New York Social Studies Toolkit Inquiries

The Toolkit features 84 curriculum inquiries, six per grade level K-11, and twelve in grade 12 (six for Economics and six for Participation in Government).

All of the 84 inquiries within the New York State Toolkit were built using the Inquiry Design Model and feature a blueprint with a description of how the inquiry might be taught. All of the inquiries connected to key ideas, conceptual understandings, content specifications, and social studies practices found in the New York State K-12 Social Studies Framework. Although the inquiries align with standards, they are not intended to be comprehensive content units, nor are they intended to be a series of prescribed lesson plans. They are intended to serve as pedagogically rich examples content and skills built out in inquiry-based fashion. See all 84 inquiries below.  Browse the Inquiries by Grade Band Here.

Manhattan Purchase

On the surface, the compelling question for this inquiry, “What’s the real story behind the purchase of Manhattan?” asks students to explore the background to the story of the sale...

Treaty of Versailles

The compelling question “Can peace lead to war?” offers students an opportunity to explore the historic controversy surrounding the extent to which the Treaty of Versailles caused World War II...

Pilgrims and Wampanoag

In this inquiry, students investigate one of the best-known stories in American history—the interaction between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags that included the first Thanksgiving. The compelling question “Why did...

Corporate Social Responsibility

There has been much debate about the role of corporations and how they function in today’s global society. Arguments abound as to whether or not these entities pay their fair...

Women’s Rights

This inquiry examines the emergence of the women’s suffrage movement in the 19th century as an effort to expand women’s political and economic rights, and it extends that investigation into...


This annotated inquiry leads students through an investigation of the Aztec Empire through the study of its capital city, Tenochtitlán. Scholars debate the significance of the role of the Aztec...

Black Death

This inquiry is framed by the compelling question “Can disease change the world?” Among the many catastrophic global pandemics in history, perhaps none achieved the notoriety of the Black Death...


This inquiry leads students through an investigation of modernization and development in three African countries: Kenya, Botswana, and Algeria. By investigating the compelling question “Does development mean progress?” students focus...


The goal of this inquiry is to introduce students to historiography as they wrestle with historical significance within the context of a historical controversy. The common narrative about the end...

Cultural Diversity

This inquiry engages third graders in expanding their understandings of diverse cultures. The compelling question “How does our culture make us similar and different?” is intellectually respectful of students who...

Economic Happiness

This inquiry leads students through an investigation of recent studies that try to quantify a country’s happiness through different economic measures. By investigating the compelling question about whether Americans could...

Free Trade

Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman once said, “There is a standard cliché which I am sure you have all heard, that if you have two economists in one room, you...


This inquiry leads students through an investigation of the perennial power struggle between federal and state governments to legislate. By investigating the compelling question “Who has the power?” students will...

Campaign Finance

This inquiry leads students through an investigation of campaign finance by examining election costs, expenditures, and the complex relationships between candidates and political-action committees. By investigating the compelling question “Does...

World War II

The goal of this inquiry is to help students understand the various factors that caused the United States to be on the winning side in World War II. The compelling...

Johnson and Reagan

The goal of this inquiry is help students understand the central debate about the government’s role in fostering economic opportunity over the past half century. As this is a historical...


The goal of this inquiry is to help students develop their thinking in terms of continuity and change through learning about US immigration policy actions and their effects over time...

Labor Market

This inquiry explores some of the dynamic changes occurring in the US labor markets through the investigation of the compelling question “Does it matter what I want to be when...

Civil Rights

This annotated inquiry leads students through an investigation of the civil rights movement using the lens of nonviolent direct-action protest. The content of this inquiry relates to Key Idea 11.10...

Complex Societies

This inquiry provides students with an opportunity to evaluate a series of innovations by three complex civilizations— Maya, Aztec, and Inca. In examining the compelling question “What makes a complex...

Toolkit Conceptual Foundations

Undergirding the New York Social Studies Toolkit project in general and the curriculum inquiries in particular are a set of 10 assumptions.

The Inquiry Design Model

These Conceptual Foundations describe the principles that informed the design of Toolkit inquires and the Inquiry Design Model (IDM). Rooted in research and practice and reflecting the Inquiry Arc of the C3 Framework, these assumptions offer a coherent and mutually reinforcing set of ideas that define the often nebulous term “inquiry.” The assumptions are:

  1. Inquiry begins with a question.
  2. Inquiry topics and outcomes are grounded in the New York State Social Studies Framework.
  3. Disciplinary knowledge and skills are integrated within an inquiry.
  4. Students are active learners within an inquiry.
  5. The purpose of assessment is for learning.
  6. Disciplinary sources are the building blocks of inquiry.
  7. Students need opportunities to practice engaged citizenship.
  8. Social studies shares in the responsibility for literacy.
  9. Inquiries are not all inclusive.
  10. Inquiries are best mediated by skilled teachers.

Read the Conceptual Foundations Here

Toolkit Professional Development Materials

The New York Toolkit Project approach to professional learning recognizes the complexities of designing inquiry activities and then teaching those inquiries in the classroom.

Complementing the Toolkit Inquiries and Conceptual Foundations is a collection of turnkey professional learning materials that introduces educators to the C3 Framework and the Inquiry Design Model. These materials feature PowerPoint slide decks and related materials that are organized around three parts of the Inquiry Design Model – Questions, Tasks, and Sources. The four slide decks available here are annotated to provide facilitators with the information they need to conduct the professional learning activities.

Download the Toolkit IDM slides below.


Toolkit Video Series

Created in collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute, the Toolkit Video Series features the Kathy Swan, SG Grant, and John Lee along authors of our writing team and teachers who helped bring the project to life. The videos speak to the several elements of the Inquiry Design Model in general and three key elements in particular: Questions,Argumentation, and Taking Informed Action. The films feature insight from teachers about using inquiry with students in their classrooms and background on  IDM in general and the Toolkit project in particular.

An Introduction to the Toolkit

The C3 Framework provided the inspiration for the New York Social Studies Toolkit Project and has set in motion a grassroots movement to put teachers at the forefront of social studies reform. This video introduces the Toolkit project.


Social studies is many things, but at its heart are questions. The Inquiry Design Model™ (IDM) represented in the New York Social Studies Toolkit begins with a compelling question and features the elements necessary to support students as they address that question in a thoughtful and informed fashion. This video describes the role of questions in an inquiry.


Inquiries lead to arguments. Using the Inquiry Design Model and social studies content, teachers can design students’ work with sources across all four dimensions of the C3 Inquiry Arc so that they can produce a clear, coherent, and evidence-based argument as the summative performance task. This video describes how teachers support students as they develop inquiry-based arguments.

Taking Informed Action

Taking Informed Action tasks are designed so that students can civically engage with the content of an inquiry. Informed action can take numerous forms (e.g., discussions, debates, presentations) and can occur in a variety of contexts both inside and outside of the classroom. The key to any action, however, is the idea that it is informed. The Inquiry Design Model™, therefore, stages the taking informed action activities such that students build their knowledge and understanding of an issue before engaging in any social action. This final video features teachers describing how taking informed action completes the Inquiry Arc.

The New York Social Studies Resource Toolkit is a curriculum and instructional resource that builds out from the recently released New York State K-12 Social Studies Framework. Featuring an ambitious new approach to constructing social studies curriculum inquiries, the Inquiry Design Model (IDM), the Toolkit emphasizes the role of teacher knowledge and expertise. Funded and sponsored by the New York State Education Department, the direct work on the Toolkit project finished 2015. Implementation of the Toolkit materials are ongoing.

Check out some the ongoing work in Rockland County Schools

The New York State K-12 Resource Toolkit and Professional Development project, funded by a grant from the New York State Education Department, is the result of the efforts of nearly 100 educators from around New York State and across the country.

See a list of everyone who contributed to the New York Toolkit project