Inquiry-Teaching Students to Ask Questions That Can Be Investigated

Faye Dragich, Pilot Knob Elementary, Eagan, MN, based on an activity from Elementary Inquiry and Assessment class for educators held in June 2007
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In this introductory activity students will investigate leech activity. They will learn to ask a question about leech behavior that can be investigated. They will choose the method they determine is best to answer their question, and decide on the materials they will need. The students will follow the procedure they have decided on to learn the answer and will then present the results of their investigation using a chart.

Learning Goals

1. Students will learn to ask a question about the natural world that can be investigated
2. Students will learn to design an experiment to answer their question
3. Students will learn to present their results to the public

1. Investigable questions are different from other questions
2. Methods can be designed to help answer their question
3. Not all methods will actually provide students with an answer to their question
4. Scientists present their data to the public

question, investigable, procedure

Context for Use

This activity is for an intermediate grade level (grades 3-6). It is introductory and as such will require a longer period of time for the students to complete their investigations: probably 5 days.
Day 1: (30 minutes) Introduce the leech activity
Day 2: (60 minutes) Design a question that can be investigated.
Day 3: (30-60 minutes) Design the method to investigate their question and determine the materials needed
Day 4: (45 minutes ++) Conduct the investigation and determine the results
Day 5: (60 minutes ++) Graph the results and present the graphs to the rest of the class (This could be spread over two days, graphing one day, the second to present class results).
Allotted time and number of days may be expanded or compressed depending on age and ability of students. The activity is fairly easy to adapt for use in other settings. Students should have rudimentary graphing skills in order to present their results in a graph.

Description and Teaching Materials

Materials Needed:
  • Glass baking dish or pie pan
  • Water from a lake
  • A leech
  • An overhead projector
  • A board or chart paper
This first day is an observation activity. The leech (or creature), with its lake water is put into a glass baking dish and the dish is put on the overhead. Students will take notes about the creatures activities (their noticings.) Through discussion about what they saw the creature do at the end of the activity, questions will begin to be generated. Activities of the creature and beginning questions will be recorded on the board or chart paper. On the subsequent days the following activities will occur:

Day 2: Students will work with a partner to generate a question that can be investigated. The teacher will circulate and guide the students to an appropriate, investigable question. No special materials required on this day.

Day 3: Students will decide how they will answer their question. What kind of an investigation will they need to do to answer their question. When the students have decided on the type of investigation, they need to determine the materials needed to complete the investigation. (Some possibilities: additional containers for the leaches, construction paper, cardboard, stop watches, etc.) The teacher will circulate among the students to assist as needed.

Day 4: Materials:
  • A bucket with leeches (at least one leech for each pair of students) in water
  • Materials for the partner investigations
  • Additional clear containers for leeches
  • Students should have all the materials needed to conduct their investigation and will work with their partner to answer the question they chose. (Materials needed to conduct the investigation are variable and dependent on the particular investigation.) They will need to record the results of their investigation.
Day 5: The students will determine the type of graph that will best showcase the results of their investigation and will create that graph. (The activity can be stopped here and a sixth day may be added in which the students test results (graphs, etc) will be presented to the class.)

Day 5, continued (or Day 6): The last part of this activity is a presentation in which each of the charts with the investigable question, the graph, the results of the investigation and any further questions will be posted around the room and students will circulate to look at other students' work. This is a time when students may question the scientists so one of the partners should be at the poster at all times-they may take turns.

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • A common area of confusion for many teachers as well as students is designing a question that is actually investigable. Students need to be able to conduct some type of investigation that will enable them to find the answer to their question.
  • This is a live creature; set up guidelines for the safe handling (including investigations) of the live leech.
  • Establish guidelines for student safety when handling the leech.
  • Be sure to have access to a body of water (lake or river) in order to return the leeches to their natural environment.


The assessment of this activity is observation of student involvement and participation. The graphs created at the end of this activity and presented to the class will also be collected and assessed.


Grade 3:
Strand: History and Nature of Science
Sub-strand: Scientific Inquiry
Standard: The student will understand the nature of scientific investigations
1. The student will ask questions about the natural world that can be investigated scientifically.
2. The student will participate in a scientific investigation using appropriate tools.
3. The student will know that scientists use different kinds of investigations depending on the questions they are trying to answer.

References and Resources