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Generating Questions: The Heart of Inquiry

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Categorizing Student Questions
Students' questions flourish when they make firsthand or video clip observations, read about scientists' research, review data, or complete KWL charts. (You might inspire younger students by asking them to write down questions they wish they could ask the animals they're tracking!) Armed with a host of questions about a particular topic or phenomena, the class or small groups should consider how they could go about finding answers to each one. Begin by reviewing the list and marking the questions as follows: (Select from or adapt this list for your grade level.)

  • Put a star (*) next to questions they can answer through firsthand observations (e.g., What do robins eat?).

  • Put a D next to questions they can answer by looking at measurable data (Do male eagles travel faster than female eagles?).

  • Put a plus (+) next to those they can answer by conducting an experiment (Will tulips in compost come up earlier than tulips in regular soil?).

  • Put a R next to those can answer by reading information from books or articles (How many times do a hummingbird's wings beat per minute?).

  • Put an S next to those they think Journey North scientists could best answer (How do whooping cranes decide who leads the pack?).

  • Put an X next to questions that are speculative (Why don't more people care about protecting habitat for migrating birds?). These can't be readily answered by any of the above, but students might suggest alternative means such as conducting surveys or setting up a role-play exercise.

Consider grouping students with an interest in similar questions. Challenge each group to come up with a proposal describing how they would go about answering questions and present their plans to peers for review. If time allows, have groups carry out the research.

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