Modern teachers are always in the search of the best method of teaching, they carefully examine and try to meet the needs of learners today. Thus inquiry-based learning method has been introduced recently, it has become one of the most popular learning methods in the developed countries such as USA and Canada.
What is inquiry-based learning?
There are three key factors to keeping your students focused, engaged and motivated to learn. One is having a specific goal such as passing an exam. This mostly works with teenage and adult learners. The second key is fun. Interesting and engaging lessons are especially crucial when it comes to teaching younger learners. If they are having a good time, they will want to participate in the lesson. The most important factor of the three is thirst for knowledge and this one is a winner for all ages alike. Inquiry-based learning is based on the principle that students learn best if they have questions and the desire to find the answers. This method means no lectures. Students actively participate in the quest for knowledge the way scientists or explorers would while the teacher serves as a facilitator, guide or assistant on the journey.
How can we adapt this approach in our English lessons?
First of all, stop teaching “vocabulary”, “grammar”, “listening”, “spelling” etc. Instead teach your students interesting, real-life topics connected to science, music, literature, current affairs etc with target vocabulary, grammar structures or listening activities worked inconspicuously into the lesson.
Inquiry-based learning consists of three steps:
Step 1. What do I already know about the subject?
Prepare some questions on the subject you are teaching, such as
- How can we make music?
- Where does energy come from?
- How do we know what happened long ago?
- How do animals communicate?
Students can answer these in pairs, groups or as a whole class. You can turn this step into a game-show-style quiz in the format of “ Who wants to be a millionaire”. From the very beginning students become active participants in the lesson and start learning by sharing their knowledge and experience with each other. Have the students record the information they’ve amassed in the chart. This will give them a sense of achievement and make sharing of knowledge more organized.
Step 2. What do I want to know about the subject?
This step is crucial in raising the student’s interest. Ask each student to come up with 1-3 questions on the subject of the lesson. They may use google, youtube or any other resource for inspiration. To make sure students come up with really good questions, you can turn this into a bit of competition. Ask your students to submit their answers on pieces of paper and say that the best three will be explore in the lesson. You can be a judge or turn this over to a class vote.
Once the students have established what they want to know, it’s time to get some answers. Depending on the task, you may need to collaborate on a project, make a presentation, film a video, write an article etc.
Step 3. What have I learned about the subject?
This step is similar to the first one in that the students discuss and help each other to summarize what they’ve learnt. You may wish to have them fill in a chart, participate in a quiz or simply go around the class and ask each student to name one thing they’ve learnt in the lesson.
Advantages of inquiry-based learning
1. Students tie what they learn to their needs and experiences. Therefore the information they learn will be interesting and relevant to them.
2. Students improve their critical thinking, research and communicative skills.
3. What you work hard to gain, you treasure. Instead of having knowledge handed on a plate, the students work for it. Therefore they are likely to value it and not have it replaced with other things the minute they leave the classroom.
Disadvantages of inquiry-based learning
1. This strategy doesn’t work as well with beginners who have limited vocabulary and might have difficulty in formulating questions, expressing what they know and searching online for resourced.
2. Requires much time and effort to prepare for and conduct experiments, might constraint with curriculum, students’ abilities and classroom structure.
Tips to make your IBL lesson a success
1. Set some homework
Except don’t make it seem like homework. Prior to the lesson, send your students a really interesting video or article on the topic of the lesson or ask them to find one themselves and bring it to class. Not only will this get them interested and thinking about the topic, but they will come to the lesson armed with some knowledge and everyone will have something to share and say.
2. Teach them to fish
Instead of giving your students the answers, teach them how and where to find them.
3. Maximize projects, minimize lecturing
Make the lessons student-centered. You are there to facilitate students in their quest for knowledge.
4. Become a fellow learner
During inquiry-based learning the teacher doesn’t have to play the professor all the time. Show your students that you are here to learn too. Write on the board some questions of your own that you’d like to find the answers too and at the end of the lesson say what you have learnt.
In the days before exams and compulsory education, curiosity was what drove people to learn. Keep that tradition in your classroom and your students are bound to show excellent results!