.  They are challenging and involve active thinking and doing to work through. Rich Tasks encourage originality and invention as well as the making of judgements.

A background paper on Rich Tasks can be read here.

A short think piece on rich tasks can be accessed by clicking here.

Dig deeper

Research articles

  • What is inquiry? A very helpful summary of what inquiry-based learning is can be found by clicking here.
  • Inspired Issue Brief: Inquiry-Based Teaching - a very helpful briefing on inquiry-based teaching. Click here.
  • Inquiry-based learning needs to be carefully structured. Kirschner, P.A., Sweller, J., & Clarke, R.E.,provide a clear argument on why inquiry based learning needs to be structured in their article Why minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist , discover, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Click here to access it.
  • Rubrics for designing inquiry-based lessons:
    Click here for Kath Murdoch's integrated inquiry planning model.
    Click here for Kath Murdoch's planning tools for framing an inquiry
    Click here for Kath Murdoch's tool for planning the phases of inquiry.
    Click here for Kath Murdoch's inquiry cycle.
  • Click here for an assessment rubric from the Galileo educational network for judging whether the various aspects of inquiry are 'beginning, developing, emerging or aspiring'

Professional articles and blogs

Reflect and discuss

In his article for edutopia, Dr. Richard Curwin, reflects on why he has never opened an instruction book when he bought a new product.

"I realized that I did the same when I bought a new car -- with one exception. I never read the instruction book in the glove compartment. I just turned on the engine and drove off. I already knew how to drive, so I didn't need a book. The exception occurred when I tried to set the clock. I couldn't figure it out, so I finally opened the glove compartment and checked the book.

This pattern was and is true for every device I buy. I never read the book that comes with a toaster, an iPod, or a juicer unless I have a question. There are some people who do read instruction books before using a device, but with no disrespect intended, those people are a small minority. Our minds are set up to not care about answers unless we have a question. The greater the question, the more compelling it is, the more we want the answer. We learn best when questions come before answers.

Too many classrooms ignore this basic learning model. They spend most of class time providing information and then ask questions in the form of a quiz, test, or discussion. This is backward. Too many students never learn this way. It is simply too hard to understand, organize, interpret, or make sense out of information -- or even to care about it -- unless it answers a question that students care about.

Lessons, units, and topics are more motivating when they begin with a question whose answer students want to know."

Click here to access the article.

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