Developing questions for inquiry


Asking questions about the world, investigating and exploring it directly and discussing one's discoveries with one's peers, are surely survival skills programmed into the young of our species.

Spencer, 2003, p. 233.

Geographical inquiry skills are steadily built up as students progress from Foundation to Year 6. In Year 6 students study the location of the major countries of the Asia region and their geographical diversity. This Illustration of practice considers how geographical questions might be developed to investigate and plan an inquiry. 

Geographical inquiry depends on students formulating useful questions. It is desirable to move students away from declarative knowledge (knowing 'that' something is the case, a fact), through to procedural (knowing 'how' to do something or 'how' it is done) and configural knowledge (understanding how all the elements are interrelated) to pose the most incisive questions. Students frame their inquiry questions from various geographical perspectives. Teachers can enrich these perspectives by encouraging the inquiry process. 

The development of questions about planning the inquiry should also rest with the students.

Classroom application

Four resources are provided to promote an understanding of the processes involved in developing inquiry questions:

Questions for discussion

  1. How has geographical inquiry been sequentially developed in Years F–6?
  2. How might students be best assisted to develop geographical questions?
  3. How can students progress to pose questions based on configural and procedural knowledge rather than declarative knowledge?
  4. To what extent are my students successful in planning the inquiry process?

Questions for reflection

  1. How might inquiry approaches to teaching and learning affect my approaches to geography teaching?
  2. Where can I find out more about geographical perspectives?
  3. To what extent does the UK experience of teaching geography in Key stages 1 and 2 influence my ideas about inquiry teaching?
  4. How might I best share my ideas with others?


Books and articles:

Canadian Council for Geographic Education (2001). Canadian national standards for geography: A standards-based guide to K–12 geography. Retrieved August 2012, from:

Catling, S. (2003). Curriculum contested: Primary geography and social justice, Geography 88(3), pp.164–210.

Catling, S. & Willy, T, (2009). Teaching primary geography. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Department for Education and Employment. (1999). The National Curriculum. Handbook for primary teachers in England: Key stages 1 and 2. Retrieved August 2012, from:

Halocha, J. (2004). Student teachers' perceptions of geographical enquiry. In S. Catling & F. Martin (Eds.). Researching primary geography special publication 1, pp. 235–242. Retrieved October 2012, from:

Lambert, D. (2004). Geography. In J. White (Ed.). Rethinking the school curriculum: Values, aims and purposes. London: Routledge, pp. 75–86.

Spencer, C. (2003). Why has the geography curriculum been so little attuned to the child's geographical enquiry? Geography 88(3), pp. 232–233.

Spencer, C. & Blades, M. (1993). Children's understanding of places: The world at hand. Geography 78(4), pp. 367–373. 


Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from:

The Canadian Council for Geographic Education (2001). Canadian geography standards. Retrieved August 2012, from:

Other relevant resources are contained in the sections above.