How Inquiry-based Teaching improves student Research Skills: Simplifying Approaches to Teaching & Learning Series (Part 1)

This post is part of a 6-part series highlighting how we, as IB teachers, can bring Approaches to Teaching to our classroom and challenge students to engage in Approaches to Learning.

Approaches to Teaching and Learning are deliberate strategies, skills, and attitudes that permeate the teaching and learning environment. These approaches and tools, intrinsically linked with the IB learner profile attributes, enhance student learning and assist student preparation for DP assessment and beyond” (IBO, 2015). 

You’ve probably already heard a lot from your IBDP coordinator about the Approaches to Teaching and Learning (ATLs). Most likely, these concepts came up suddenly during a meeting for the upcoming 5-year-review, and you nodded your head like you were familiar with them. Believe it or not, you are. We bring ATLs to our classrooms all the time, but we may not do it intentionally. How can we go from IB guidelines to every-day practices?

The key is to think of ATLs as a tool, instead of an extra barrier. How we “approach” these Approaches in our classroom can make a difference in the teaching-learning experience and keep us in line with the IB requirements.

Connections between Approaches to Teaching & Approaches to Learning

In this first installment of our series, we will discuss how to improve students’ research skills through inquiry-based teaching. Practicing inquiry-based teaching and developing students’ research skills are two strands recommended by the IBO that suggest an application of Approaches to Teaching and Learning respectively.

Venn Diagram: Inquiry-based teaching & Research Skills

Here are 4 classroom-tested top tips for IB educators:

See your role as being to promote questions, not just to provide answers

Let’s start with the basics of inquiry: “Inquiry begins with the development and implementation of a plan to satisfy curiosity” (Chichekian & Shore, 2014). Within educational contexts, inquiry-oriented instruction involves both teachers and students “asking questions that do not necessarily have known answers” (Shore, Chichekian, Syer, Aulls, & Frederiksen, 2012). This strategy differentiates “basic information” questions, easily answered by textbooks and search engines, from “wonderment” questions that demand more sophisticated teaching and learning methods for their articulation and explanation. 

💡A simple way to bring inquiry as a learning and teaching strategy to any given IB subject is to find an intriguing real-life topic that would activate the students.

And by “intriguing”, I mean for them, and not necessarily for us. When choosing your discussion topic, keep its scope narrow enough to allow you to focus your instruction on specific content, closely connected to the topic. A distinct focus during the searching process is the first research skill we can teach our students.

Here’s the twist: Instead of posing the questions yourself, guide the students through a discussion that can lead them to formulate relevant and precise questions around this topic.

Act as a facilitator

Inquiry-based instruction expands the students’ and teachers’ role “beyond respectively receiving and conveying knowledge” and enables the students “to actively produce knowledge” (Chichekian & Shore, 2014). The constructivist approach, that the IB broadly adopts, suggests that students construct their own knowledge. Adopting this approach, we accept that students mentally build a library of content in a personalized manner, not that the content itself should be personalized.

After all, there are specific things we try to teach them, especially in view of their formal assessment, but we can’t escape the fact that they will construct representations of this knowledge in their individual manner. The questions they pose give us some insight into their representations, which often leave us speechless – in good and bad ways. Through inquiry methods, we can improve the quality of questions students pose, thus improving the quality of representations they build.  It’s the circle of inquiry going around and around.

The question a student poses reflects the student’s need “to know” (Home, 1983). It’s a process of students reaching out to the established scientific theories or practices we teach. We can start from a question, work as facilitators for the construction of new representations, while also helping them re-construct their prior knowledge that may not align with the taught content.

💡You can also stress to your students how valuable their questions are, and embrace this thought. Their questions are the beginning and end of the inquiry process.

The posing of a question itself gives us a great opportunity to illustrate the role of inquiry for the development of a specific area, refer to the respective research methods, and make connections to the Theory of Knowledge (ToK).

Ensure that students actively engage with learning

Making our way through knowledge via inquiry sets a real-life example for the students. In order for them to take maximum responsibility for their own knowledge, 21st-century research skills are required – the ones that make students more active learners. We’re dealing with digital natives, so we can practice some information and media-literacy skills through our inquiry-based instruction.

Although students are familiar with technology and the internet, probably even more so than we are, it is necessary that they have guidance for browsing, searching, monitoring, and awareness for the most reliable information they can collect – and from whom they collect it. For a given topic, identify and appraise sources that are likely to contribute to the students’ learning journey. As an educator, select tools that will help students benefit, like: learning from an expert in their field, or getting an authoritative perspective in a few well-chosen words.

💡This job challenges our research skills, too. Instead of “getting lost” in the variety of material online, aim for educational technology (edtech) tools that are made for the purpose of teaching and learning.

This will actively guide you and the students in a more specific context to practice research skills with fruitful opportunities for learning.

Support students in assessing resources

Inquiry-oriented instruction involves both teachers and students sharing and reviewing the outcomes of their research process (Shore et al., 2012). Successful research often leads to multiple results, so narrowing them down is the true challenge for all inquirers, promoting valuable research skills. Let’s wrap up this post with the most important part of research: teaching students to assess resources.

💡With your students, choose different answers to the questions you’ve helped them pose, and discuss their relevance and value.

This is the perfect opportunity for them to evaluate the precision, the plenitude, and other quality features of each research outcome. It is also a proper context for discussing the Academic Honesty Policy, which always needs a reminder.

Debating on contradictory sources is at the core of the constructivist approach as the students express and put the scientific validity of their representations at risk. To continue the productive conversation, just keep in mind from the beginning: restrain the content of the conversation to your chosen topic since debates among students can get off track.

For an all-inclusive implementation of your plan, here’s how you can use the 100mentors app:

With proper planning, you can bring Approaches to Teaching and Learning to your classroom – efficiently and effectively, through inquiry-based teaching and research skills development.


Chichekian, T., & Shore, B. M. (2014). The International Baccalaureate: Contributing to the Use of Inquiry in Higher Education Teaching and Learning (pp. 73–97). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Home, E. E. (1983). Question generation and formulation: An indication of information need. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 34(1), 5–15.

IBO. (2015). Approaches to teaching and learning. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from

Shore, B. M., Chichekian, T., Syer, C. A., Aulls, M. W., & Frederiksen, C. H. (2012). PLANNING, ENACTMENT, AND REFLECTION IN INQUIRY-BASED LEARNING: VALIDATING THE MCGILL STRATEGIC DEMANDS OF INQUIRY QUESTIONNAIRE. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10(2), 315–337.

Pepy is a University and IB Diploma Programme Physics teacher, with an MA and Ph.D. in Science Education. She is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in teachers' STEM education. As the Educational Consultant at 100mentors she empowers educators to turn theory into practice with educational technology solutions.

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