12.  How are Effective Inquiry Questions Developed and Applied?


Questions are the foundation of inquiry learning and teaching. However, asking a lot of questions does not necessarily make for an inquiry lesson. In a traditional classroom, teachers ask questions to elicit students’ feedback about readings, activities, and surveying prior knowledge, interests, understandings, opinions, and beliefs. In an inquiry classroom, teachers ask more open-ended and self-reflective thinking questions.


Teachers need to model good questioning skills and provide opportunities for students to ask and answer their own thoughtful, insightful, and discipline-related questions when they get more skilled at inquiry-based learning.  In today’s schools, the emphasis is on using questions to provide the foundation for learning how to learn rather than what to learn. 


Begin integrating and modeling inquiry questions by planning in advance three or more over arching questions around the big ideas and major concepts of the lesson/unit which require higher-level thinking skills (application, synthesis, and evaluation) for the purposes of capturing students’ attention, engaging class discussion, and challenging students’ thinking.  Inquiry questions and big ideas can be found in curriculum documents, textbooks, and other resources. Posting inquiry questions in the classroom and in course outlines helps to prioritize and inform students of their learning goals. It is not necessary to pose inquiry questions for each lesson. This will reduce student confusion about which question is the important one that they should be focusing on.


Follow-up on student responses with questions that ask for supporting details, such as, “Why do you think that way?” Rephrase questions when a student is unable to provide an answer. Consider having students record their questions and ways to find answers in a separate folder, journal book or binder. 


What are the qualities of an effective inquiry question?  Several fundamental features include (adapted from Watt & Colyer, 2014 and McTighe & Wiggins, 2013):


  • Invites deep thinking rather than recall and summarize;
  • Makes students think about something in a new way;
  • Promotes critical, creative, reflective, and productive thinking about the discipline concepts;
  • Engages students’ curiosity;
  • Leads to further good questions;
  • Is open-ended with no final correct answer;
  • Requires support and justification rather than a single answer;
  • Points toward important and transferable ideas within and possibly across the disciplines;
  • Revisits the question over time.


Suggested links for further information:


What Makes a Good Question?


Reading, Writing, and Researching for History

3.d What makes a Good Question?



IQ A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning

Chapter 3.2 What does a good inquiry question look like? p 42-49



Capacity Building Series, Asking Effective Questions



Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions



5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners



Foster Student Questions: Strategies for Inquiry-Based Learning



Inquiry-Based Learning: Developing Student Driven Questions





1.  McTighe, J. and Wiggins, G. (2013). Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding.   

     Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


2.  Watt, J. and Colyer, J. (2014). IQ A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning. Don Mills, ON: Oxford

     University Press.








Reproducible Resource: 




SOURCE:  Watt, J. and Colyer, J. (2014). IQ A Practical Guide to Inquiry-Based Learning. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, p 141.