Comprehension Corner

What Are Inquiry Units?

Comprehension Corner
What Strategies Do Good Readers Use?
What Are Fix-Up Strategies?
What Are Comprehension Constructors?
How Do I Use Modeling Effectively?
What Are Accessible Texts?
What Are Text Sets?
How Do I Make Reading More Purposeful?
How Do I Improve Group Work?
What Does Engaging Instruction Look Like?
How Do I Promote Transfer?
What Strategies Promote Comprehension?
What Are Inquiry Units?
How Do I Create Opportunities for Social Learning?
How Do I Promote Questioning?
Where Can I Learn More?
Meet the Author

Inquiry units promote the characteristics of flow experiences by capitalizing on students’ interests. Designing inquiry units includes three steps.

  • Start with a big, essential question to organize instruction around.
  • Identify a meaningful task or artifact students will do at the end of the unit as a culminating project.
  • Plan backwards by figuring out what activities and lessons will help students develop the understanding needed to create the culminating project. Remember to start with students’ current needs, interest, and abilities and build toward the unknown.


Essential Questions

Essential Questions should consider what issues are worth exploring and understanding. They should be:

  • Engaging: Students must be intrigued and inspired to learn more.
  • Enduring: Students must learn big ideas that have real world value.
  • At the heart of the subject:  Students must solve problems and create knowledge about the content.
  • Complex: Students should learn background principles, concepts, theories, and procedures about the content.


Essential Questions can come from many sources, including:

         Required texts or topics


         Community Issues


Sample Essential Questions:

         What makes a great friend?

         What does it mean to grow up?

         What can we do about selfishness?

         What is courage?

         What makes an influential historical figure?



Lessons during the unit should include:

         connecting personal experiences

         comparing/contrasting ideas




Culminating Projects

Culminating projects require students to apply what they’ve learned during the unit in meaningful ways.  These projects can take many forms, including written, multimedia design, and social action projects.  A few examples include:





         Fact sheets






         School or community-based service projects


For further reading and unit examples, see Going with the Flow, Chapter 3.

Last updated: July 9, 2008

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