Sonoma County Office of Education

Inquiry and Research

When “inquiring minds want to know”, they will pursue it until they are satisfied with their knowledge. They may be building a racetrack for their lego cars, or laying out a garden for their backyard, designing a dress for a party. They may be wondering something about the past, or how to cope with today. Part of our job is to help students find a passion to study or follow an idea to its conclusion. The skills one gains within the research process are skills they will use every day of their lives from deciding what to wear in the morning, to determining a career path, to voting and participating as citizens in their communities.

Here are 4 key concepts in the inquiry and research process. Each plays a part in teaching skills that build upon each other and drive the research forward. Engagement begins with a question that needs answering. Research answers that question and more often than not brings out more questions, many which place that initial question into a larger context. Just what we’re after as teachers!

Teachers have many strategies at-hand that they can use to teach these skills. Below are 4 concepts for teaching with inquiry. They are only a part of a larger picture for For further explanation, please contact the SCOE librarian.

Research Answers a Question

The Right Question Institute has an effective easy-to-use strategy to get students asking more questions. When students ask their own questions, they’re more likely to be willing to go the distance to find the answers, write the report and share their new knowledge. The RQI has an easy-to-implement strategy to help students ask their own questions.

Use the “5 whys” to solve a problem. Problem-solving requires that we identify what the problem actually is. This strategy encourages groups to auger down to the root of the problem so that they can then determine next steps. See SCOE librarian for info on how to use this in the class and with faculty problem-solving.

The Stripling Model for Inquiry (interactive)

...can help to organize a research inquiry. With this model, you can start with the engagement that piques student interest and then proceed through the different steps to creation and presentation of new knowledge. You can explicitly teach in each step of the process, the skills necessary to do the work within those steps. There are lots of ways to use this model.

Information Has a Cycle

Teach students how primary and secondary sources inform how information is created. A way to begin any project, unit, or big idea can easily start with an engaging primary source – helps students dig in by asking questions.

Library of Congress for Teachers Online tool from the National Archives

Primary Source Starter Kit for Teachers

Sourcing and citing / evaluating

Ha! No one ‘likes’ the citation process. It is often tedious and difficult for students to understand. But... it has value:

  • it forces us to identify our source (who wrote it, when, what kind of source it is, etc.)
  • it helps us share our research journey
  • it provides a context to show who we consulted.

This is a series of guides to support your search for primary sources.

Get help citing: NoodleTools Express (free version)

Digital Literacy

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media offers a wide variety of resources - and a whole curriculum- on digital literacy. Pick/choose those that fit with your lesson goals.


Free online curriculum for teaching digital literacy.

For You

Sam Northern, blog post:

The 5 E's of Inquiry-Based Learning

A simple outline of the “5 E’s” of inquiry based learning. Incorporate these and you’ll find that your students are engaged!

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is a phenomenally rich source for educators, particularly for ways to use its primary source material in K-12 classrooms to help students relate in a personal way to, and come to a deeper understanding of, events of the past

The California History-Social Science Project

The California History-Social Science Project provides resources and professional learning for K-12 history/social science educators framed in an inquiry model of historical investigation

Information Literacy

4 moves

It only take 4 steps to check your information:

✓ Yourself – ”Take 5” to check your emotions... your bias... your perspective

✓ The source – Swim up-stream to the original source

✓ Around – Who else has done the work? Snopes? Politifact?

✓ Next door – Read laterally: open new tabs, read what others say

If you get lost, back up, start over from what you now know.

Adapted from Mike Caulfield,, and Nathan Libecap, Casa Grande High School, 2018 cwms; with thanks to Sam Wineburg, Stanford