Knowledge Bank - Creative Teaching & Learning

Enquiry and Enquiry-Based Learning

There are many different approaches to Enquiry, (or Inquiry), from the holistic cross-curricular Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL), to more limited project, lesson or task based activities.

At its core, ‘Enquiry’ is a learner-centred approach, which uses active discovery, research or philosophical enquiry as the driver for learning.

The DfEE (2005) define enquiry as a set of skills which enable pupils to:
“Ask relevant questions, pose and define problems, plan what to do and how to research, predict outcomes and anticipate consequences, to test conclusions and improve ideas.”

Enquiry-Based Learning

The two key elements of the approach are students taking responsibility for the direction of their learning, and deep intellectual engagement with knowledge. It takes issue with the ‘knowledge transfer’ model of education and responds to the 21st century educational challenge of teaching in the ‘knowledge society’. ‘Former conceptions of knowledge, minds and learning no longer serve a world where what we know is less important than what we are able to do with knowledge in different contexts’ (Dr Sharon Friesen,

In the enquiry-based approach, the role of the teacher is facilitator. The teacher may, (or may not), establish the subject of the enquiry, however the students establish the lines of enquiry. Student involvement in determining the direction of their work creates ownership and, it is hoped, will engage more with the students’ contexts and help them make sense of the world.

The Enquiry approach is structured around engagement, gathering information, reflecting on progress and reaching a reasoned conclusion – and at its heart is the notion of transferable skills (Martin Renton). Students learn how to research rigorously using web or library resources, or identifying and using relevant research methods. Students learn how to ask questions of the knowledge they have gained and thus develop their knowledge further. They examine different perspectives, angles, assumptions, hypotheses, outcomes and solutions to problems. They learn how to analyse, evaluate, present and create, with the knowledge they have found. It is argued that this approach provides a more meaningful and engaging method of learning and is more effective in facilitating knowledge retention.

For a case study of cross-curricular project work that used the Enquiry approach method, see Introducing… Read All About It! – Martin Renton, where Enquiry was used to learn about life during WW2. Digging Up The Past – Christopher Russell is an interesting look at using artifacts to inspire historical enquiry.

For more information on EBL approach, see, and look at the Galileo Inquiry Rubric, – a rubric for teachers to support development and evaluation of enquiry-based teaching.

The Enquiring Minds Programme

The Enquiring Minds Programme is a British initiative run by Futurelab, which worked with schools helping them to create an enquiry-based curriculum, concurrently researching and analysing the practice. It has produced a fantastic guide, with advice and trialed resources to support enquiry-based teaching and curriculum development. It advocates a ‘living curricula’ that uses students ideas, interests and experiences as a starting point. ‘The Enquiring Minds cycle’ is a tool to support planning and carrying out any sort of enquiry based activity. There are 4 stages to the cycle:

1. Initiating and Eliciting (making visible students existing knowledge and exploring subjects of potential enquiry)
2. Defining and Responding (focusing an idea or question or subject and making plans to research it further)
3. Doing and Making (students research, design and construct in order to make a contribution to their chosen enquiry)
4. Communicating, Presenting and Evaluating (new knowledge shared with others in any manner of ways – PowerPoint, video, website, report etc.)

Enquiring Minds Guide:

For further information about Enquiring Minds, visit their website, or for case studies of Enquiring Minds in practice and a review of the research conducted on the program, read, The Spirit of Enquiry – Sarah Payton and Ben Williamson, and Active Enquiring Minds: Empowering Young Researchers – Graham Handscomb and Ros Frost.

Other Enquiry-based Approaches

Philosophy and Philosophy for Children
All the philosophy-related approaches are essentially Enquiry. Philosophy for Children is probably the most well known and used philosophy-based learning model. Developed by Martin Lipman, students are given a stimulus and asked to generate questions about anything puzzling, problematic or interesting that it raises. Learners together agree on a direction for their enquiry and, through talk and reasoning, try to deal with the problem. This is an approach concerned with the development of questioning and reasoning skills and more interested in the social process of learning and thinking than subject-based knowledge. For further reading and P4C organisations and websites, see the Philosophy for Children Knowledge Bank.

In his article, Enquiry Versus Philosophy, Peter Worley argues for teaching children to do real philosophy – rather than limiting them to only ‘Enquiry’. With the support of subject specialists, he argues they are capable. In contrast to ‘Enquiry’, real philosophy is non-empirical and involves the history of philosophy, conceptual analysis, abstract thinking, generality and complex reasoning. In a separate article, The Pathway Method, Worley illustrates a technique to use philosophical enquiry strategies to answer mathematical, geometric or logical questions. Differently, this technique is used to arrive at a set answer, (as opposed to being an open-ended enquiry). It is based on the principles of Platonic dialogue, Socrates method of teaching through ‘showing a path’.

Exploration and ‘Mission-Based Learning’
The exciting Mission-based learning is a ‘guerilla teaching and learning’ device developed by the Geography Collective. This frames learning as ‘exploration’. We are all natural explorers they argue. Teaching and learning should be exploratory, active, unusual, beyond the classroom, real, social, fun and inspire creative and critical thinking. It should be creative and about breaking outside of the box! They call this project Mission: Explore and have written hundreds of ‘missions’. Their missions are challenges or investigations based in the real world that conclude with some form of sharing the findings. In their words, ‘To Mission:Explore is to have experimental experiences through explorations to develop expertise’. See the inspiring articles by Daniel Raven-Ellison – Project Plan: Guerilla Teaching and Learning and Explore to be Creative, for a lengthier description of the pedagogy, a range of missions, a curriculum project and case studies, or visit the website,

Dramatic Enquiry
The ‘Mantle of the Expert’ Drama for Learning technique is a holistic curriculum approach that facilitates enquiry-based learning whilst students are in role as an expert in an enterprise. For example, they may be a scientist in a laboratory, or archeologists excavating an ancient artifact, or a manager of a shop. In role, students undertake ‘professional’ tasks, involving research, problem solving etc. to resolve particular problems or issues that are built into the drama. For more information, visit our Drama For Learning Knowledge Bank, or see the articles Expert Thinking, or Drama, Energy and the Crane.

In her article, What is a Webquest?, Linda Anderson defines webquests as ‘an enquiry-based learning tool which encourages students to become responsible for their own learning. Students are provided with a specific task and the activities to support that task. They are given links to information available on the web which they use to acquire knowledge’. Students usually do their research in a role – set by the quest – and have a production task to complete with the fruits of their research – often creative. There is a vast resource of fun, imaginative and creative different webquests, written by Crispin Andrews, available in our library. See  Battling the Silurians as an example. See the article Webquest Wonders for an overview of the fantastic webquests that accompany the online collections of nine major British museums.

Mysteries are a pedagogical strategy which can be used for lesson or project starters, or as a whole lesson. Students work in a group to investigate a mystery ‘key question’. They are provided with a number of clues which they need to organise, categorise and analyse together to solve their mystery. They are specifically useful in helping students engage in ‘meta-thinking’ – thinking and talking about the processes of their thinking. For more information and examples see Mysteries – David Leat, Death of a Slave – Vivienne Baumfield, The Primary Mystery Challenge – Rebecca Scott Saunders, and for a look at how to design a mystery, see Mind Maps for Mysteries – Steve Williams.

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