Inquiry Ideas. Three Ways to Differentiate Inquiry

Three Ways to Differentiate Inquiry

Inquiry offers many opportunities to differentiate learning. This article describes three ways to design more differentiation into your inquiry lessons: using a workshop model, increasing student voice and choice in the process, and incorporating a variety of student groupings into daily work.

Inquiry as a Workshop Model

Inquiry learning occurs in a workshop model. Similar to the writing workshop, a workshop provides time for students to work, and for teachers to hold conferences (Obermeyer 2015). In Guided Inquiry, each workshop session includes these basic components: Starter, Worktime, and Reflection (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012; Maniotes, Harrington, and Lambusta 2016).

The Guided Inquiry Workshop
Starter 10-15 Minutes

Mini Lessons

  • Modeling
  • Introducing new skills

Lessons planned based on the phase of Guided Inquiry

Worktime Majority of class time

Student work matches the phase of inquiry

Team confers with students or works with small groups

Reflection Time to come back together as a whole group

  • Reflect on content and process
  • Connections are made to the main concepts of the unit

(Kuhlthau, Maniotes, Caspari 2012)

The workshop model provides time for interventions outside the traditional classroom structure. Teachers confer with students during the Worktime to address individual needs and to keep students productively moving along their process, thus providing opportunities for differentiated teaching and learning. (Kuhlthau 2004; Maniotes, Harrington, and Lambusta 2016).

Voice and Choice

Voice and choice is a strategy for differentiation that is embedded in inquiry. Through inquiry-based learning, students arrive at their own questions for research. Students use their voice to express interest in the concept being studied and to identify their inquiry question. Guided Inquiry provides a framework so that collaborative teams can design a unit of study where students are inspired to use their voice and ask their own real questions that are important to the content and have relevance to them (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2015).

Choice is another strategy for differentiation occurring throughout the inquiry process. Stations can be used during Worktime and can be designed for any grade level with a variety of text levels on one or more topics under one theme, allowing for choice in interest and ability. Teacher and librarian collaboration is essential here because this requires curation of texts at a sophisticated level. To create excellent curated text sets that meet the needs of all learners, the team must balance the targeted concepts in the unit with the reading levels of students and also consider text complexity (Donham 2013; Maniotes 2014).

Technology can provide easy access to curated text sets. The team at Truman Primary School in Norman, Oklahoma, used a color coded Symbaloo to share curated resources with students. At Lincoln Elementary in Norman, the team designed an inquiry unit including a six box "choice board" that used images as icons for anchors to content. These choice boards were created and shared in Google docs and Google classroom providing easy access to the list of curated open source items for the Explore phase.

Individual and Group Work

Using a variety of student-teacher groupings works to deepen the learning experience by increasing the level of engagement. Guided Inquiry embeds all the possible groupings within each inquiry unit. Students have multiple opportunities to work and reflect individually as well as in small and large group settings.

Each student benefits from having time to reflect individually. Inquiry Journal writing is a tool that targets personal reflection—a place for each student to engage at his or her level. Teachers provide students with a variety of prompts for writing. Prompts vary between both content-specific questions and reflections on process, in order to monitor how students are learning. Routine opportunities to share ideas with a partner in a pair-share structure gives individuals a chance to test out ideas and thoughts before going public. This simple structure is not only great for thinking and differentiation but is also a useful strategy for second-language learners.

Regular meetings in Inquiry Circles provide a structure for small group collaboration. The Inquiry Circle develops across the inquiry process so that the level of collaboration is increased as students refine their questions and determine the direction of their inquiry. Students can be organized in Inquiry Circles based on their inquiry question. Then, real collaborations, idea and resource sharing occurs. Students develop personal accountability as they prepare for group meetings, creating an interplay between individual work and group collaborations (Maniotes 2005; Maniotes, Harrington and Lambusta 2016).

The entire Inquiry Community is a supportive environment for all students in which a variety of perspectives are encouraged, thereby informing everyone's work. Whittier Middle School in Norman used the community as a think tank. They had a wall where the students posted their questions along the first three phases of Guided Inquiry. Students could use any of the ideas on the wall when it came time to choose a direction in the Identify phase. Here, the larger group was used as a structure that supported all students to be successful.

Inquiry provides a rich context for meaningful, authentic, and varied differentiation. When inquiry units of study are well designed, all learners are supported in work with a suitable level of challenge.

Works Cited:

Donham, Jean. "Text Sets, Deep Learning, and the Common Core." School Library Monthly 29, no. 6 (March 2013): 5-7.

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. 2nd ed. Libraries Unlimited, 2015.

Kuhlthau, Carol C. Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd ed. Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry Design®: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Libraries Unlimited, 2012.

Maniotes, Leslie K. "Guided Inquiry Design®: Tools for Learning How to Learn." Webinar. February, 2012.

Maniotes, Leslie K. "The Transformative Power of Literary Third Space." PhD diss., University of Colorado, Boulder, 2005.

Maniotes, Leslie K., LaDawna Harrington, and Patrice Lambusta. Guided Inquiry Design® in Action: Middle School. Libraries Unlimited, 2016.

Overmeyer, Mark. Let's Talk. Stenhouse Publishers, 2015.

About the Author

Leslie K. Maniotes, MEd, PhD, is owner and lead consultant of BLV Consulting. She earned her master's degree in reading K-12 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, her doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and administration certification in urban educational leadership from the University of Denver.

As the trainer for Guided Inquiry Design®, Maniotes leads professional development institutes building capacity in collaborative teams of librarians and teachers. In the institute, teams learn about best practice in inquiry as they design units of study together. She also works with district leaders to implement systems of support that wrap around inquiry learning for greater impact. Author of Guided Inquiry and Guided Inquiry Design® with Carol Kuhlthau and Ann Caspari and Guided Inquiry Design® in Action: Middle School with LaDawna Harrington and Patrice Lambusta (Libraries Unlimited). You can reach her on twitter at @lesliemaniotes or

MLA Citation

Maniotes, Leslie K. "Inquiry Ideas. Three Ways to Differentiate Inquiry." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

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