Shared Inquiry


In shared inquiry, participants help one another search for answers to fundamental questions raised by a text. Participants come to discussion with their own unique ways of viewing the selection, then try to build on their views through a sharing of ideas.

Discussion leaders provide direction and guidance by asking questions for which they genuinely do not know the answer. Note that the leader is not an expert; the group should not look to him or her for answers. The leader assumes the role of co-learner and helps the group by asking interpretive questions-questions that have more than one possible answer based on the text. The leader also assists the group by asking follow-up questions-questions that encourage participants to clarify comments, support ideas with evidence from the reading, and comment on proposed interpretations.

The Four Rules of Shared Inquiry Discussion

  1. Only those who have read the selection may take part in discussion. Participants who have not read the selection cannot support their opinions with evidence from the text, nor can they bring a knowledge of the text to bear on the opinions of others.
  2. Discussion is restricted to the selection that everyone has read. This rule gives everyone an equal chance to contribute, because it limits discussion to a selection that all participants are familiar with and have before them. When the selection is the sole focus of discussion, everyone can determine whether facts are accurately recalled and opinions adequately supported.
  3. Support for opinions should be found within the selection. Participants may introduce outside opinions only if they can restate the opinions in their own words and support the ideas with evidence from the selection. This rule encourages participants to read carefully and think for themselves.
  4. Leaders may only ask questions-they may not answer them. Leaders help themselves and participants understand a selection by asking questions that prompt thoughtful inquiry.

Your discussions will be richer and more productive if you remember to:

  • Temper the urge to speak with the discipline to listen
  • Substitute the impulse to teach with a passion to learn
  • Hear what is said and listen for what is meant
  • Marry your certainties with others' possibilities
  • Reserve judgment until you can claim understanding