What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Erin Smith
Updated on
March 30, 2021

At One World International School, we make use of inquiry-based learning, which means we encourage our students to be active participants in the classroom, where they feel comfortable asking questions and exploring topics that interest them, urging them to question anything, even if it isn’t on topic. 

In other words, we let children's natural curiosity be the engine that drives their ability to acquire knowledge. Teachers don't merely deliver information to his or her class and expect children to react to it. Instead they help students explore the subject in relation to the real world. They are highly trained to enable children to guide their education and to be practical learners. The teachers themselves are also always learning and enjoy hearing ideas from different perspectives.



Children are naturally curious. In their primary school years, a child’s drive towards understanding the world that surrounds him or her, and their place in it, is unceasing and relentless. They will often ask numerous questions, want to be hands on and to experience things in real time. Their minds are like a sponge and they are constantly absorbing new information. As time passes, children grow to become less eclectic and are drawn towards subjects and spheres they enjoy – they are instinctively self-motivated to learn more about some things than others. 

They may prefer the more practical subjects because they enjoy the hands-on approach to learning, or they may love the sciences but struggle with languages. Every child’s tendencies are unique, as is their way of learning. It is our role as educators to recognise these interests and use them to stimulate and direct our students towards deeper understandings. We must ensure that all students reach their goals and milestones in the most enjoyable way. If we can nurture an environment where learning is not a chore, then children will be able to take this love for gaining knowledge with them when they attend university.


Consequently, the role of the teacher is seen to be a facilitator and guide, encouraging inquiry without dominating the classroom. In presenting a class with their open-ended ‘thoughts’, teachers set an informal and non-challenging tone in which even the most timid of students can have a voice. 

At secondary school level, the teacher acts as a manager in this scenario, refraining from the negative effect of criticising or shaping their students’ responses, but rather redirecting the interplay around the class for further thoughts or comments, all of which will later be collected, analysed and recorded. It is important that teachers allow a degree of self-guided learning whilst also ensuring that students are reaching their ultimate potential.



This type of ‘inquiry-based learning’, when approached with skill, triggers not only curiosity, but the excitement that students experience when they discover that, by drawing from their own personal experiences and sharing their previously learned knowledge, they can be instrumental in not only shaping their own questions, but also in answering the questions of others. At this stage, it is essential to begin researching the ‘topic’ in the classroom, as the presence of the teacher-facilitator is essential. But usually, at around this point, the student becomes self-motivated and can’t wait to continue the investigation process in his or her own time at home. 

This is an important aspect of their development as there will be times throughout their lives where they need to take ownership of their learning and skill acquisition. By harnessing this ownership early on they will be more diverse learners who are able to manage their time and education to the best of their ability.


Analysis and awareness of presentation – in different ways according to the age of the students – are vital skills to nurture. Information, facts, thoughts and personal opinions all need to be identified, categorised and organised, with the assistance of the teacher, into a coherent whole, and the need for this presented via classroom discussions. Expanding communication skills is a core element in all classroom engagements, and the open-ended and informal nature of inquiry-based learning provides an ideal platform from which to develop this. 

Our students have the opportunity to work with others from a range of backgrounds and cultures. This means that there will always be a range of ideas, experiences and thought processes within every classroom. This makes for an exciting and eclectic learning opportunity as so many ideas can be bounced around. These classroom experiences give our students the skills that help to make them global citizens.


Students need to be guided into analysing what they have achieved, and the processes they experienced in their journey. The process itself is an invaluable concept. To be able to identify each stage and reflect upon them is the key to a wider awareness, and being able to understand how they learned, as well as what they learned, is an invaluable life-skill. Personal reflection and analysis is a key life skill that they will use throughout their education and careers. By honing these skills at an early age our students are better equipped for the world ahead of them.  

To find out more about our curriculum, Contact us today!

About Author

Erin Smith

Senior Coordinator - Primary, PYP Senior Coordinator

Erin originally hails from Australia where she earned both her Bachelor’s Degree in Primary Teaching/Arts and a Master’s Degree in Educational Studies (major in ICT/Digital Learning) from the University of Newcastle. Erin has been in primary education for more than 10 years with experience in international schools. Prior to moving to Singapore, Erin taught students in Japan, Germany and Australia.

With extensive experience in the Primary Years Programme and as an Enrichments Specialist, Erin is thrilled to be able to share her knowledge and expertise with students at the OWIS Nanyang Campus. Erin engages her students in learning experiences that challenge thinking, heighten curiosity, and open their minds. Erin strives to help each individual student create a positive mindset, fostering their ability to become lifelong learners and incredible human beings.

Traveling is one of Erin’s favourite pastimes. Her travels have taken Erin throughout Europe, America, and Asia. Erin also enjoys physical fitness, keeping up with the latest in technology, reading fantasy novels, playing with her cat Charlie. Time with family is also important to Erin. She and her engineer husband are proud parents to two children.

view all posts
The latest OWIS news, articles and resources sent straight to your inbox every month.

Related blog posts