Student Led Inquiry in a Multi-Age Setting

Student Led Inquiry. Hands on Learning. The Discovery Approach.

What does this mean?

Student led inquiry is letting students have a say in their learning. This will look different in each educational setting, but the purpose behind student led inquiry remains the same.

Students learn the best when they are interested in what they are learning. 

I’ve been researching the Reggio Emilia Approach and the innovative ways teachers who believe in this approach work with early childhood students. I’ve been trying to bring this approach to students who are older. Students who are in elementary school (5-8yo).

Instead of teaching our students how to search for information, we emphasize teaching to the test. Our students would benefit from understanding that answers are not always fixed or stable. They are forever changing based on new discoveries.

Let’s explore how I use student-led inquiry in my classroom to help students answer their own questions!

First, I introduce a broad topic: environmental awareness, mangroves, the ocean, or the human body.

Next, students brainstorm what they already know about the topic.

Students complete the “I wonder” pages about the topic, using words, sentences and pictures.

Students who are unable to write words can draw pictures and orally share what they are wondering about. I write their inquiries on the lines.

After the students brainstorm all of their questions, we discuss them. We talk about the answers we may already know & we talk about where we could find the answers. Could we use a book? The encyclopedia? A dictionary? Could we use the internet as a resource? What about going out into the community and finding the answer there? Could we ask other adults who might have more knowledge about the topic?

As the students begin researching their questions, I fill out this planning sheet, allowing their inquiries to guide my ideas.


Finishing our topic research usually takes around 4 weeks. Inquiries can take much longer, even multiple months!

Below are some examples of where these inquiries led us in our learning.

Student Topic: Mangroves (4 weeks)

Student Inquiries: Do crocodiles eat mangroves? Why do iguanas like mangroves so much? Why do pelicans like mangroves? How do mangroves grow? How do mangrove trees get so big? How do mangroves survive in saltwater? How do the mangrove seeds grow? Can the mangrove seeds travel by air or do they only travel through the water? What would happen if there weren’t any mangroves?

Literacy: “The Sea, The Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle” by Lynne Cherry. Assortment of National Geographic books on Sea Turtles, Manatees, Lizards, etc. Students created their own, “I Went Walking Near a Mangrove” book together in class. The students also researched animals that live, breed or spend time near mangroves.

Geo-literacy: Students researched mangroves using literature and resources we had in our class. We discussed the natural environment of Belize & what role mangroves play in our environment. Why are mangroves important to us? We discussed the impact of tourism and population growth on our peninsula. We also discussed possible solutions to these problems.

Math: Students asked parents and peers, “What is your favorite creature that lives in a mangrove?” and graphed the data! We added to the graph when we remembered to question guests who came to visit. We also solved Mangrove Story Problems in the student’s Mangrove Math Books. The older students worked together and I  used picture cards of the mangrove animals with the younger students.

Creative Arts: Students created their own tree habitats. Some children chose to make tree houses and others made mangroves. The students made books to go along with these projects.


This is an example of a short, student-led, mangrove unit, that worked really well in my multi-age classroom in Placencia, Belize. I was able to pull from online resources as well to add supplemental material to our unit.

Check out these free mangrove resources that can be modified to fit where you live:

Exploring Mangroves (Australia)

Mangroves, Oceana Belize

Mangroves as Habitat (Australia)

I would love to hear ways you are using student-led inquiry in your classrooms!





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