Educator Entry Points into Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry is an approach to learning; educators may focus on the whole process or one or two of the components of inquiry. The educator decides at what stage of the inquiry process the inquiry is to begin and how much autonomy students are ready for, with respect to each component of the inquiry, as well as how much of the process to conduct with students.

Educators can approach inquiry from multiple entry points (refer to Figure 5). They may use a structured inquiry-based approach in which the educator guides students to practise just one component of the process (e.g., generating questions). Or they may use a guided inquiry approach in which the students practise more than one component of the inquiry process at a time. At the opposite end of the spectrum of student autonomy, educators may use an open inquiry approach in which students direct each component of the inquiry process with the educator providing feedback as students proceed through the components.

Educators may decide to use a structured approach for most parts of an inquiry combined with an open approach during specific stages, or may choose to differentiate parts of an inquiry for specific students in the class. For example, to engage a student who demonstrates strong reading abilities, the educator may have that student choose their own websites to research. For students who struggle with organizing their thoughts, the educator can provide graphic organizers for them to use when gathering their evidence. Considerations related to the entry point include:

  • student readiness;
  • educator comfort with inquiry-based learning;
  • prior student knowledge;
  • time, as some skills need to be taught explicitly; and
  • available resources and access to technology.

Figure 5Spectrum of Student Autonomy in Inquiry-Based Learning 8

Student autonomy grows as you move further right in the following table.

Inquiry Component Open Inquiry Guided Inquiry Further Guided Inquiry Structured Inquiry

Formulate Questions:

Learner engages in Health and Physical Education oriented questions.

Learner poses a question.

Learner selects among questions, poses new questions.

Learner sharpens or clarifies question provided by educator, materials, or other source.

Learner engages in question provided by educator, materials, or other source.

Gather and Organize:

Learner collects, organizes, and records relevant data, evidence, and/or information from appropriate primary or secondary sources, focusing on clarifying ideas or strategies.

Learner determines what constitutes data, evidence, and/ or information and collects it.

Learner directed to collect certain data, evidence, and/or information.

Learner given data, evidence, and/or information and asked to analyse.

Learner given data, evidence, and/or information and told how to analyse.

Interpret and Analyse:

Learner interprets and assesses the data, evidence, and/or information and analyses in order to identify patterns, relationships, currency, and bias; making connections; and potentially constructing new knowledge.

Learner formulates explanation after summarizing data, evidence, and/or information.

Learner guided in process of formulating explanations from data, evidence, and/or information.

Learner given possible ways to use data, evidence and/or information to formulate explanation.

Learner provided with data, evidence, and/ or information and told how to use evidence to formulate explanation.

Evaluate and Draw Conclusions:

Learner synthesizes data, evidence, results, and/or information in order to make informed critical judgments based on the reliability of information and explains the decision, choice, goal, or solution and its impact on themselves, others, and the world around them.

Learner independently examines other resources and forms links to explanations.

Learner directed toward areas and sources of data, results, and/or information.

Learner given possible connections.



Learner consolidates observations, decisions, goals, choices, and/or strategies; collaborates with others to deepen learning; communicates clearly and effectively by using correct terminology; and expresses information results orally, in writing, or through demonstration or performance tailored to audience needs.

Learner forms reasonable and logical argument to communicate information/results.

Learner coached in development of communication.

Learner provided broad guidelines to use, sharpen communication.

Learner given steps and procedures for communication.


Learner reflects on initial questions, what was learned, what else could be investigated or tried, and what could have been done differently; transfers learning to new situations; and plans next steps.

Learner independently applies self-awareness and self-monitoring skills.

Learner directed towards key learnings and areas of strength and improvement.

Learner given potential key learnings and possible areas of strength and improvement.

Learner given key learnings and personal areas of strength and improvement.

Start Where You Are

Using an inquiry stance to engage students in learning may be new to some educators and familiar to others. Most likely many educators already model or use some combination of inquiry when:

  • asking students questions about game strategies within the TGFU (Teaching Games for Understanding) approach,
  • having students track (gather) and analyse personal fitness results, and/or
  • having students reflect on what they could do differently the next time they are in a conflict about their choices.

Educators who adapt an inquiry stance by asking effective questions are providing students with opportunities for deepening their knowledge and developing their critical-thinking skills of analysing, evaluating, and decision making.

To begin to use inquiry in Health and Physical Education, consider:

  • approaching inquiry with enthusiasm and excitement,
  • understanding that inquiry involves the unexpected for themselves and for their students,
  • modeling the inquiry process in their instruction,
  • using the language of inquiry, and
  • facilitating the process through discussion, clarification, support, and monitoring.

Educators who are experienced and comfortable with inquiry may consider taking it a step further by creating a cross-curricula inquiry question that addresses a number of expectations from multiple topics/courses.

Considerations When Using Inquiry-Based Learning

The following are some factors for educators to consider when adopting an inquiry-based learning approach.

Shift in Educator Role

To successfully facilitate inquiry-based learning, educators shift from the traditional role as provider of information and content to the role of a facilitator of learning. As experience and comfort with inquiry-based and student-centred learning increases, an educator becomes more of a guide and gradually releases responsibility to students to work more independently.

Modeling and guiding the inquiry process and the information literacy skills that are needed to effectively inquire is paramount. Students need to be taught information literacy and inquiry skills to be successful. As students develop the inquiry skills and their understanding of the inquiry process, an educator gradually releases responsibility and acts more as a guide and/or mentor.

Shift in Student Role

An inquiry-based approach to learning may be new to many students in Health and Physical Education. With this approach, students move from receiving information from the educator to taking a more active role in their learning and in constructing their own knowledge. Students will need practice as they adjust to developing their “learning to learn” skills.

To be successful in gathering evidence, students need to be able to find information that they can read and understand. Often, the information students gather is too complex for their age or grade. Though many students have done “research” projects, intentional instruction and/or guidance is sometimes required to help students because some may not have the information literacy or inquiry skills to research effectively. Educators need to incorporate time to instruct and/or review information literacy skills. The librarian in your school may be able to assist students in developing some of these literacy skills for conducting an inquiry in a variety of ways, by providing the following:

  • an overview of the various resources available in the library/learning commons
  • information on how to conduct searches for various types of print or digital resources
  • a variety of sources (e.g., print, electronic/digital, primary, secondary)
  • strategies for using a table of contents and indexes, navigating web pages, and using headings and sub-headings
  • tips for determining validity and reliability of sources
  • conventions for citing sources of information
  • tools for keeping track of information sources
  • strategies for skimming and scanning
  • strategies for using technology in the various stages.

Safe Learning Environment

In order for students to take risks, ask questions, and share their thinking, an emotionally safe learning environment is needed. The physical set-up of the classroom or activity area and the established routines and rules are important for achieving a successful inquiry-based classroom.

When teaching health, educators may consider arranging a space in the room dedicated for learning and sharing, by placing desks in groups or in a circle. This can help create an environment conducive to student collaboration and shared learning.

Educators should also review the protocols that are established at the beginning of the year or semester. If students know what to expect and are familiar with the routines, they are more likely to feel comfortable taking risks in their learning. For example, if students understand that a regular part of the class is to stop during game play and answer a couple of questions posed by the educator, they become familiar with this routine and contribute more freely during such activities.

Educators may also consider providing opportunities for questions and reflection at various points in their lessons. Examples include having students pause and reflect about what they are learning and share their reflection with a partner; for example, they might stop and analyse game play, or strategize to achieve greater success.


It is important for educators to consider the group work and social skills needed by students and to take the time needed to develop group work norms and teach the skills required. “In an inquiry based classroom students make sense together” 9. Groups are more effective when members are being open-minded and listening attentively. Groups run more smoothly if students know what to do when conflict arises, how to disagree respectfully, and how to give and receive constructive feedback.

8, 9 Watt, J.G., & Colyer, J. (2014). IQ: A practical guide to inquiry-based learning. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.