Friday, August 7, 2015

Sixth Grade Rome Inquiry

The sixth grade social studies students in Ms. Schaper and Mr. Guzzetta's classes spent a lot of time learning about ancient cultures this year.  When the end of the year rolled around, the students had the opportunity to teach their peers about ancient Rome.  This learning experience was facilitated through the use of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) as outlined by the Right Question Institute.  Earlier this year, the sixth grade students in Mrs. B. Smith's science class used QFT as the basis for their project about planets.

The classes were divided into groups.  Each group was given a topic about an aspect of ancient Rome, such as mythology, architecture, daily life, or military.  Using their topics as a focus, students individually generated questions about their topic.
A student group creating questions about architecture in ancient Rome.

Students working individually to create questions pertaining to their topic.
Next, the students worked together in groups in order to eliminate questions that could not be answered through research (such as opinion questions) and questions that were duplicates.  This step helped to narrow down the questions that students would later choose to guide their research.

A student group discusses eliminating questions.

A student group eliminating research questions.
After groups eliminated questions, it was now time to narrow their focus even further.  This involved a discussion about what makes for an interesting, quality research question.  The class discussed that interesting questions were not questions that could be answered with a simple yes or no.  Instead, quality research questions would yield lots of information about their subject.

To narrow the focus, groups were directed to select 6-8 questions to guide their research.  Some of the questions initially generated through their research were combined, which yielded "meatier" questions for research.  Once the group decided the questions they would like to answer, the questions were transferred to a list.
A group organizes and selects questions for research.

Final list for a Roman Architecture group.

Final list for a Roman Mythology group.
Once the questions were selected, students then decided which group member would be responsible for finding the answer to each question.  Questions were transferred to a graphic organizer, which made it easy for students to keep track of their research and sources used.
Students transfer questions to their graphic organizer.
Prior to researching, students received a refresher on research techniques and library resources.  Students used books, online databases, and websites to answer their questions about Rome.  Helpful websites were organized in a Symbaloo matrix for ease of use.
Symbaloo website matrix for research.
A student using books and websites for research.

Using online databases for research.

Totally absorbed in Rome research!
With the research component completed, students then had the opportunity to present their findings in a lesson to their classmates.  Many creative ideas were employed by the student groups, including salt maps, costumes, and even food!  The student groups enjoyed assigning homework to their peers, too.

During the 2014-2015 school year, we experienced success with using questioning as a technique to springboard inquiry and research projects.  For the 2015-2016 year, we are looking forward to replicating these efforts in other subjects and grade levels.


  1. Great use of the QFT! Now, I'm really curious about any reflections from the students about what they learned by doing rigorous work with their own questions. Thanks documenting this so well.

    1. Hello Dan,

      Thank you for your kind words. Unfortunately, I did not gather reflections from the students about the process. Informally, the students showed greater investment in the process since they were answering questions that were of personal interest.

      If you would like to see another example of QFT in action at Pioneer, check out the blog post and web link below. We worked with sixth grade science students for an inquiry project regarding planets. We gathered lots of student reflections during this project. Thank you for all of the great materials you provide - we are loving QFT here!

      Thank you,