Reading, Science, Teaching and Instruction

Building a Culture of Wonder: Inquiry in Primary Education

Children are born with a sense of wonder starts the moment they open their eyes and begin to make sense of the many sights, tastes, sounds and smells around them. As they get older they begin to speak and that sense of wonder is often articulated in one word which they use over and over again… WHY? Why is the sky blue? Why does the dog bark? Why are we going to the store? Why? Why? Why?

When those same children first come to school in kindergarten they often bring with them this same enthusiasm, quest for answers and wonder. Our job as educators is to create space in our classrooms and our day for this wonder. We need to let them know that their questions are not only valued an important but have a place in our classrooms and school.

In our current Saskatchewan curricula inquiry is the heart of each document. From ELA to math to science to social studies teachers are being asked to foster a sense of inquiry in their students as they discover and uncover what each discipline has to offer. For myself as a primary teacher I saw inquiry as living in the wonder that my students brought into the classroom each day. Through conscious teaching, careful planning and willingness to wonder myself I could foster, encourage, and facilitate opportunities for wonder in and outside the four walls of my classroom. Here are some ideas that I found quite helpful as well as some new ones to help build and maintain a culture of wonder in your classroom:

Wonder Wall

A place where group questions can be modeled, recorded, shared, and encouraged. As students discover answers to their questions they can be crossed off and more can be added. Another option is to have students write their questions on sticky notes that can be placed on the wall. When we were learning about the rainforest this wall took the shape of a giant palm tree. The new learnings were placed on palm fronds and questions were posted beside the tree.

Wonder of the Week

Posting a wonder of the week can initiate discussions, thinking and more questions. The questions need not have an answer. The goal is not to answer every question but create a culture of wonder. Fermi questions are a great source for thinking and discussion.

Wonder Words

Using wonder words as sentence starters can encourage student’s sense of wonder. These words can be used for written and oral communication.

  • I wonder
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Do
  • If
  • Can
  • Why
  • How

Wonder Centre

This centre can be a collection of objects carefully chosen objects which can fit in with current themes in the classroom. Natural objects work well and create opportunities for students to use many scientific skills such as observing, measuring, classifying, predicting and inference making.

Possible ways to record thinking at the Wonder Centre:

  • Wonder Journal
  • Wonder cards
  • Observation templates
  • Sentence starters
  • Science Notebook

Possible Objects for a Wonder Centre:

  • Natural objects (rocks, soil, plants, shells…)
  • Artifacts
  • Pictures
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Magnets
  • Rulers
  • Balance scales
  • Microscopes
  • Tape measures
  • Wonder Bottles – sealed pop bottles full of liquids and other items like glitter. These allow students to see how liquids mix, or don’t as well as how items can float or sink on the liquid. I used to make my collection with water and oil, corn syrup, pancake syrup, and salt water.

I know this list is incomplete but it is a start and really that is the first thing you need to do to create a classroom of wonder and inquiry for your students… be willing to start. If you have other ideas of ways you create wonder and inquiry in your classroom I would love to hear them.

Recommended Professional resource to explore – A Place for Wonder by Georgina Heard and Jennifer McDonough

11 thoughts on “Building a Culture of Wonder: Inquiry in Primary Education”

  1. Jenn,
    Enjoyed your post about creating a classroom of wonder. It makes me look forward to going back at the end of the summer. The wonder wall is a great way to track the learning, thinking, and conversations of everyone. Kids naturally wonder, but I’m always amazed at how quickly they begin to believe school is about ANSWERING questions —- and answering them correctly. I sometimes tell my students today we’re just asking questions, we’re not trying to answer them. Trying to get students to dig deeper into what they are thinking for those powerful questions that really help us to learn.

  2. In my teacher’s college program this year, we spent a great deal of time learning about and preparing inquiry-based lessons and units. This is a wonderful post and is FULL of useful ideas for the classroom. I think in today’s answer-driven society, wonder is definitely lacking and your post will be passed on to many educator friends in my PLN.


    1. I agree with you that we live in an answer driven society. I believe that in the pursuit of answers we must always start with a question and be prepared to never find what we initially seek. Our students sense of wonder needs to be nurtured, supported and grown in our classrooms. Imagine the possibilities!!! Thanks for your comment.

  3. You have shared some great ideas about the “classroom of wonder” and demonstrated some great examples of Inquiry Based Learning Spaces. In particular, I like the wonder wall and think that this could be used in a variety of contexts, age groups and environments. In fact, I may just try a wall of wonder with my preservice teacher candidates next year. Excellent blog and sharing! Fortunate to have you in my PLN. Thank You Jennifer!

  4. I second missholwerda’s comment! The ‘Wonder Words’ you’ve listed are such a simple way to integrate wonder and inquiry into every lesson in every classroom. Thanks for your post. 🙂

  5. Awesome! I’m passing this off to the PLPConnectu. We have been chatting about ‘wonderment’ and the book Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.

    Thank you for the reference to A Place for Wonder. 🙂


  6. I really like the way you think Jennifer. I love the idea of the wonder wall and I am imagining ways to use it with young children. I am definitely adding you to my PLN. Our children have not been free to wonder in schools and it’s a concept they are not comfortable with. Teachers need to encourage the concept of wondering in the classroom. I like the use of the Wonder Words! They can be easily incorporated into everyday classroom lingo. Thank you so much for posting this blog. Keep up the good work and I’ll keep checking back for more of your great ideas.

  7. I absolutely LOVE the idea of a Wonder Wall. Anything that increases a student’s desire to learn and encourages that learning is always something to be treasured. In the classrooms I have observed, I have found that the most difficult activity was always the initiation of some sort of discussion. Having a Wonder of the Week sounds like a fantastic way to promote classroom discussions and encourage kids to think outside the box. I feel students would be more apt to participate in a discussion like this, especially when knowing that there is no right or wrong answer, or perhaps no answer at all. Getting their brains ticking using Wonder Words, along with having a center dedicated to piquing students’ curiosity, sounds like the makings of a classroom that facilitates an active learning environment and helps instill a desire to learn. This was a fantastic and interesting read for me. I will definitely be adding your blog to my favorites!

    Hope all is well with you!


  8. Hi my name is Brittany Sparks. I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I was assigned to comment and summarize one of your blog post this week. I like how you used the Wonder Wall in your classroom. This will encourage students to ask questions and think more. I would like to use this in my future classrooms when I become an educator. This idea is different from when I was in school. There was never a time for us to sit and wonder and ask questions. This will give students an amazing experience. It will encourage students to have fun while learning. I really enjoyed reading your blog post!

  9. My name is Mia Britton and I am an Edm 310 student at the University of South Alabama . I really enjoyed reading this blog , as a future teacher your blog have me some insight on teaching. I really enjoyed you wonder wall as a child I recall one of my elementary teachers having a word wall in her classroom.

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