Inquiry-Based Tasks in Social Studies

Inquiry-based learning can be explored through assignments that are larger than a lesson but less than a unit.

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards is being adopted by many schools both nationally and globally. Some states, districts, and schools embrace the entire framework and set of standards, while others adopt only the overall framework and alter or establish their own grade-level standards. The Inquiry Arc is a crucial component of the framework in any case.

“One centered on asking and inquiry; another on disciplinary knowledge and concepts linked to civics, economics, geography, and history; another on analyzing and applying evidence; and a final one on communicating and taking action,” according to the Inquiry Arc. The essential concept is that students ask or are asked intriguing questions, then explore, assess, and locate evidence to answer those questions, and finally express their results.

Middle school pupils, for example, can be asked the question “Can sickness transform the world?” to get them thinking about the Black Death. They investigate geography and history by exploring maps and other materials, starting with questions like “What was the Black Death?” and “How did the Black Death affect individuals in the 14th century?”

Middle school pupils, for example, can be asked the question “Can sickness transform the world?” to get them thinking about the Black Death. “What was the Black Death?” is a fine place to begin. They look at maps and other materials to learn about geography and history, such as “How did the Black Death impact people in the 14th century?” and “How did the Black Death affect people in the 14th century?”

They next compose an argumentative essay in response to the original question, citing the sources as proof. They might also make a public service message about how to evaluate how good their school or community is in preventing and controlling illness spread.

Inquiry is encoded into the C3 framework and standards by default: You must engage students in inquiry activities in order to properly apply the C3.


The Black Death activity is an example of an inquiry-based work that uses the Inquiry Design Model (IDM), which was created by several of the C3’s core writers. These assignments are “larger than a lesson, smaller than a unit,” which is ideal for teachers who want to use inquiry-based learning but don’t want to devote a whole unit to it. The following are examples of IDM tasks:

  • A fascinating question that students are interested in and that tackles concerns in one or more of the social studies academic areas. It should elicit student thought and correspond to instructional objectives.
  • The C3 framework has certain specifications.
  • An activity that sets the context for student inquiry by framing the question.
  • Supporting questions that are related to the main point. They are particular and content-based, and they instruct pupils on how to respond to the intriguing question.
  • Under the supporting questions, formative evaluations are used to examine student knowledge of the subject. Short paragraphs, visual organizers, and other traditional methods of assessing student learning can be used.
  • Sources associated with the supporting questions (typically primary sources).
  • This is an argumentative summative performance task. Students must respond to the intriguing question with evidence to back up their claims.
  • Students have the choice of taking informed action in the world around them.

Students learn economics standards through studying the fascinating topic “What choices do we make with our money?” in an elementary setting. They look at short texts and visuals and create a brief argument based on them. They debate the advantages and disadvantages of saving and spending, and they have the opportunity to take action based on their findings, such as designing a poster outlining methods for families to save money.

There’s also a type of IDM known as a focused inquiry. The intriguing question “Did the assault on Pearl Harbor unites America?” is an example from high school. Students construct brief claim and counterclaim arguments after answering a single supporting question and completing one performance task. The next suggests a textbook modification based on the sources they discovered during an extension assignment. In comparison to the primary school economics example, this takes one or two class sessions.


The C3 framework can also be used through project-based learning (PBL). PBL uses inquiry and contains features like authenticity, high-quality public goods, and voice and choice to encourage engagement.

However, adopting the C3 framework using PBL may provide issues. It’s possible that teachers will not wish to convert a whole unit to PBL, or that the unit may not be a good match for PBL. In any event, many of the basic aspects of PBL may be found in an inquiry-based job like IDM: It evaluates critical knowledge and abilities, poses a difficult issue, and necessitates investigation. It may also enable students to undertake greater public service if they use the extra assignment to gather information. As another technique to measure student learning, an inquiry-based assignment can be included in a PBL unit: An inquiry-based activity is a useful technique for teachers to assess individual students’ comprehension of the subject and abilities in the project if students are cooperating on the final PBL result.

When considering PBL and smaller inquiry -based assignments, teachers must use their professional judgment to determine what is best for student learning. Both can help students become more engaged and can be used to gauge deeper understanding.

About the article

Inquiry-based learning can be explored through assignments that are larger than a lesson but less than a unit. In this article, we’ve discussed Inquiry-Based Tasks in Social Studies.   

Carter Martin

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