The Importance of Curiosity in the Classroom

how to do inquiry in social studies

The First Step in the Inquiry Process 

History becomes so much more exciting when it’s taught through inquiry rather than simply telling students the answers. And if we want students exploring and investigating the past by answering interesting questions, the first step is to get students curious again!

I firmly believe that curiosity is the lifeblood of engagement- the wind in the sails of powerful instruction. The problem is, at the secondary level, students have had curiosity beaten out of them a long time ago. 

Far too many students see school as a place to come and “do chores.” They wait to be told what to think about, what to do, what work to complete, and then they get rewarded with a grade for their compliance. 

tips for doing inquiry with students

But, we want our classrooms to be ecosystems of wonder and exploration- not an assembly line of compliance.

And to do that, we need to get students to ask questions again. We need to grab them by their brains and shake them by making them ask the questions and lead their own learning! …at least some of the time…

But, how do we get students curious again?

For starters, we need to be persistent. Every day students should have opportunities to ask questions and explore possible answers or solutions to those questions. 

Notice, Wonder, Think.

notice, wonder, think strategy

I project a captivating image and students write down what they notice (that's interesting) in the image, what they wonder about (a question they have), and what they think is going on the image (the story its telling).

Students discuss with their table groups and then we have a full class discussion. This simple little activity gets students engaged, interested, and exploring their curiosities, all while normalizing academic discussions in my classroom.

Make this small change to all your worksheets.

Sometimes we still want to guide students' learning by providing questions related to the most important ideas on our worksheets, but we can still encourage curiosity by cutting back on the questions we ask and creating space on the worksheet for students to ask their own questions. 

questioning strategies for high school

Release the reins of your lessons a little bit so students have some stake in their learning!

After students create their questions, allow them some time to answer or at least discuss them with their peers. Students are much more likely to actively read if they are searching for questions that they are wondering- that they created!

And yes, if students are not used to asking questions, they will struggle with coming up with questions and with how to improve those questions, which is why this needs to become routine in our pedagogy. 

In next week’s newsletter, I will be covering some strategies that can help students to ask better questions so inquiry can really become foundational in your classroom. 

And if you want to learn much more, my course, “Make History Engaging, Exciting, and Empowering” is grounded in getting students more curious, confident, and interested in history. Here’s an email template that you can share with your admin to see if they’ll pay for the course.

Keep teaching & learning,
Dan Lewer
History For Humans
2020 Hawai’i History Teacher of the Year

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