Inquiry in Junior High: Finding Curiosity

My daughter turned 16 this week. On her birthday, I created a picture collage to post on Facebook and included pictures of her from infancy to now. My favorites are the ones where she’s 4 or 5 years old. I think this was my favorite age because she was constantly asking questions. Why can’t dogs talk? How can planes fly? Why did papa get sick? Why is my hair white? Why are your eyes green? Why are my eyes blue? Whyquestion-mark-2153533_640 (2) does grass itch? Why are girls mean?  Why is Grammy old? How do penguins walk? Why is D’Arcy [the dog] doing THAT? Why? Why? Why? How? How? How? I loved her curiosity.

I was so hopeful that when I introduced the culminating activity for our nonfiction
unit, my students would sound just like Morgan did at. After I explained what an inquiry project is and that they got to choose their own topic – anything at all they wanted to learn about – I expected a cacophony of topics and questions to come flowing from their mouths. Like an avalanche.

I stood there, big goofy smile on my face, excitedly anticipating their excitement…



Nope. Nothing. Silence.



I could continue this post with my soap box message on WHY I think this happened – WHY these students seemed to have zero curiosity. WHY there wasn’t even one student in one of my 6th or 7th grade classes who excitedly shouted, “YAY! Finally! I get to learn what I WANT TO LEARN! Woo Hoo! I’ve always wanted to know more about ________________ and _______________ and __________________. How am I going to CHOOSE!?”

But, I won’t. I’m sure you have all read or heard or even delivered that message before.

Instead, I’m going to continue with what happened next.

I stood there staring out at expectant faces, like baby birds in nests, beaks open, screaming for mama to feed them. They were all waiting for me to tell them what they were going to learn.

So I did. “You are going to learn to be curious again.”

Curiosity, even when lost, is really not that hard to find. I started with a few guiding questions: What do you love? Who do you admire? Where would you like to visit? What topics have you learned about in science or history that you might want to know more about? What do you wonder about sometimes?

Some sticky notes, a piece of chart paper, a group of three or four kids per table, a little extra time (and patience), a laptop – and, Viola’! inquiryanchorchart

I got my avalanche.

Were there spies in WWI?  What happened to Malaysia flight 370? What kinds of animals live in the Marina Trench? Why are their stories about mermaids? Is the Bermuda Triangle real?  Why do some people choose suicide? How can people handle anger? How can I start my own business? Why did Hitler do what he did? What if WWI had never happened? Why don’t we learn cursive writing anymore? Why do some people believe in aliens? What can we use for fuel instead of gasoline or oil?


That’s the beautiful thing about inquiry, isn’t it? The learners ask the questions, not me. The learners find the answers, not me. The learners determine importance, not me.  The learners are reading, evaluating, synthesizing, sharing their learning – not me.

It is fantastic.

My big, goofy smile is back.
avalanche-552114_640 (2)

As a junior high teacher, I struggle often with fostering this curiosity in my students. I’d love to hear your successes. How do you help your students find their curiosity in your class?










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