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Relating Enquiry to Concepts and Processes

Click here to see the diagram (PDF) in a new windowSo how does Enquiry relate to other concepts and processes?

Enquiry is the heart of KS3 History, the glue that holds everything together as shown in Chart 1 [ click here ] which attempts to bring together the various components of KS3 History into one coherent whole.

This chart was first published in Teaching History 135, June 2009. To see the full article [ click here ].

Every unit of work, be it a Thematic Story or Depth Study is an enquiry in which students seek answers to questions, testing hypotheses or interpretations and producing a revised version or account. To carry out these enquiries students use the contents of the Process and Concepts Toolbox in the chart, sometimes focussing predominantly on one item, sometimes using a mixture.

For a later [2014] but similar diagrammatic presentation see my discussion ‘What is History?’ on what KS3 students can take-away about the historical process from their course.

From this follow three critical points about the nature and construction of KS3 courses and about the place of Enquiry within them:

a) Who poses the enquiry questions?

Having a scheme of work full of enthusing enquiry questions is not enough to develop student’s understanding of Enquiry if all the posing of questions and structuring of enquiry is done by the teacher. An effective scheme must help students build the ability to ask their own questions and plan their own way through enquiries, simultaneously using and developing their understanding of historical enquiry. This, sadly, is far from easy, especially when much teaching is done by non-specialists and the preparation and thinking time of specialist teachers is dominated by the needs of GCSE and A level. So this is an aspiration that I suspect is largely unfulfilled at the moment but it won’t be fulfilled unless it’s a clear target to move towards over a number of years.

b) What is the value of ‘detective puzzle’ mystery enquiries?

At least some, possibly a great deal of, Enquiry work is done through mysteries of the ‘What happened to the Princes in the Tower?’ type. The major danger is that these are individual activities divorced from the rest of the course, both in subject-matter and in time, being used as one-off What is History? activities or enjoyable activities at the end of a term or year. If used in these ways, ‘Mystery’ enquiries have very little value because whatever is learned about the process of undertaking an enquiry isn’t then being re-used and consolidated in the bulk of the course.

The best way to use ‘detective puzzle’ mysteries is for the purposes of identifying, clarifying and, perhaps, consolidating the process of enquiry. These are the aims of The Riccall Mystery – how do we carry out historical enquiries?

While this activity has a context – the events of 1066 – its purpose is clearly to help students identify and use the enquiry process and place them in a position to re-use it. Integral to this re-use is having the means to remind students quickly of the Enquiry process. One way of doing this is to create a short PowerPoint or MovieMaker sequence which recaps the process in the context of a previous enquiry.

To exemplify this we’ve included a PowerPoint example based on the Riccall activity, Do you remember when … we did an enquiry? The real power of this would come from using pictures of your own class and in asking students to do the voice-over to consolidate the process in their own minds.

c) How do you integrate Enquiry into the heart of KS3 History?

Before moving into the really exciting bit of this discussion, a note which may help remove some misunderstandings about what your students do during Enquiries. Because ‘Enquiries’ are often seen as one-off mystery items it could be thought that the appropriate resources for Enquiries are the short, often ludicrously short sources and clues and that the Enquiry only lasts one lesson, maybe two at the most (and the Riccall mystery, aimed at identifying the process, may reinforce this). However this would be a complete misconception. An Enquiry could last half a term, a term or even more and, as discussed below, can be an enquiry such as ‘Why have people been prepared to risk their lives in war?’ which covers the whole period from 1066 to the present. At the same time, Enquiries aren’t just about using short sources. Enquiries involve the normal range of teaching resources and activities – textbooks, role-plays, extended sources, reading, story etc – all of which are used to provide evidence for building, testing and revising hypotheses. Enquiry is simply a process within which you use your normal activities – it implies nothing particular about the material or activities you use.

Now to the core point – to be developed really effectively, Enquiry needs to be embedded into the warp and weft of Key Stage 3, the relationship between the two core ‘content’ components – the Thematic Stories and the Depth Enquiries. By relationship I mean treating the thematic stories as hypotheses which are investigated and reformulated through depth study enquiries. This places enquiry at the heart of all work in history.

The idea of ‘thematic stories’ is still very much in its infancy. My guess is that students will make far more sense of these stories across time if they meet them in complete, simplified form from the beginning of their course. Each story needs to be visible and tell-able in one lesson and treated as a hypothesis, to be investigated and reformulated through the depth enquiries. This means thinking much more about the links across a course than has perhaps been the norm in the past. While I have written a fair amount about this in the KS3 2008 section of this site, these developing ideas will mean a certain amount of revisiting of those discussions and activities. [For example I hope shortly to rewrite two of the Norman Conquest activities so that they fit into the wider themes of Conflict more effectively.] However, one example will suffice for the moment or this section will go on forever!

Chart 2 [ click here ] shows how depth studies on the Norman Conquest and the World wars of the 20th century (or more widely on wars since 1914 as a whole) can inter-act with a thematic story answering the question ‘Why have people risked their lives in warfare?’

Click here to see the diagram (PDF) in a new window

This means these depth studies doing 3 things at once! To take the Norman Conquest as an example, this involves

a) helping students learn about the Norman Conquest but …

b) doing so in such ways that illuminate the questions relevant to the thematic story i.e. focussing on why people fought in 1066 (and not just on the leaders but on the foot-soldiers) and in rebellions afterwards and also doing this by …

c) following a clear and explicit enquiry process that re-uses the approach modelled in The Riccall Mystery, thus building students’ confidence in their ability to pursue enquiries.

For a little more on how this might differ from common approaches to 1066 see the Teaching History article mentioned above. To see the full article [ click here ].

In this way ‘Enquiry’ can be embedded as a core activity, one that students use and re-use throughout their KS3 course rather than being an occasional inclusion with no apparent link to the rest of the course.

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Enquiry Section

Enquiry Skills

Importance of Enquiry

Enquiry and KS3

Enquiry at GCSE & A Level

Enquiry at Sites & Museums


Downloads Plus

Download the entire ‘Enquiry’ discussion (PDF)

Download ‘Enquiry & Sense of Period’ Article

Independent Learning at A level

Flipped Learning and Independent Study: a 1970s Forerunner?



Do you remember when … we did an enquiry?

Vocabulary Cards

Question Dice