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How to Begin Using Inquiry-Based Learning

There’s nothing like walking into a classroom humming with engagement and excitement for learning. It’s almost as though no one notices you are there as learners continue to converse, collaborate, and investigate together. 

This may be the classroom of our dreams, but how do we make this our reality?  

We just need to know how to use inquiry-based learning to create these conditions. The Future Focused Inquiry Process is the best recipe for inquiry-based learning and it’s ready to for you to use right now.


How Do We Build a Culture of Inquiry?

  • Begin with Global Concepts
  • Use the Future Focused Inquiry Cycle
  • Know Where You Need to Go
  • Ask Essential and Herding Questions
  • Listen to Your Students
  • Give Learners the Tools They Need

A lot has been said about the importance of building a culture of inquiry. But what does this actually mean, and how do we begin to do it?

If we understand the meaning of culture to be the things that we believe, say, and do together as a group, then it follows that our culture of inquiry embodies what we believe, say, and do together as learners in an inquiry-based classroom. A learning culture of this kind is authentic, holistic, and connected to what learners care about. 

Be the learner you want to create.

In a culture of inquiry, the teacher is both guide and inquirer, walking alongside learners with enthusiasm and excitement. You will need to nurture an inquiry mindset, and model the inquiry process yourself by asking questions about things that inspire your curiosity.

It will also happen by using the language of inquiry that is fundamental to the Wabisabi Inquiry Process. In doing so, you also actively facilitate the inquiry process for your learners—be curious, connect, communicate, and create.

Begin with Global Concepts

Global Concepts are the big ideas that provide a profound purpose to learning. Concepts such as Harmony or Sustainability are boundless and inclusive.

A concept that means something to everyone provides the opportunity to create alignment and fosters conversation and collaboration within a classroom or school-wide. Consider a Global Concept that feels right for your learners at this time.

Exploring Global Concepts like Belonging and Inclusion at the beginning of the school year is a great way to share in your connections, celebrate your diversity and build a sense of community together. 

In a culture of inquiry the teacher is both guide and inquirer, walking alongside learners with enthusiasm and excitement.

There are many ways to engage learners in Global Concepts. Exploration through play, class discussions, provocations arriving from current events, news articles, or community issues are all possibilities.  

When we begin with Global Concepts, we provide an entry point for exploring the concepts of the curriculum, beyond content, and to nurture the growth of Global Citizens whose interactions with the world reflect an understanding of integrity, responsibility, and empathy. 

Use the Future Focused Inquiry Cycle

A great inquiry-based classroom may seem to run itself, but actually knowing how to plan for these conditions is the way to achieving them. Planning is the time to think big and dive deep into Global Concepts to uncover and develop potential lines of inquiry.

We’ve written a great article on how to create units of inquiry using the Wabisabi Inquiry Process that will explain how to do it fully.

Know Where You Need to Go

The role of the teacher as a facilitator in an inquiry classroom is a shift in practice from the traditional paradigm of the teacher as the expert or knowledge dispenser. However, this does not mean that your learners will each ‘choose their own adventure’ from now on.

We have curriculum outcomes to address, and the skills of collaboration to learn. Every learner has a unique perspective to bring to a shared line of inquiry, and the benefits of exploring and working together are endless. 

Consider the following questions in relation to your Global Concept, your learners, and your curriculum:


  • What might my learners be curious about?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What concepts/content in the curriculum do my learners need to know and understand?
  • How will I inspire curiosity about these things?


  • What connections can I make between these ideas, the curriculum, and my learners?
  • What new insights and understandings do I want my learners to gain?


  • What are the essential understandings that my learners will communicate?
  • How will they communicate these things?


  • What will my learners create?
  • How will they demonstrate their learning?
  • Will they create graphs, stories, presentations, images, etc.?

As we uncover all the things we are curious about together, we also make connections to the world of our learners, building context and relevance for them. We have essential understandings that we need our learners to take from this inquiry, and this is where we guide the learning to create a line of inquiry that communicates these essential understandings through the learners’ creations

Here is the line of inquiry we chose for a unit called ‘I Speak For The Trees’:

Learners are inspired to be curious about sustainable futures and connect examples of influential voices in literature and environmental action in order to communicate that the preservation of forests is vital to the future of our planet, and that we can make a difference by creating a presentation the school community, advocating for change.

Ask Essential and Herding Questions

There is both power and purpose in asking great questions. An essential question is the guiding question that becomes the basis of our Inquiry.

Essential questions are timeless and boundless enough to engage all learners, and inspire in them a quest for knowledge and discovery. They are the kind of keep-you-up-at-night questions that open up a world of possibilities. Questions like "What is greatness?" or "Can one person make a difference?" task students to work with the deep concepts and diverse perspectives of the curriculum, examining a topic beyond the surface level. 

Herding questions are, quite simply, every other great question that you ask to drive learning towards curricular outcomes. They are essential to guiding the inquiry process and keeping your learners on track. 

Listen to Your Students

Inquiry-based learning takes place in a social context, and one which is rich in opportunities for conversation, collaboration and exploration. The great thing about essential questions is that they are big enough for every learner to provide a response, from their own perspective, cultural background, prior experience and ability level.

You will need to accept that inquiry may involve the unexpected for you and for your students. When you ask questions, you must be willing to listen to the answers. As you do so, you are engaging in a rich diagnostic assessment of the group of learners before you. This is a great opportunity to connect to student voice and engagement as you learn about what interests and inspires your learners. 

Give Learners the Tools They Need

Great inquiry conversations lead to deep work. If we are going to enable our learners to be truly self-directed in this work, we must provide them with the right tools.

Proven skills and processes that support and scaffold learning are required. We created the Future Fluencies for learners because embedded within them are the skills they need to thrive in an ever-changing world both during and beyond their school years. The Future Fluencies are in use in thousands of schools all over the world and our global learners are producing outstanding results with them.

When using inquiry-based learning in the classroom, the power of learning is in the hands of the students, where it belongs. As a teacher and a facilitator of that learning, you get to guide them on the way and watch as their curiosity deepens and their critical thinking skills flourish. It’s a living breathing learning miracle that you all stand together in the very heart of.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Originally published May 16, 2019, updated October 15, 2021