Inquiry-Based Learning: The Basics

Think of it this way: inquiry can be defined as the process of asking a question or investigation, and learning is acquiring skills and knowledge through instruction. So, in simplest terms, inquiry-based learning is an active kind of education -- having students learn through asking questions and investigating, as opposed to simply memorizing content from teacher lectures or readings.

What Exactly is Guided Inquiry?

Guided inquiry is a type of inquiry-based learning where a teacher provides scaffolding to guide the students through their inquiries. They do this by giving students only the goal and the process.

What happens during guided inquiry?

Teachers allow students to take control of their own learning. Students:

  • Create investigations
  • Ask questions
  • Do research
  • Distill information
  • Sharpen their critical thinking skills.

Like all student-led learning, guided inquiry is a way for students to learn how to make sense of multiple sources of information, figure things out on their own, and solve complex problems.

What’s an example of guided inquiry?

Goal: How would we maintain our biosystem in space?


  • The Beagle Inquiry Framework
  • Start with a question about the goal.
  • Find a piece of content that helps answer that question.
  • Read through that piece of content and summarize it.
  • Ask another question (as we like to call it, a Natural Next Question) that may lead closer to the goal question.

Then, continue the cycle as many times as you need!

With the teacher scaffolding the goal and the process, students are then able to undertake their own investigations.

Why is Guided Inquiry Important, Anyway?

Benefits Include:

  • Students feel motivated
  • Students gain higher-level thinking skills like analyzing and evaluating
  • Learning by doing means students might retain more

When students are taking control of their exploration, they're excited to come up with new questions and research. They're also motivated to start thinking about the topic from their own knowledge base, enabling them to connect their research to things they already know and come up with new ideas.

Guided inquiry learning is also a great way to start students off on inquiry-based learning. For example, if you want to set up a space for your students to lead themselves in their own investigations but don't think they're quite ready to go from 0 to 100, guided inquiry learning gives them the scaffolding to understand the process and build on it in the future.

How Can I Teach Guided Inquiry in My Own Classroom?

You can use guided-inquiry learning in basically every subject: a typical science experiment, a history research project, an assignment for English class. Any assignment that has the teacher guiding the students by giving them the goal and the process and allowing students to undertake their own investigations is an example of guided inquiry learning.

Guided-Inquiry Process

As the teacher, you come up with the goal for the assignment and the process you want students to follow. Maybe you want them to write a paper on the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the process you want them to follow is finding one meaty source, reading it a few times, summarizing it, and continuing that process so you can eventually have a literature review or annotated bibliography. Then, using the annotated bibliography or literature review, the students can use how the sources relate to each other and their own ideas in order to write an academic paper that truly adds on to what others have said about their topic.

While teached guided-inquiry definitely takes work, you'll know it's worth it when you see your students transform from passive students into active thinkers, researchers, and scientists.