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Lesson Plan

Searching for Gold: A Collaborative Inquiry Project

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Searching for Gold: A Collaborative Inquiry Project

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Six 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Renee Goularte

Renee Goularte

Magalia, California


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



In this collaborative inquiry unit, the real gold is the inquiry skills and content area knowledge that students develop. The class works in small groups, each focusing on one aspect of the same big topic, such as the Gold Rush. After skimming related texts, the class brainstorms people, places and things associated with the topic and develops a list of five or six main subtopics. Students then work in small groups to research one of the subtopics, practicing specific research skills as they work. Finally, students choose an activity, such as an oral report, trivia game, or newspaper, to teach what they have learned to the rest of the class. Group accountability and individual responsibility are built in to this lesson process.

While this unit uses the Gold Rush as an example, any event or geographical area could be substituted.

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Guidelines for Teaching about Your Topic: This handout describes several possible projects groups can choose to teach their topic to the rest of the class.

Gold Rush Web Resources Travelogue: This online tool guides students through several Websites related to the Gold Rush.

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As Helen Dale explains in her Co-Authoring in the Classroom, "Working together on a shared goal leads to higher achievement than working alone, and it leads to gains in the kinds of thinking teachers like to model for students: high-level reasoning, generation of new ideas, and transfer of knowledge from one situation to another (Johnson & Johnson, 1994)" (5). Collaborating as they research the Gold Rush and compose their projects for presentation, students participate in the cooperative learning experiences which Dale identifies. In addition to the cognitive gains that students make as they collaborate, Dale states, "Working together on a project can involve authentic learning for students. Peer groups concentrate on what the student learns, not on what the teacher knows." Furthermore, as Dale writes, "In groups, students need to do something: communicate, organize, interpret, or apply" (6). That is exactly what will occur in this lesson: students will be doing something together, as they work to explore a variety of resources in this ongoing inquiry project.

Further Reading

Dale, Helen. 1997. Co-Authoring in the Classroom: Creating an Environment for Effective Collaboration. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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