Social Studies Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries

Examine four strategies and skills that you can use to help your students develop questions and plan inquiries.

Grades K-12 15 min Resource by:
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This first dimension of the C3 Framework from the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) focuses largely on inquiry, a critical skill and experience for our students. We want them to be curious and question the world they see around them, so they can be both discerning citizens and agents for change when change is needed. The act of inquiring is an excellent vehicle for developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and both those skills are necessary for success in college, careers, and citizenship. The resources outlined here support the inquiry process and can be used to help students as they develop their questions, sharpen their inquiry skills, and plan for seeking out and collecting relevant information. We’ll explore support of this dimension in four areas: inquiry learning, research skills, data collection, and project-based learning.

Inquiry Learning

At AVID Open Access, we’ve developed a collection of articles—Engage Students Through Inquiry Learning—that provides an actionable, seven-step inquiry process labeled with the acronym ANSWERS. Each article details one step in the process as well as related ideas, resources, and handouts for integrating that step into your classroom. This process aligns perfectly to developing inquiry and critical thinking skills in a social studies and history classroom. The following articles are included in this collection, and we encourage you to dig into each step of the ANSWERS inquiry process for more detailed information and ready-to-use resources:

Within these resources, you’ll find a process specifically designed to support students in asking effective questions (including the QFT process from the Right Question Institute) as well as how to plan and navigate thoughtfully and effectively through the entire inquiry process. Here are some examples of the key skill-building handouts and flyers that you’ll find in this collection:

It’s often good practice to kick off an inquiry project with some sort of stimulating prompt, primary source, or other interesting artifact. This engages the students right from the start and helps drive their motivation throughout the process. The following websites contain resources that can be helpful in facilitating this first phase:

  • Case Maker: This site includes 20 premade civics challenges that encourage students to think like a detective. Students must take on a challenge, gather evidence and make a case on an important US civics topic. Prompts are based on documents from the Library of Congress and are designed for middle school students. Teachers set up an account, and students join with a code.
  • Library of Congress Digital Collections: This extensive U.S. government site includes photos, audio recordings, print, music, and videos from the Library of Congress archives. The site can be filtered by subject and format.
  • Smithsonian Learning Lab: This resource brings rich content from the Smithsonian museums to a student audience and includes millions of digital images, recordings, texts, and videos in history, art and culture, and the sciences. The site is divided into four key sections: discover, create, share, and learn.
  • U.S. National Archives: This is another U.S. government website that provides a free and searchable collection of government records. These excellent resources can be used to teach students how to view and analyze primary sources.

More ideas and strategies can be found in the first step of the ANSWERS inquiry process: Ask – Spark Curiosity and Ask Questions for Inquiry Learning.

Research Skills

Research is a key component of any inquiry process. It’s often the main way that students seek out and find answers to their probing questions. Although students are quite familiar with browsing the Internet, they are not always adept at using effective and targeted search strategies, nor are they always skilled at filtering through the massive amounts of information they find, evaluating the quality of those resources, and landing on the best information available. Therefore, we need to help our students navigate this process and intentionally teach them the skills for effective research. Exploring the resources below can aid your efforts in helping your students become critical thinkers and researchers:

Data Collection

Data collection serves both parts of Dimension 1, and survey tools are ideally suited to soliciting questions from an audience. These responses can then be used to prompt an inquiry. These tools can also be used to plan the actual inquiry and gather input from key stakeholders or interest groups. There are a number of benefits to using digital survey and polling tools. One is that students can specifically target an audience and then ask questions that align perfectly to their inquiry questions. Another is that the data arrives in real time and is often reported back in easy-to-access formats, like charts, graphs, and spreadsheets. This also makes the information more accessible for interpretation and analysis. Explore this list of survey tools to find a polling or survey tool that will meet your needs:

  • Crowdsignal: Create one-question polls or full surveys. This tool is intuitive and lends to the quick creation of polls. Share with a link or embed it. See instant results. Students do not need to log in to participate. Results are anonymous. Upgrade for more features.
  • Formative: This is designed as a formative assessment tool using basic question types (multiple-choice, true/false, essay, and multiple-answers). It can also be used as a survey tool. The free version includes unlimited formatives, real-time student responses, and basic grading. Students join with a code or link. Accounts are optional, but they are helpful when reviewing data.
  • Google Forms: Create surveys and quizzes that can be sent to others via a link, embed code, or email. Analyze results on graphs or spreadsheets. Question types include multiple-choice, true/false, matching, scale, essay, date, upload, and more.
  • Mentimeter: Create polls, word clouds, scales, Q&A, and more. Insert two questions into each slideshow presentation for free. Analytics and multiple question types are available.
  • Poll Everywhere: Add interactive questions to your existing Google or Microsoft slideshow. Choose from multiple question types. View analytics and get real-time results.
  • Google Slides Q&A: This tool is integrated into the Google Slides presenter mode and allows the audience to ask questions during a presentation. Viewers see a link at the top of the presentation to the Q&A form. They can submit and vote up questions. Presenters can track this input in real time.
  • Slido: Create word clouds and other live poll formats in your slideshow presentation. You can also run a competitive leaderboard and use live Q&A. A Help Center is available.
  • Socrative: Create polls, quizzes, and exit tickets for a live audience. Create instant questions (multiple-choice, true/false, short answer) or create and save them ahead of time. Participants can vote up submission ideas or play a competitive, teacher-initiated space race game.

Project-Based Learning

While not synonymous with inquiry learning, project-based learning is closely related and includes many of the same elements. It is definitely an approach worth considering when developing student questioning and inquiry skills. Like inquiry learning, project-based learning (PBL) is driven by first asking questions or addressing a problem. It is then followed by seeking possible solutions. In some ways, PBL is a fully fleshed out form of inquiry learning, which results in a product or solution that is ultimately implemented in a real context or presented to an authentic audience. Students drive the learning throughout the process with teacher support through mini-lessons, structured activities, conferencing, and other forms of guidance.

To learn more about project-based learning, explore the AVID Open Access collection, Inspire Students With Project-Based Learning. There are six articles in the collection that will introduce you to various elements of the process and lead you to additional resources: