Week 6 of Exhibition: Putting the ‘I’ in Inquiry for EAL students

Helping EAL students make personal connections to simple machines and how they affect their lives.

Session 1:  Unpacking Impact

The past 2 weeks students have moved from the finding out phase to the sorting out phase of the Inquiry Cycle. The first two key concepts covered were FORM and FUNCTION. This week students were expected to develop their 3rd line of inquiry based on the Simple Machine of their choice.

To encourage them to start thinking of the THIRD line of inquiry, we looked at the key word IMPACT in their Central Idea:

Simple machines impact our lives in a variety of ways.

To tune them in, we discussed the word ‘impact’ in the context of the meteor shower in Russia.


Visual images of the meteor shower’s ‘impact’ on the small city of Chelyabinsk was an excellent context for them to identify the negative impact it had on people’s homes (contrasted with the positive impact it had on science).

From there I shared a keynote presentation with them and discussed different kinds of impact (big, medium, small). We then looked at some images and discussed if they showed ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ impact.


 Some of the images were chosen to be obscure. It promoted excellent discussion amongst the students, especially when looking at the photo of ‘rain’…where I then added the image of the recent floods in Jakarta.


Following this tuning-in, students spent the last 10 minutes of our 40 minute pull out brainstorming the positive & negative ‘impact’ of the 6 simple machines we’ve been studying.


Session 2: 10 minute Independent Inquiry Stations


The following day, during my larger EAL class (12 students of varying English ability, beginner to advanced) students were engaged in 10 minute rotation stations. Students participated in a ‘mini-table talk’ where they were grouped in pairs or threes to discuss questions about simple machines in our lives.

1) Mini Table Talk: The prompts were taken from Science A-Z.com, but I used the table talk approach where colour cubes represented a different oral task. For the purpose of the learning, students were encouraged to listen and repeat what they heard (red cube) or use their blue cube to contribute an idea.

2) Redefine and Match: Here students rewrote definitions to match the pictures of the simple machines. While the student definitions were not grammatically or structurally correct, it really reflected student understanding of the concepts (Form, Function) and students corrected each other.

3) Listen and Match : Here students took turns reading the definitions aloud while the other tried to find an example of the simple machine on the table. This reinforced the definitions for students as well as the pronunciation of certain key vocabulary. Students self-corrected if they realized their error prevented their partner from finding a match!


Session 3: Putting the ‘I’ in Inquiry

By the third class, students were ready to narrow down the field of their inquiry. Students have already chosen groups of interest, based on the simple machine of their choice. The next stage is to have them develop a focus area for their Simple Machine…what they want to find out.

As a grade 5 teaching team, we realized the students were not ready to simply create their own inquiry. Scaffolding happened both in the classrooms and during EAL pull-out. During my pull-out time, I had students rotate and brainstorm 4 areas:

1) Their simple machine (Form, Function)

2) Areas where they could find their simple machine

3) Specific equipment/tools found in these locations

4) What could they find out about that equipment/tool?

Students still have a ways to go with narrowing their inquiry so that they can take field trips, collect data and conduct interviews with ‘experts’. Still, their personal journey has reflected a developing awareness of their own personal connection with simple machines and how they affect daily life.

Video of Mini “Table Talk” (Blue cubes = statement Red Cubes = listen & repeat)





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