Provoking Curiosity, Inviting Wonder: The Art of the Provocation in the IB PYP

No matter whether your inquiry is happening online or in the classroom, setting the scene of the inquiry and tuning in to the possibilities requires sparking curiosity, triggering background knowledge and provoking wonder. This is where the magic begins and the student-led inquiries stem. This is the art of the provocation. But what exactly does it mean? What is this thing we call "a provocation"? These synonyms from the definition of the noun (provocation) from  the Oxford English Dictionary are  indicators of what we are aiming for:

goading · prodding. inviting · rousing · stirring · stimulation · prompting · inducement · encouragement · urging · inspiration · stimulus  · teasing ·

We want the provocation activity to be familiar yet unfamiliar.

  • Prod the children's curiosity
  • Invite wonder
  • Offer intrigue
  • Prompting investigation
  • Stimulate excitement for the learning
  • Inspire questioning
  • Build upon schema
  • Frustrate just enough for the children to want to know answers
  • Tease them into engaging
  • Stimulate interest

All of this. To motivate, sustain, invite wonder, lead to investigations.

All with the common goal of authentic, driven learning.

Putting It Into Practice

Too many of us get tied in knots trying to think of something wild and wonderous. If you find or see an idea that will rock and shock, leading into an astounding inquiry, then great! Try it! Use it! See what happens. But really, the simplest activities can bring the same results. And I just happen to have a handful that you can use straight away.

The Main Ingredients:

Consider the concepts within your central idea and lines of inquiry and then guiding questions. I use these provocation starter prompts below to help guide thinking in the beginning. I will keep them as a reference tool on group desks. We use them with ANY inquiry. You want to consider what artefacts or experiences you can provide that will inspire thought and elicit powerful questions from the children. How are they related to to those big ideas? And finally, you want to have thinking strategies. Give the children the tools to record their thinking, making it visible. T

  • These provocation starters guide conceptual thinking.
  • Provocation starter prompts for little kids help to guide thinking for any inquiry. These are great to keep as a reference tool on the group desks.


Pictures:  There are so many pictures available that are just priceless when it comes to provoking wonder. We can fit them into a myriad of concepts and guide the children's thinking with essential questions. Look at this image, for example.  I recently used this image with our Instagram community; a community of global inquiry teachers. When asked how they might use this conceptually, we had incredible ideas - colonisation, revolution, art in nature, power, adaptation and so many more. (You can find a huge collection of provocations in my Instagram highlights @pypteaching)

  • Tree roots by Horst Kiechle[ Find a HUGE collection of concept-based provocation images and thinking routines for each theme.
  • The value really comes when you add visible thinking strategies  Art by Olivia, Grade 5, Italy.
  • What related concepts might you use with this image? Illusion? Adaptation? What's your thinking?
  • The children can record their thinking, see their thinking and share their thinking with others.
  • You want to explicitly teach 1-2 visible thinking routines per inquiry, so that the children become familiar with these tools. As you develop their inquiry skills, they are then able to resort to those tools independently.
  • Circle of Viewpoints
  • Concept question bubbles etc.
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • See/Think/Wonder (Read more about adding depth to this routine here.)

Caption It: This is when we use pictures in connection with words. Choose your quality images and add :

  • one word - a word that will confuse or intrigue
  • a statement - to guide or change the viewers' perspective
  • ask the children to add their own caption - then compare and discuss thinking.
  • ask the children to ask the picture a question.


You can find many wonderful images on social media sites, including Instargram and Pinterest.  In addition, is a great tool to find copyright FREE images.  

Concept Discussion Mats: These are a fantastic tool to use when tuning into the inquiry. You have the collaborative discussions enhancing thinking skills together with listening and speaking skills within communication.    

  Quotes:  Simply put the quote out there are see what comes from it. Or, get clever with it:

  • a slow reveal - piece by piece - at each stage the children record their thinking, predictions etc.
  • cut it into sections without grammar - can they work together to construct it?
  • one quote with two different musical accompaniments  - how does their thinking change?
  • one quote  -coming from two different characters.
  • Good thinking routines for this type of provocation include:
  • Think Puzzle Explore
  • True for Who?
  • Tug of War
  • True/False Strategy

TRUE/FALSE STRATEGY: Another great way to tune into an inquiry through the concept of perspective.

Scroll through to take a look at this video below explaining variations of the true/false strategy and how it works as a GREAT provocation AND on-going reflection. Win-win!

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A post shared by Susan Powers (@pypteaching)

Objects & Items: Use everyday objects or bizarre and unfamiliar items. The value comes from the inferences and questions.

Click here to read about implementing the inquiry jar.
  • Place an unusual object into a familiar setting: example - in the animal farm play area, add an ostrich feather or a silver mirror. Listen to the dialogue as the play continues. What questions arise? How are connections being made? Use the children's dialogue to plan your next steps.
  • The Inquiry Jar: You can read all about the inquiry jar. It is great to use with all ages and to tune into related concepts.
  • Video version: You can link to my video that shares the digital version of the inquiry jar I used when tuning into our new unit of inquiry, How We Organise Ourselves. Click here to view the provocation.

Maps, Graphs & Statistics:  I have yet to meet a child who isn't fascinated with big, colourful maps.

Use all forms of maps: political maps, geographical maps, maps, upside down maps, copies of maps cut into sections, maps of Pangaea...the ideas are endless.  

Cutting up maps of Pangaea and re-arranging to connect with the world today. 

  • Graphs can be analysed and compared -  You can leave it wide open to interpretation and wonder or you can guide their thinking with essential questions.
  • Statistics - These can provide an insight into different perspectives of a topic. Example - the United Nations report of refugees arriving in Italy, to the amount of plastic waste recorded in the Sargasso sea in 2020. Again, leave it wide open or guide it.


Dressing Up: This is great for ALL ages and not just the little kids. And, it can be adapted to fit with all concepts and subjects.

  • The Drama: Provide the kids with a selection of dress up materials that are somehow connected - colours, hats, uniform etc. They then have to work in small groups to create and enact 5 minute story. Compare the stories. Share their thoughts.
  • Free Play: Using the same strategy with he selection of dress up clothes as above, except this time, just let the children do their thing. You observe and listen and record the questions and dialogue.
  • Teacher dress up: YOU will dress up! If you're teaching adjectives or about beliefs and values or geometry, connect your costume with the concepts and have the children interview you; asking questions to determine the connections.

Videos: With film, you are triggering all the emotions. Look for a short but to the point video. You want to grab their attention and also their curiosity. The video below, Curiosity is a great example of a short film that will engage, intrigue, stir emotion.....provoke.

  • First thoughts/Second Thoughts: Provide the kids with a graphic organizer or page to record their thoughts as they watch the film the first time. You can then focus their thinking on concepts and ask them to watch it a second time. How did thoughts change, evolve?
  • Guiding Questions: It is easy to guide thinking with essential questions prior to watching the film.
  • Perspective: just let them watch the video and record their questions. The value comes as they compare perspectives.
  • Caption it: Using the technique with the pictures, have the children come up with one caption or statement to describe the film.
  • Title: What new title would you give this film?

If you would like to read more about 6 keys to the art of the provocation, you can click through to this article.  Meanwhile, please do let me know your own ideas and tips for provoking wonder, inviting interest and solidifying student-led inquiry.

P.S. Have you grabbed your FREE PYP Teaching Tools yet? Be sure to get access by clicking the link here, add your e mail address and I'll send them right over to you. Easy-peasy! 


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