Student Engagement

Inquiry, Curiosity, Exploration and the Common Core

March 15, 2013
Photo credit: goddess-arts via flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Planned a great lesson? Excited to teach the content because you know what you've planned will excite students and they will learn? Ever planned a lesson like that and then wondered what went wrong? We all have. We have all been there. But there are three keys to avoiding that. No guarantees -- sometimes a lesson just flops. But we can be strategic in including at least one of the following keys to avoid the lesson that just doesn't motivate our students.

We are in luck! These three keys are at our fingertips thanks to the Common Core Standards.

The basic idea of the keys is prompting students to learn by asking questions. That means we must teach students to ask questions. We must also make it safe and acceptable to ask questions -- questions that are relevant. If a student asks a question to take the class off task, just comment that it's a valuable question and you would love to answer it after school or put it on the list for questions on Friday.

So, how do we build these keys into lessons? Let’s look at the English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening.

Elementary (3rd Grade)

Standard: Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively and orally.

Lesson: The first time you try this, take it slowly. Everyone is learning to think more deeply, and that takes time and patience. Choose a text and read the first paragraph. Ask the students to write down what they think the main idea is and record those on a board. Be clear that giggling or remarks are not allowed. All ideas are valuable, and there is no right or wrong at this point. Choose three or four from the list and ask a student why one of those might be the main idea. Probe to get him or her thinking. Let others help that student give a why. Then read another paragraph and ask if anyone has questions about any of the main ideas. Help the students ask other questions about why they've chosen that main idea. Allow a respectful discussion as you add or delete some of the main ideas from the class list. Continue with this process until you come to an agreement. Notice that you are not telling students the main idea; you are guiding them to find it together. Does this take longer? Yes! But you are helping students think, and that is important. You are helping them take ownership for their opinions. You are using inquiry.

Middle School (6th Grade)

Standard: Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats, and explain how it contributes to a topic, text or issue under study.

Lesson: Think about the concept you are teaching. Then find an assortment of pictures, some that are somehow related to that lesson, and some that are not. Post those around the room with numbers. Tell the students the topic of the day. Randomly assign numbers and give students five minutes to write why they think that picture relates to the topic. Have them write on a sticky note and put it on the picture. Then have them take a different colored sticky note and write three questions they have about the picture. You now have their input on the lesson. They are curious about the pictures, you have questions to answer, and you are doing more than just talking. You are using curiosity.

High School (11th - 12th Grade)

Standard: Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis and tone used.

Lesson: Show several video clips of speeches and ask students to rate the speeches. Do not give them any help; let them come up with their own rating. Talk about when people listen to or don't listen to a speaker. Let students explore rubrics on the Internet that discuss rating speeches. Give them guidance, but let them have time to explore ratings for presidential speeches and speeches at award ceremonies. Then, as a class, develop a rubric where you are gently leading them to point of view -- and the other elements in the standard. The key for motivation is letting them explore how speeches are rated instead of you telling them.

Now it's your turn. Go to the Common Core Standards and choose a standard for your grade level. As you plan a lesson, how can you motivate students using inquiry, curiosity or exploration? Post your ideas in the comment section below, and let's learn together.

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Filed Under

  • Student Engagement
  • Teaching Strategies
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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