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So you’re convinced that inquiry-based learning in math is the way to go. You know your students will be more engaged, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, learn collaboration and *really* understand the math concepts.

But you’re not feeling entirely confident on how to go about implementing inquiry based math lessons effectively.

Well, keep reading, my friend!

## Tips for your Inquiry-Based Math Lesson Plans

When I first started 3-part math lessons using an inquiry approach, I wasn’t convinced. Not to mention overwhelmed.

At first I struggled with the idea that one question could *really* be the bulk of an entire lesson. Then it was a challenge to get *students taking ownership* of their learning.

Above all, know it’s a process. Don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one. In fact, I think you can safely expect the first few lessons to be a struggle. Students will sit and stare at you, waiting for you to do all the thinking for them like they’re used to. Some questions won’t elicit the response you hoped for.

But it’s worth it! I’m sharing these 7 tips I learned through trial and error (mostly error 😉), so you and your students can find success with inquiry math quicker.

What exactly *is* inquiry-based learning in math? Review the basic principles here beforehand.

### 1. Teach Clear Expectations

Do not think you can just start using inquiry math lessons overnight and your students will know exactly what’s expected of them.

Students are expected to take on more ownership in their learning journey with inquiry based learning models. There is more chatter, movement, uncertainty… Take the time to explicitly teach exactly how you expect students to behave during each part of the lesson.

Consider questions like… Do students have freedom to move around the room? Can students help themselves to manipulatives? Where should students work? What volume should conversations remain? How should students be participating in discussions? What should students do if they get stuck or make a mistake? How much help are you going to provide?

### 2. Build up to Full Inquiry-Based Math Lesson Plans

Break them in gently. Start by introducing just the minds on thinking questions. Begin by providing more support and direction in your inquiry questions then, as students gain confidence, pull back.

Consolidation discussions are ideally student-driven. In the beginning, this isn’t realistic. Provide prompt questions and help students to develop their questioning skills and active listening. Slowly introduce different consolidation strategies one at a time until students are familiar with the format.

### 3. Take Time to Develop Deep, Meaningful Questions

Inquiry-based math lessons are the most successful when it revolves around one central question. Of course, for this to work it has to be a rich, multi-step problem. Because inquiry-based learning is focused on developing meaningful strategies, you should create a question that can be solved in more than one way. Often a question can have more than one answer.

Open questions or parallel questions are two great options for the Action question in a 3-part math lesson as these are automatically differentiated.

### 4. Make Questions Differentiated

A good inquiry question will have multiple entry points so most, if not all, learners can find success. A bonus with the kinds of questions that make for great 3-part inquiry lessons is that they are often naturally differentiated, or easy to do so.

- Use open questions – leave a number blank so students can choose their own level of difficulty.
- Give a range instead of a number.
- Make sure the question can be answered using manipulatives, simple math knowledge and more complex strategies.
- Give parallel tasks – two different questions that use similar skills and different levels of complexity.

I have frequent discussions with my students around them choosing questions that provide a ‘good’ challenge (i.e. don’t always choose the easiest option), will showcase their best thinking, but won’t be too difficult for them.

### 5. Focus on Process not Product

You want your students to really understand the concepts and ideas behind the math, not simply memorize the steps to get an answer. That’s why you’re here.

To this end, inquiry-based math programs emphasize the process over the product. By this I mean, the answer isn’t particularly important but the thinking and strategies your students employ to solve the problem are key.

**Consider this…**

Student 1 demonstrates an effective strategy to solve a long division question but makes a careless calculation error in one step leading to an incorrect answer.

Student 2 is unable to demonstrate a successful division strategy but got the correct answer. Perhaps they copied, used a calculator or just got lucky.

Which student do you think has best reached the expectation? Who deserves the higher grade?

### 6. Create Careful Pairs and Groups

Inquiry-based math lessons are often best performed in partners, occasionally threes or fours. Students need to collaborate but too many people and not everyone is really participating as we want them too.

More often than not, homogenous grouping is your best option. This may seem counterintuitive – we’re often conditioned to want to give our weaker learners a stronger partner for support. However, consider again that the process is more important than the product.

Suppose one partner needs to use manipulatives to solve a problem but the second partner is ready for a more complex algorithm. In that case, it’s going to be a source of frustration and possibly confusion for at least one partner.

Very rarely do you want to let students choose their partner or use a random strategy.

Tip: Create ‘permanent’ math partners that are carefully considered. Every month or so, or perhaps for each new math unit, change up these partners.

### 7. Facilitate, don’t Teach

This is a tough one. As teachers, we want to help our students and make things easier for them. We need to let them struggle. So much learning happens in the struggle.

An inquiry math lesson begins with minimal information and lets students explore and experiment while building their own understanding of the concept and developing strategies that make sense to them. When we step in too early, not only is this compromised but so is the perseverance, problem solving and critical thinking that are all being used when students are challenged.

As you circulate, ask questions that encourage thinking. If students are really struggling, prompt them in a possible direction or ask guiding questions but don’t tell them what to do.

The consolidation part of the lesson is where you get to teach. Note any misconceptions, common errors or confusions you saw during the action and address them with the class here. Ask students to explain what they did, what problems they faced and how they solved it.

## Final Thoughts on Inquiry-Based Math Lessons

I hope these tips will help give you the confidence to dive head first into using an inquiry in math and some strategies to make it as successful as possible!

How does an entire year of inquiry based math lesson plans **done for you**? Check out our Full Year of Math bundles for grades 4 – 8.

You’ll get 3-part lessons for the year, practice materials, and assessments (you can also pick up each unit individually if you prefer).