The Art of the Provocation in the IB PYP

The art of the provocation. Such a vital part of the inquiry classroom. This is the number one request for help and guidance that I receive from teachers, “How and what can I do to provoke this inquiry? ” If this sounds familiar, believe me when I tell you that you are not alone! But don’t worry. I have a few things up my sleeve that can help. In this article, I am sharing suggestions for planning a provocation as well as a guide to Six Simple Provocation activities that you can link to in my Instagram account. Also, read through to the end and you’ll be able to grab a FREE provocation template tool. Easy to use with ANY inquiry, simply edit to suit your needs.  It’s available in digital and printable versions, so whatever your situation or preference, I’ve got you covered.

No matter whether you’re teaching 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.
The provocation is found at the beginning of the inquiry cycle, although, as you progress with your adventure in inquiry, you will become more adept at integrating into different parts of the cycle at any point where you want to inspire deeper, more critical thinking and going deeper with an inquiry.  This post gives some suggestions for creating a powerful provocation that will provoke curiosity, inspire wonder and develop interest in the inquiry.

 6 Keys to Creating A Provocation

The provocation activity must be familiar yet unfamiliar.

“Ask the Person in the Picture”- this is a provocation activity for encouraging questions related to our central idea.

You want it to promote curiosity, inspire questioning, be intriguing with potential for conjecture and to pull upon the children’s background knowledge, which will, in turn, allow you to see how much they do or do not know. The following are 6 guidelines to help as you decide upon the activity that you select for your provocation.

  1. Provide artefacts and experiences stripped down to the bare minimum of information, whilst at the same time, stacked with potential for exploring and investigating. You want something complex enough to promote wonder but not complete bewilderment.
  2. Using their background knowledge as a gauge, aim the activity at developing the children’s content knowledge and challenging them to decide if new concepts may be needed to fully understand it. You want the activity to be accessible yet be just a wee bit unreachable too, stretching the children’s thinking without intimidating.
  3. Inquiry starts with where the children are in relation to the concepts driving the unit and not necessarily new content.  It allows for insight into their thinking and possible misconceptions and understandings. It peaks interest and even emotion and it provokes questioning, sharing connections; personal and global, as a part of sharing their thinking.
  4. The provocation should provide opportunities for various forms of thinking to arise: creative thinking, critical thinking, deduction, conclusions, generalisation.
  5. It will incorporate different curricular areas at both concrete and abstract levels. The examples below shows provocations that linked art with creative thinking and literacy with critical thinking. The children were invited to explore natural materials and express themselves creatively. They then had to take a photo of their creation. Statements in response to the question “What is art?” were ordered from true to false, according to the children’s perspective.

6. Keep the activity open enough so that the children will have a chance to manipulate it to their own thinking or altering the order as they explore etc. You want it to contain an element of obvious and intriguing as well as fixed and yet changeable. Be flexible with your anticipated outcomes. Children never fail to surprise! !

The Powerful Provocation…..

Guiding questions focusing on a key concept: in this case PERSPECTIVE. “What might this person believe?”
  • Turns on enthusiasm
  • Encourages students’ voice
  • Amplifies curiosity
  • Sparks interest
  • Promotes perspective
  • Identifies investigations
  • Triggers wonder
  • Engages background knowledge
  • Enables connections to be made
  • Ignites creativity
  • Reflects self-interests
  • Powerfully motivating
  • Diagnostic for both student & teacher
  • Initiates goals

Essential Questions: Both A Teacher & Student Responsibility

  • Explicitly teach questioning skills that will develop higher level thinking and more open-ended questions.
  • Create questions that can change the direction of an inquiry
  • Teach the children how questions can be rebuilt to make them deeper and more open ended.
  • Challenge the children to create essential questions/provocations for themselves across all subjects.
  • Ask BIG questions, questions that puzzle and cannot be answered easily.
  • Develop questions that can have multiple answers or solutions.
A free guide to 6 Simple Provocations on Instagram

I have created a guide with Six Simple Provocations, that you can link to here. It has examples that can be used and adapted for any inquiry, subject and age level.


Right now, you can get your hands on this

Easy to use with ANY inquiry and all ages.

provocation template which is so easy to use in ANY inquiry and for ANY age. It can be used as a PDF or digitally, use with words and/or pictures. Cut it out and have a tangible puzzle or simply have the children work in groups to fill it in. Remember that collaboration is open learning! Just add your email to the box below and the freebie will pop up.  Don’t forget to make a copy first so you can edit it.


So, keeping it short and sweet for today, I’ll be back very soon to share more about the art of the provocation, with many ideas that can be used across all grade levels.


P.S. Dont forget that I have a collection of ideas and share a TON of my favourite provocations on Instagram @pypteaching and Facebook @PYP Teaching Tools.  Come along and say hi!


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