The Many Levels of Inquiry

Journal Article by: Randy Bell and Heather Banchi Digital resources are stored online in your NSTA Library.

Elementary teachers often struggle with how to design and implement inquiry instruction with their students. For many, just understanding what inquiry is can be difficult—let alone designing activities that support high levels of inquiry. In this article, the authors present a continuum by which to evaluate an activity’s level of inquiry. Then, using a fifth-grade unit exploring sinking and floating, they describe examples of each type of inquiry from low-level structured inquiry to high-level open inquiry.

  • Elementary

  • Publication Date
  • Volume
  • Issue
  • Pages

Community ActivitySaved in 2787 Libraries

Reviews (11)
  • on Thu Mar 05, 2020 8:10 PM

I really enjoyed this article because of the 4-level inquiry structure that it provided that can be utilized throughout all grades based on content. I liked this article because it showed me that the inquiry does not just have to be all open. I like that because in some grades, especially lower elementary, I had a harder time thinking of how to leave so many open variables-question/procedure/results. I also liked the example design experiments for everyone the varying levels. I enjoyed the chart and its simplistic layout that the teacher provides and what the students investigate (Figure 1). I also liked the quick mention of science notebooks, as I have made science notebooks in my teaching STEM course at UNI. I think these are very effective tools/resources that can guide learning and instruction but from the student viewpoint.

Kailee Robben  (Bondurant, IA)
Kailee Robben (Bondurant, IA)

  • on Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:47 PM

This a wonderful resource about the different levels of inquiry. This resource does a great job of creating a starting point for teachers in creating their own inquiry-based science classroom. Inquiry-based instruction encourages students to ask questions, make observations, and support their claims using the evidence they have collected throughout the activity. This resource describes each of the different levels of inquiry, while also providing an activity to match. The activities that are given in the article are thorough and can be easily duplicated with ease.

Jade Carter
Jade Carter

  • on Wed Dec 04, 2019 9:24 PM

I love this article. This give the general but the important idea and level of different inquiry level that teacher should know when teaching inquiry-based instruction. I think this article will be useful for new teacher because it gives different level from level one to level 4 which is the ideal inquiry-based instruction that teachers can reference when teaching.

Joanne P
Joanne P

  • on Mon Dec 03, 2018 7:18 PM

This a wonderful resource about the different levels on inquiry! It is a great starting point for teachers are wanting to create an inquiry-based science classroom. Inquiry-based curriculum and lessons can seem like a big task, but this article provides a user-friendly way to explore inquiry. It defines each level of inquiry and provides an activity to go along with each level. The activity descriptions of each level really helped me understand and see the difference between each level of inquiry. This is a great starting resource for teachers!

Lizzie Walsh
Lizzie Walsh

  • on Mon Nov 05, 2018 9:13 PM

This article was an easy read and extremely informative.This article gives information ranging from low level structured inquiry to high-level open inquiry. This article contains useful information.

Samantha Tucker
Samantha Tucker

  • on Sun Oct 30, 2016 10:10 PM

One current theme in science instruction has been the need for inquiry. This can be a daunting task for traditionally-minded teachers. It is seemingly one more strategy or method to add to the tool box. Professional help is on the way with way with an article by Banchi and Bell (2008). Acknowledging the crucial role of the teacher in facilitating inquiry, the authors laid out a plan for success. Specifically, there were four levels of inquiry. The most encouraging news was that teachers should not expect to have students participating in the highest level of inquiry until sufficient opportunities in the other three levels have been experienced. The first level was confirmation inquiry. In this level, the teacher gives the question, procedure, and the solution. In the second level, structured inquiry, students are still given the question and the procedures but generate their own explanation. Both confirmation inquiry and structured inquiry are considered low leveled inquiry. In the third level, only the research question is provided. The students are expected to design their own procedure. Finally, in open inquiry, the students create their own questions, procedures, and communicate their findings with others. It was stated that this is when students are more like scientists (Banchi & Bell, 2008). As students develop in their levels of inquiry, the teacher could facilitate a move up to the next level, ultimately differentiating the lab experience. Flexible grouping could be based on the past inquiry experience. Additionally, it was suggested that teachers identify inquiry levels of curriculum and modify it as necessary. This article should give all teachers a feeling of confidence as they begin planning an inquiry lesson.

Cara Cook
Cara Cook

  • on Sun Jul 31, 2016 9:46 PM

In the article, I found out that elementary teachers struggle sometimes coming up with activities to design and implement inquiry instruction. The student have a difficult time with learning the meaning of inquiry. It is also stated in this article that a continuum was put in place to evaluate the level of activities that are used for inquiry. When the teachers discusses inquiry with the students, it teaches them how to ask questions, and make observations so they can give explanation to help show support and evidences to defend the results that was observed in the activities. There are four level of inquiry; confirmation, structured, guided and opened information and guidance. The levels of inquiry are a form of scaffolding in science. Inquiry helps the students to understand what is being taught to them in science and other subjects.

Dorothy Patterson
Dorothy Patterson

  • on Wed Sep 12, 2012 10:17 AM

There are many ways of describing the levels of inquiry. This article gives a very concrete simple way of describing each level of inquiry. It also gives excellent examples of each.

Betty Paulsell  (Kansas City, MO)
Betty Paulsell (Kansas City, MO)

  • on Mon Nov 22, 2010 9:00 AM

I think it is very important for elementary teachers to use inquiry to teach children what science is all about. Inquiry teaches children to ask questions, make observations, and propose explanations supported by the evidence that they collected. This article describes the continuum of inquiry as four levels--confirmation, structured, guided and open depending on how much information and guidance is given to the students. The authors describe each level of inquiry and describe a student investigation to exemplify that level around the concept of sinking and floating. This is a very informative article for new teachers or for teachers who are just starting to use inquiry in their elementary or middle school classes. The descriptions of each type of inquiry investigation are complete enough so that the reader can easily duplicate them in his/her classroom.

Kathy Sparrow  (Delray Beach, FL)
Kathy Sparrow (Delray Beach, FL)

  • on Sun May 20, 2012 2:04 PM

This is a favorite journal article of mine as I see the levels of inquiry as scaffolding in science class. Some classes may need a more structured inquiry (or even confirmation inquiry) as a model. These types of inquiry can help students understand a model of how inquiry works, while practicing the skills necessary for a more open inquiry.

Wendy R
Wendy R

  • on Sun Aug 07, 2016 3:28 PM

When conducting research for lesson plans it may sometimes be hard for educators to help students who may not necessarily have an interest in Science..This article gives simple ways to help teach students about science and several levels of inquiry

Shareema H
Shareema H

Free - NSTA Members

$1.29 - Nonmembers

Login or Create a Free Account to add this resource to your library.