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Inquiry-Based Centers in Grades 3-8

Ali Marron was my instructor for “Power Tools that Accelerate Progress in Big Ways: Checklists, Scaffolds, and Charts,” which was one of the advanced sections I took at the TCRWP June Writing Institute. Our section’s participants consisted of teachers, coaches, and consultants who work with third through eighth grade students.  She encouraged us to use centers in writing workshop.
Inquiry-based centers offer the opportunity to do some direct instruction since you can be teaching into the work going on in the centers and then analyzing the work students are doing in the centers. Inquiry-based centers are a nice way to introduce kids to mentor texts and to help them find their own mentor texts.
Ali shared examples of three task cards that help kids with this.  Here’s what they look like:
Median Punctuation Task Card -- Click on the image to enlarge.
Median Punctuation Task Card — Click on the image to enlarge.
Text Features Task Card -- Click on the image to enlarge.
Text Features Task Card — Click on the image to enlarge.
Exploring Text Structures Task Card -- Click on the image to enlarge.
Exploring Text Structures Task Card — Click on the image to enlarge.
Working in one of the centers Ali set up with Annemarie Johnson and Taryn Vanderburg.
Working in one of the centers Ali set up with Annemarie Johnson and Taryn Vanderburg.

Ali provided us with the opportunity to work in small groups to go through the centers.  This was useful since we were able to engage with the books, do the work, and think about predictable problems.  For instance, one thing you might want to add are the task cards are reminders of what students need to do first and then next at a center.  For instance, first, students should analyze the books and the examples on the task cards.  Second, students should try this out in their own writing (possibly in a few different ways).

Helpful tips Ali suggested for inquiry-based centers:
  • Teach students accountable talk, how to read directions, how to take responsibility to revise their own writing in advance of working in centers.
  • Plan centers once you’ve done two days of revision so students get a new perspective on how to revise using mentor texts.
  • Be purposeful in your text choice at the centers. You can level the books in the centers.
  • You don’t teach a minilesson on the day you’re doing centers.
  • You can do centers two times across a unit of study.

Many thanks to Ali for granting permission to share her task cards on TWT!

Are you going to have-a-go with inquiry-based centers the next time your students are revising?

Have your students done centers in the past?  If so, how has it gone?

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

6 thoughts on “Inquiry-Based Centers in Grades 3-8 Leave a comment

  1. We are an inquiry and concept-based school in Mexico two years into implementing workshop. My dream for inquiry centers is to help differentiate and build vocabulary instruction in a way that all students are challenged and actively taking part in their construction of knowledge. We will be trying with teachers tomorrow different exploratory centers all focused on building, acquiring and extending vocabulary knowledge.

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  2. What a great trip down memory lane from this summer, Stacey! All of Ali’s ideas were awesome, but using inquiry-based centers was definitely one of my favorites–there are endless ways to adapt this idea. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. This is really helpful, Stacey, for the fifth grade teachers I work with. They are in a narrative unit at the moment, but I can think of a number of different ways to adapt these task cards to narrative. Thanks so much for sharing!

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