Classroom Management Issues during Inquiries
(from Lawson, 2000)
The following tips are suggestions for solving problems that many teachers encounter
when attempting inquiry-based teaching.
Students do not participate enough:
Have them work in small groups, like 2 or 3.
Avoid students running out of things to do in allotted time.
Offer hints and suggestions to groups, but not directives.
Create well-planned, divergent questions, using appropriate wait-time, to help students generate
Randomly call on students using a shuffled deck of cards with their names.
Some students do not know how to get their inquiry started:
Provide clear objectives, not instructions.
If several groups are struggling, pause the investigation and have one of the groups making good
progress can share their methods.
Some students do not care and do not see the inquiry as relevant to their lives:
Admit that many of the questions may not be relevant, make sure to point out the indirect
connections, especially at the end.
Make sure the students know the true nature of the question, and that a number of plausible
answers have been raised.
Some students do not listen:
Make the opening remarks quick.
Have them do something first and talk about it second.
Some students lack the background knowledge for inquiries:
Provide background knowledge during introduction.
Have students read introduction/objectives/materials to help generate ideas.
Allow for brainstorming hypotheses generating session, initially without concern for where some
hypotheses may fall short.
Have the students brainstorm in cooperative groups.
If the investigation yields an inconclusive answer, leave students with questions rather than
authoritative answer, but cite other classes or scientists’ more robust explanation.
Some students talk at inappropriate times:
Do not lose your “cool.” Ask politely for attention and if an impolite student talks, make it clear
that they have interrupted by standing near them.
Some students have bad attitudes and are disruptive:
Make sure inquiries are developmentally appropriate. Work up from less abstract to more as the
students are more comfortable with the process.
Pose appropriate challenges to individual learners.
Pair students with more and less reasoning skills together.
Some students do not want to think for themselves- they just want to be told the right answer:
Create assessments that honor generating multiple answers, conducting ways of testing these
answers, and using evidence and logic construct convincing arguments.
Some students do poorly and want extra credit:
Make it clear that extra credit is not an option at the beginning of the semester, that way the
students will not have a way of missing a major course objective.
Some students are bored:
Act enthusiastic and add humor to the classroom.
Show that you are a fellow investigator.
Some students socialize during lab:
Some socializing is positive, but too much should be addressed by continuously monitoring their
Some students do not clean up after themselves:
Consistently enforce a clean-up policy, which should be announced at the beginning of the
Some students cheat and plagiarize the work of others:
Use open-ended questions such as essays.
Use alternative test forms.
Talk to students promptly if their lab assignments seem to be too similar. Ask them to re-write,
and if the problem persists, they will receive no points.
Some students are tardy and leave early:
Stick with the attendance policy announced at the beginning of the semester.
Recurring offenses should have increasingly serious consequences.
Lawson, A. E. (2000). Managing the inquiry classroom: Problems and solutions. The American
Biology Teacher, 62(9), 641-48.