Check out our newest book from C3 Teachers, Blueprinting an Inquiry-Based Social Studies Curriculum. This book offers a fresh look at the Inquiry Design Model (IDM)and new approaches for building an inquiry-based curriculum. Order now from NCSS or Amazon

Blueprinting an Inquiry-Based Social Studies Curriculum is intended for educators who want to speak fluent inquiry across a social studies course and throughout their schools and districts.  In this book, we elaborate on the ideas presented in our first two books on the Inquiry Design Model by pushing on the original model to think not just about a singular experience of inquiry, but inquiry as a routine practice in social studies classrooms. More importantly, this book honors the curricular dialects of IDM inquiry that have grown out of the experiences of teachers who have innovated with the original blueprint model and want even more from inquiry.

Inquiry is to education as liberty is to democracy—it’s baked into the cake.  From our initial training as educators, we are imprinted with a similar message: Inquiry – is – good. Whether our methods instructors emphasized constructivism, cited Dewey, or modeled project-based learning, educators get the memo—Inquiry is the way to teach and it is the way that students optimally learn.  But what is inquiry?  In your next department meeting, try asking that question and see if you get anything close to a clear, coherent, and common definition of inquiry.  We suspect you won’t. Educators can take heart though.  If we were in a room full of politicians, imagine how varied the responses would be to the question, “what is liberty?”

Except inquiry should be different than liberty.  While liberty speaks to a state of being or an ideal worth seeking, inquiry should be a reality that is measurable, explicit, and visible in classrooms.  If we are convinced that inquiry is the way to teach and learn and we expect teachers to do it, we should be able to define inquiry and know that educators all mean the same (or similar) thing.  In other words, teachers should have a common and clear language around what inquiry is and how to do inquiry in thoughtful and practical ways.

Building a language with colleagues around inquiry is essential if we want the language to be spoken and student inquiry experiences to multiply.  The publication of the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for State Social Studies Standards (C3 Framework) (National Council for the Social Studies, 2013) provides a starting place for a social studies inquiry vernacular by defining the four dimensions of the Inquiry Arc and developing a specific vocabulary for the independent but inter-related parts of inquiry (e.g., compelling and supporting questions, disciplinary sources, claims and counter-claims, taking informed action).

The Inquiry Design Model (IDM) expands those C3 Framework ideas by giving teachers the curricular tools to begin speaking the language of inquiry in their classrooms (Grant, Swan & Lee, 2017; Swan, Lee & Grant, 2018).  But languages need to be spoken with others.  If a person spends six months learning to speak Italian, she wants to go to Italy and speak with other Italians (and enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds!).  Similarly, the language of inquiry is meant to live in individual classrooms and becomes most powerful when we can speak with colleagues within and across grade levels.


With questions, tasks, and sources as the foundation for the house, we offer five   different rooms or types of inquiry in the IDM Curriculum House:

  • Structured Inquiry is what we like to call the “Coke Classic” or standard blueprint about which we have written extensively (Grant, Swan & Lee, 2017; Swan, Lee & Grant, 2018). In this type of inquiry, teachers develop a compelling question along with three to four supporting questions to guide the investigation.
  • Embedded Action Inquiry allows students to practice taking informed action as part of the academic inquiry. In this kind of inquiry, the compelling question is crafted so that students are addressing a social problem.  The formative work (i.e., supporting questions, featured sources, and formative performance tasks) provide an instructional space so that students are understanding and assessing the social problem.  Then, the summative argument task allows students to demonstrate what they know and how they might address the problem in a contemporary fashion.
  • Focused Inquiry allows teachers to collapse the inquiry experience into a one-to-two day lesson (Swan, Lee, & Grant, 2018). In this blueprint, teachers develop a compelling question, but one that tends to be narrower in scope and, as such, necessitates only one to two supporting questions, which saves instructional time.
  • Guided Inquiry provides students with an opportunity to become more independent within a teacher-developed inquiry. In these blueprints, teachers construct the compelling and supporting questions as well as the corresponding formative and summative tasks.
  • Student-Directed Inquiry occurs when students take on the development of the blueprint by defining the compelling and supporting questions, the formative and summative performance tasks, and the disciplinary sources for their inquiry. In this type of inquiry, teachers act in an advisory capacity nudging student’s thinking about a topic, offering guidance about their investigative paths, and providing assistance in locating sources for their inquiries.

These descriptions of each type of inquiry are intended to be a short introduction so that our inquiry curriculum house makes sense.  In the subsequent chapters in the book, we deconstruct each of these blueprints in greater detail providing multiple examples of each plan at representative grade levels—elementary, middle, and high school. Below we include some examples.


Structured Inquiry

That’s were it all began, so you’ll find our original collection of structure inquiries in the New York Social Studies Toolkit Project

Embedded Action

Most of our elementary inquiries in the New York toolkit are embedded action. You can check them out HERE. Below are additional inquiries at the middle and secondary levels that embed action. 

Should Puerto Rico be a state? (middle grades)
What does it mean to be equal? (middle grades)
What does development mean? (secondary)
What should be done about the gender wage gap? (secondary)
Should cooperations have a conscience? (secondary)
Why is the Affordable Car Act so controversial? (secondary)

Focused Inquiry

Did the Attack on Pearl harbor unify America?
What did Ruby Bridges stand up to? 
What does it mean to sacrifice?
How should we remember Columbus?

Guided Inquiry

What made nonviolent protest effective during the Civil Rights Movement?
What do pyramids tell us about the past?

Student-Directed Inquiry

What Makes a Movement Successful?
Should Philosophy be a Mandatory Part of the Education System?