There are many definitions out there for Inquiry-Based Learning, and I think with true student inquiry students decide what topic they wish to learn about. In my class, I try to cluster the curriculum expectations into a Big Idea and then I like to create an Inquiry question that we will explore - so students aren't truly selecting their own topic.
For our Social Studies unit on First Nations, we asked, "How did the environment impact the way Aboriginal people lived their lives prior to contact with the Europeans?"
I use the Literacy Block - which I consider a "workshop" - for students to conduct their inquiries. This way, I am killing many birds with one stone; my students are learning their Social Studies content while developing their Reading, Writing, and Media Literacy skills.
I always use Tony Stead's Reading Analysis Chart for reading non-fiction texts and I always start by modeling how to do it. So I created a RAN chart to use on the SMART board. I started by choosing a First Nations tribe that we had a lot of background knowledge about - the Wendat. Together, we brainstormed what we thought we knew about the Wendat. Beginning with what we think we know sets a purpose for reading. We are reading to confirm our thinking. ( C- refers to confirmed facts, M - refers to misconceptions). I have used this strategy with First Graders to Sixth Graders - it works!
Over the next couple of days, we continued to share-read information on the Wendat, and I modeled for my students how to take jot notes. What we were doing was becoming experts on the Wendat. We didn't write in full sentences, so as to avoid the temptation to plagiarize later on when it came time to share our learning.
When the chart was complete and we felt we knew enough about the Wendat to be able to answer our guiding question, I gave the students RAN charts of their own and they repeated the process with their tribe of choice. (Click on the link for RAN chart to edit for your students).
Students worked in collaborative groups of two or three for two weeks to complete their RAN charts. When they had finished, I modeled how to take this information and turn it into text. We had several mini-lessons on report writing. We focused on paragraph writing and using the elements of style even for reports. We talked about the difference between opinion and facts and discussed how and when to include our own opinions and voice in report writing. I wrote a report on the Wendat with my students so they would know how to do it.
My students spent the next week writing their reports. We then had a series of mini-lessons on revising and editing. We talked about the importance of word choice and sentence fluency. We also had several lessons on convention use and using the electronic tools available to us to help us edit our work.
Lastly, we discussed publishing. I introduced my students to several media formats such as Power point, Key Note, Explain Everything, Prezi and Microsoft Publisher. My students decided how they would like to present/share their information. I modeled how to create a brochure on the Wendat using Microsoft Publisher. I suggested they use Youtube to learn how to use different publishing tools. (We can't always be the expert in the room!)
They spent a week creating their published reports, and then it took a week to present them. During our presentations, I decided to focus on both presentation skills as well as listening skills. I explained that they had to be attentive listeners and ask questions. They did such an excellent job! Click HERE to see an example.
This entire process took about five weeks, which seems like forever for a project on First Nations. But I was able to teach so many Language expectations through this process, so it was time well-spent.
My students really enjoyed the whole process. They were excited to work on these projects. They were teaching me! They presented their information in a wide variety of formats, and I think that is very valuable way to differentiate. They even gave each other feedback on how they could do "even better" next time!