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Inquiry Chart

The Inquiry Chart (I-chart) is a strategy that enables students to gather information about a topic from several sources. Teachers design the I-chart around several questions about a topic. Students read or listen to several sources on the topic and record answers to the posed questions within the I-chart. Students generate a summary in the final row. Different answers from various perspectives can be explored as a class.

Why use an inquiry chart?

  • It fosters critical thinking and strengthens reading skills.
  • It teaches younger students to generate meaningful questions about a topic and learn to organize their writing.
  • Students build upon prior knowledge or thoughts about the topic by sharing interesting facts.
  • It can serve as an evaluation tool for how much a student has learned about a topic.

How to use an inquiry chart

  1. The teacher provides each student with a blank I-chart and assists with topic selection OR provides the pre-selected topic.
  2. The students engage in forming questions about the topic. Those questions are placed at the top of each individual column.
  3. The rows are for recording any information students already know and the key ideas pulled from several different sources of information. The last row gives students the opportunity to pull together the ideas into a general summary.
  4. Teachers may ask students to resolve competing ideas found in the separate sources or develop new questions to explore based on any conflicting or incomplete information.

The planning phase includes:

  1. identifying the topic
  2. forming questions
  3. constructing the I-chart
  4. collecting materials

The next step is to engage students in the interacting phase which involves:

  1. exploring prior knowledge
  2. sharing of interesting facts
  3. reading and rereading

Finally, teachers guide the students through the integrating and evaluation phase by:

  1. summarizing
  2. comparing
  3. researching
  4. reporting

Download blank templates

When to use: Before reading During reading After reading
How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

Examples

Sample I-chart

Topic Guiding Question 1 Guiding Question 2 Guiding Question 3 Guiding Question 4 Other Interesting Facts and Figures New Questions
What We Know
Source 1
Source 2
Source 3
Summary
Source: Hoffman, J. (1992). Critical reading/thinking across the curriculum: Using I-charts to support learning. Language Arts, 69(2), p. 121-27.

The example below is an inquiry chart that students could use to reveal what they learn about simple machines.

See example > (37 PDF)*

Differentiated instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, students with learning disabilities, and younger learners

  • Teachers should be sure that the questions are kept simple for younger students.
  • For advanced learners:
    1. Add another row to the I-chart called Summary. Have students summarize each of the columns.
    2. Use their information to create a product (e.g., research paper, brochure, or PowerPoint presentation).
    3. Use the I-Chart in other classes that require research.

See the research that supports this strategy

Hoffman, J. (1992). Critical reading/thinking across the curriculum: Using I-charts to support learning. Language Arts, 69(2), p. 121-27.

Jones, R. (2006). Strategies for Reading Comprehension: Inquiry Chart.

FOR-PD. (2006). FOR-PD's Reading Strategy of the Month.

Children's books to use with this strategy

Walt Whitman: Words for America

Walt Whitman: Words for America

This sophisticated, oversized, and highly illustrated biography takes a look at the life of the poet who was impacted by the Civil War.

Mr. Lincoln's Boys

Mr. Lincoln's Boys

The Civil War and the soldiers in Washington, DC, infiltrates the play of Tad and Willie on the grounds of the White House but their father still takes time to pardon one of the boy's toy soldiers

Lincoln and His Boys

Lincoln and His Boys

The voices of Abraham Lincoln's sons, Willie and Tad, are used effectively to reveal their father as both a man and as a leader during very difficult times.

Comments

I used the inquiry chart in a small group setting, with my 1st grade enrichment group. I gave each student a different animal group, and three questions. The students used 2 books and the internet as sources. With each source they found and interesting fact and a formulated a new question. Instead of using the summary line, I had students use 1-2 sentences to sum up what they learned about what makes an insect an insect, what insects eat, and where insects live (students also did reptiles, fish, and amphibians), and write it on index cards. Then they arranged their chart and index card summaries into a presentation, and taught their classmates about their researched animal group. After listening to each presentations students used an exit slip to tell one thing they learned.

I really like this strategy. It can be designed to meet the needs of students at any level or multi levels in a classroom.

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