Student Driven Inquiry Project

Inquiry projects are a super easy way for students to drive their learning because they not only pick the topic of interest that they want to investigate, but they also select the texts they will read AND they create their own question that they want to answer by reading their selected texts. This article is going to outline how I roll out an inquiry project and what the process looks like.

Day 1: Roll Out

I will start the lesson by explaining the idea of what is an inquiry project and what students will be doing in day 1. On this day, I will have our Scholastic Magazines laid around on all the tables so that students can see ideas for topics that they could select. I give the students 5-10 minutes to explore the magazines and their articles. When students see a topic that interests them, they tell me and I will write it on chart paper at the front of the room. When the time is up, students look at all the potential topics that they can select and they sign up for a specific topic. This is how they are joining a group– based on topic/interest — it is not assigned by me. Students then move into their groups and select the texts they will read as a group and the texts they will read independently. This is also the time where they decide what is their question that they want to investigate.

*For the teacher at the end of this day I make the necessary copies of their selected texts so they are available for students on Day 2

Day 2: Group Reading Day

Before Reading: Day 2 starts with students getting into their groups to read their group text. I have them do a “pre-reading” activity where they document what they already know about the text and questions that they hope the text will answer.

During Reading: Reading time in my class (9th-10th graders) is 15 minutes, in that time they annotate their text for unknown vocabulary, questions and thoughts they have about what they are reading. Discussion with their group members about any of these topics is expected on group reading days.

After Reading: Once students are done reading, they use the work time that follows reading time to analyze what they have read so far in the text, define any unknown words that they didn’t resolve during reading time and complete their “post-reading” activity. This activity consists in documenting any disagreements that the group had while reading and discussing, answers to the questions they had, any new questions that emerged after reading, and what new understandings they have of the topic after reading. I also have them select key vocabulary that they think would be important for a reader to know when learning about this topic.

Day 3: Independent Reading Day

Before Reading: Day 3 students will begin reading their independent texts. Again, they have the same “pre-reading” activity of expressing what they already know about the topic and questions they hope that the text will answer.

During Reading: Independent reading days differ from group readings days in that students do not discuss their texts and ideas during reading time. (They have the opportunity to do this after reading time on independent days) They must stay focused on their text, and they are still expected to annotate their text for the same things as a group reading day (unknown words, questions and thoughts about what they are reading).

After Reading: The post reading questions for independent day again are slightly different. They need to document what new questions/wonderings/ confusions as well as new understandings they have after reading the text. They also identify key vocabulary to the text as they do on group days.

Days 4-9: Group and Independent Days alternate

I structure the unit so that the group and independent days alternate so that students have the opportunity to share ideas they have gleaned from their independent texts and bring those ideas back into the discussion during their group text days. I also find that since some students may finish their texts earlier than others (whether group or independent) that alternating of days is more flexible for students to allocate time where they need to at the end. Advanced students who finish quickly may also select another text for their group or indepenent text. On these days there is no more “pre-reading” activities because the students have already started reading the text and they are more familiar with the structure of the unit.

Components of their Work Time

On these days I introduce other activities that students can be working on during the work time (after reading time) of the class period. These activities consist of genre analysis activities, identifying and reflecting on the effect of the text features of the text etc.

The daily reflections of their readings are not meant to serve as a summarizing of what they have read, but rather as something that shows the teacher what was discussed during their reading time and what questions or ideas they now have about the topic. The before and after text reflections are meant to serve as a way for student to reflect on what they know/have learned about the topic.

Annotations on their texts are a major part of our class. We want students to document their thinking in the moment, as they are meant to show their natural reactions to the text and the information they are taking in. Students annotate for unknown words, questions they have or thoughts/opinions they have. Given that we are working with 100% ELL population, 9th graders and new students start figuring out unknown words by translating, though as they acquire language and advance they transition into looking up synonyms in English or English definitions.

An example of a post- reading activity would be a genre analysis activity. This is where we have students identify aspects of the genre that help them understand the text, or help them identify the pupose of the text or the author’s choice of genre to convey the information. For the inquiry project, identifying the text features and the effect they have on the reader is a very helpful activity.


Once the reading of the articles is done, the next step is for students to create a writing piece to answer their inquiry question, and share the information they have learned from the texts. Ideally, students have free choice to choose into what genre they want to create. However, if you are bound by school expectations of curriculum or work products, it is a great opportunity to teach into persuasive genres or teach an Argument essay structure (see below for more on this).

Adaptations to the unit

When I initially created this unit, I had students select 2 group texts and 2 independent texts. I found that for the 9th graders specifically it was difficult to manage that many texts, so I decided this year to do a “mini” inquiry project where students start with 1 group and 1 independent. I will do the full inquiry project later with the total of 4 texts. I am hoping that when we do the full project it will be easier for the students since they will have done it with only 2 texts. So length of time and number of texts is one way that you can vary this type of unit.

The writing piece that you conclude the unit with can vary. This year for the “mini” inquiry project we are going to have an open genre choice for the students to choose. For the 4 text full inquiry project students will have to write an argument essay which will prepare them for Part 2: Argument Essay on the NY State Regents test. (*please read for our thoughts here on the 5 Paragraph Essay as well as our thoughts on standardized writing rubrics*)

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