Shared Inquiry Discussion

In a shared inquiry discussion, students help one another search for answers to big, fundamental questions raised by a text. Students come to discussion with their own unique understanding the selection, then try to build on their views through listening and sharing ideas with the class.

Four Rules of Shared Inquiry Discussion

  1. Read the selection carefully before participating in the discussion. If you have not read the selection, you cannot support their opinions with evidence from the reading or respond to other students’ ideas about the selection.

  2. Discuss only the selection everyone has read. This will give everyone an equal chance to contribute, as everyone will be familiar with the discussion topic. We will all be able to determine whether facts are accurately remembered and if opinions are well supported. Furthermore, by keeping the focus on the selection, no one is excluded and the discussion does not drift off on tangents about personal experiences or film versions of the selection.

  3. Support your ideas with evidence from the selection. Discussion is more rigorous and interesting when we back up our ideas. And your reading comprehension and critical-thinking skills are improved when you're expected to analyze the selection carefully. This rule encourages you to read carefully and think for yourselves.

  4. Listen to other participants and respond to them directly. Shared Inquiry discussion is about a willingness to listen to others and to talk to them respectfully. By directing comments and questions to other group members, and not always to the leader, you will find discussion more fun and interesting!

  5. Expect the leader to only ask questions. It may feel strange when your teacher doesn't tell you what the selection means, but shared inquiry discussion is about helping you develop your own ideas about meaning. Plus, teachers don't always know the answers!  Your teacher will help the group discuss meaning by asking interpretive questions—questions that have more than one possible answer based on the text. The leader also assists the group by asking follow-up questions— questions that encourage participants to clarify comments, support ideas with evidence from the reading, and comment on proposed interpretations.

Class discussions will be richer and more productive if we all remember to:

  • Resist the urge to speak and listen carefully to others

  • Be open-minded to others' ideas

  • Use accountable talk as we respond to each other
  • Hear what is said and listen for what is meant

  • Relax!  We don't always have to be right.
  • Reserve judgment until you can claim understanding


(Adapted from The Great Books Foundation Website)