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In these times of tests, data and more measuring, it can be tempting to clamp down on ownership, creativity, and more open-ended learning. This can lead to a paucity of some of the most engaging student activities, and stifle opportunities for children to learn vital social, teamwork and research skills. Here’s a revisit of the enquiry-based learning approach with some tips on how to make it really effective.

Based on the research published in The Creative Teaching and Learning Toolkit, maybe this article will trigger you, or a colleague, to re-engage a teaching group soon.

Enquiry-based learning provides your pupils with the opportunity to carry out more extended, independent study that can take them into the realm of truly deep learning. The approach allows them to work through a series of stages that mirrors how research takes place in the real world. It is a superb way to motivate pupils by allowing choices, injecting a real sense of authenticity into learning and enabling pupils to move forward at their own pace. It’s an ideal way to deliver curriculum where time is short and can be included as part of a meaningful longer term homework with the right sort of checks and feedback opportunities built in along the way.

Open  bookBenefits

Enquiry-based learning allows pupils to achieve rich learning outcomes through their own focussed study, and also helps them to develop autonomy as learners, giving them a range of strategies to learn independently.


Enquiries usually last several lessons and sometimes span a number of weeks. The key to keeping the momentum up is regular ‘report back’ sessions, together with genuinely exciting and challenging topics for the enquiries themselves.


Enquiry-based learning is often resource-intensive, as it relies on pupils being able to access a range of stimulus materials. This could include:

  • Fiction books
  • Non-fiction books and other printed material
  • Websites
  • Specialist equipment (e.g. in science, geography or maths)
  • Access to external experts.


Less able pupils can be helped by modelling each stage of the enquiry and by careful scaffolding to ensure they do not get ‘lost’ within each stage. For example, you could put together a small box of suitable resources for pupils that would be daunted by the idea of trawling through the whole of the school library. By providing progressively less structure, it will be possible to stretch pupils and develop their independence. At the upper end of the ability range, this increased autonomy in learning is exactly what motivates many pupils.


An obvious next step once pupils are familiar with enquiries is to ask them to routinely set their own enquiry questions. You could also involve people from outside school – such as business leaders, community champions, writers and academics. Pupils really appreciate the opportunity to work alongside adults that are NOT their normal teachers.


1. Ensure that you have identified an engaging and inspiring topic for the enquiry.

2. Begin by explaining to your pupils that during enquiries learning is ‘handed over’ to them much more significantly than in normal lessons; as such, considerable effort and determination will be required on their part.

3. Outline the six stages to an enquiry:

-Question framing

-Data collection

-Data analysis

-Data interpretation


-Evaluation and review

4. Agree a time frame for every stage of the enquiry to avoid pupils ‘coasting’.

5. Help pupils generate suitable enquiry questions by using a databank of questions to begin with.

6. Review the range of stimulus materials that can be used, perhaps with the aid of a mind-map. You could also book the school library or an ICT suite to allow pupils to access materials themselves.

7. Provide ‘workshops’ on data analysis and interpretation, especially if your subject is especially technical. These should break down the steps within each stage.

8. The main physical outcome of the enquiry should be a written report (with appropriate illustrative material) which addresses the headings of the enquiry, as outlined in Step 3. Encourage pupils to prepare their reports using the full range of ICT facilities at their disposal, to make them as professional as possible.

9. At the ‘Evaluation and review’ stage encourage pupils to assess honestly how well they have carried out each stage of the enquiry – together with what they would do differently next time.

10. Encourage pupils to give a presentation to their peers on their main findings, as this will help develop valuable additional skills.

11. Ensure pupils are accountable for the progress they have made in each lesson by using formal report-back sessions and a simple progress diary for the stages of the enquiry.

12. Enquiries can be run as individual, pair or group projects. Be wary of pupils who want to form groups but then let a motivated leader do most of the work; ensure that any written group work includes a clear statement of who did what.

The Creative Teaching and Learning Toolkit and its sister The Creative Teaching and Learning Resource Book are available to buy online. Packed with great ideas new and old to get the best from children KS3 and above. For best new AMAZON prices visit: