Where’s the time for inquiry? You may have your students do Inquiry Design Model inquiries throughout the year or you may do one a semester. If you are just entering the inquiry world, you may not have done any before! In Kentucky, my home state, new social studies standards have been adopted that support inquiry learning. The standards are grounded in four inquiry practices: Questioning, Disciplinary Concepts, Using Evidence, and Communicating Conclusions. If teachers are using Inquiry Design Model blueprints, they are easily hitting all four practices.

But what about the days when we are not doing an inquiry blueprint? How can teachers bring inquiry into their everyday classroom practices?

Here in Kentucky and at C3Teachers, we’ve begun discussing inquiry practices for the different social studies disciplines through three easy pieces: questions, tasks, and sources (QTS). The Inquiry Design Model includes other components (such as the Taking Informed Action exercises), but the IDM’s primary building blocks are QTS.

Using a lens of QTS can help structure classes that promote inquiry practices:

  • QUESTIONS: What historical/geographic/civic/economic question(s) do we want students to explore or investigate?
  • TASKS: What task(s) will students complete to display learning and communicate understandings?
  • SOURCES: What sources are needed to answer the question(s) and complete the task(s)?

Here’s an example of how to use a QTS framework to construct a classroom exercise promoting inquiry practices. The What is a Vote Worth? site (linked through the C3Teacher Hub here) is intentionally organized around QTS.

From the collection of questions, I have selected: How did the Suffrage Movement intersect with other civil rights movements?

What sources can help students answer this question? I have chosen to have students use one image and two brief, text-based sources to consider the intersection between suffrage and civil rights movements. (Using this website, I can select a question to see associated sources).

To answer this question, I want a task that allows me to assess students’ understanding of the rights movements’ intersections. Working in small groups, my students will organize information by identifying themes/ideas/topics in the sources and connect them to each other by creating a mind map or brainstorm web.

What does this QTS exercise look like in practice?   Drawing on prior knowledge and source content, students can begin analyzing the sources. The third supporting source is the cover of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis, depicting Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln. Students may identify ideas around emancipation with Lincoln (e.g., freedom, citizenship, etc.). Source A from Sojourner Truth advocates for extending voting rights to women in order to promote equality and empower African American women, making reference to the enfranchisement of black males (15th Amendment). She compares women’s lack of vote to enslavement: “You have been having our right so long that you think, like a slaveholder, that you own us.” Thus, students might identify freedom and citizenship in Truth’s writing, much as they would in assessing the image. Likewise, in the second featured source, Adella Hunt Logan advocates for women’s voting in order to protect black children from injustice. Notably, she discusses the legal system which did not respect the rights of African Americans. Though her reasoning is different, Logan’s argument is still grounded in ideas of freedom and citizenship.

This topic would be a great inquiry for students (Voices of African American Women), but it can also be this shorter exercise that fits into a 45-minute class period (or less!) Likewise, this QTS sequence could very easily be extended into a Taking Informed Action exercise, where students compare themes identified in their task to discourse around the Black Lives Matter movement – connecting the past to a present civic issue.

QTS Exercise

Questions, tasks, and sources are a part of the Inquiry Design Model, but also reflect good practice in social studies learning. When we approach each lesson through a QTS lens, we can easily inject inquiry practices into our curriculum everyday.