Tuning Into the IB PYP Inquiry with Collaborative Discussions

As we continue to navigate the dynamic landscape of student led inquiry in the IB PYP and beyond, one thing remains constant: the importance of fostering effective communication skills and nurturing inquiry-driven minds.  I'm delighted to share another innovative strategy, albeit not that new, that empowers facilitation of a transdisciplinary inquiry through collaboration and communication skills.  Today, I have some strategies for tuning in and developing communicators. And I'm excited to introduce you to a powerful tuning in and provocation tool: Concept Discussion Mats. 

Why Communication Matters

Effective communication lies at the heart of the IB Primary Years Programme.  It's not just about conveying information but also about collaboration: actively listening, exchanging ideas, and constructing meaning collaboratively. In an increasingly interconnected world, the ability to communicate effectively is a fundamental skill that empowers students to navigate diverse perspectives and solve complex problems. And we can begin with our youngest learners. You can read more about easy activities for developing communication skills in this article.

Tuning Into the Inquiry

A key part of tuning into the IB PYP unit of inquiry is unpacking those related concepts that our investigations will be based upon. We are aiming to introduce the related concepts, bring the children's prior knowledge to the forefront, enabling them to make connections, inferences and invite their wonder through formulation of questions. Ideally, we want this to be a collaborative learning experience - sharing thoughts, perspectives and ideas- allowing us to build upon the rich thought that naturally arises at this stage of the inquiry and will lead us towards the children's curiosity. In this article, Tuning In Through Picture Analysis, I cover more of the Thinking Skills involved within this part of the process. Today, I'm marrying thinking skills with social skills and communication skills + concepts. This is the natural tendency for a transdisciplinary approach. 


Introducing Concept Discussion Mats

Concept Discussion Mats are versatile tools designed to promote meaningful dialogue and inquiry-based learning in the classroom. These mats provide a structured framework for students to engage in collaborative discussions while exploring key concepts related to their inquiries. You can take a look at concept mats I created for each IB PYP theme here. 

How Concept Discussion Mats Work

Imagine a colourful mat spread out on the floor or a table, with different sections representing various aspects of a concept. Each mat is in effect a prompt with visual cues and guiding questions to support students' discussions.

The mats are easy to make but if youre looking to save time, I've already done the hard work for you. These PYP teaching tools are prepared with conceptual images all connecting with the related concepts within the IB PYP transdisciplinary themes.  Each pack also offers a  customizable option, allowing you to tailor them to suit the specific needs of your inquiry. This means that not only can you use them within your related concepts for your programme of inquiry but also create your own concept mats for single subjects too. Win! 

Encouraging Accountable Talk through Game-Based Learning

One of the hallmarks of Concept Discussion Mats is their ability to foster accountable talk – discussions that bring depth to thinking, building upon the thoughts of the group, active and respectful listening, collaborative and focused on learning. By providing clear prompts and guiding questions within the differentiated Roll & Talk game and the Bingo boards, these mats encourage students to:

  • articulate their ideas
  • justify their reasoning 
  • dive deeper with formulating conceptual questions
  • engage with their peers' perspectives

Supporting Transdisciplinary Learning

The beauty of Concept Discussion Mats lies in their ability to support the transdisciplinary nature of the PYP curriculum. As students explore a concept from multiple perspectives, they draw connections across different subject areas, deepening their understanding and appreciation of the interconnectedness of knowledge.

Empowering Student-Led Inquiry

Inquiry lies at the heart of the PYP, and Concept Discussion Mats provide a scaffold for student-led exploration. By guiding students through structured discussions, these mats empower them to take ownership of their learning journey, ask meaningful questions, and pursue lines of inquiry that spark their curiosity.

"Independent thinking comes with confidence in applying the skills implicitly used within the learning experience."

Practical Tips for Implementation

  • Start Small: Introduce Concept Discussion Mats gradually, starting with whole class discussions and building up to more independence as your students become familiar with the process of exchanging information using the communication games as well as thinking conceptually. 

  • Model Effective Communication: Demonstrate the kind of dialogue you expect to see from students, emphasising active listening, respectful disagreement, and evidence-based reasoning. You can blow up the graphic organisers to act as accountable talk charts for easy reference or simply add the sentence stems to a class chart as you work through your programme of inquiry, increasing the language incrementally. 
  • Provide Feedback: Use Concept Discussion Mats as an opportunity to assess students' communication skills and provide targeted feedback for improvement.

    • Encourage Reflection: At the end of each discussion, encourage students to reflect on what they've learned and how their thinking has evolved. I have provided rubrics to support this self/peer assessment, together with recording charts for the children to monitor their progress with those ATL skills. Those charts are a fabulous way to encourage feedback in all its formats. ( teacher/student, student/parents, peer feedback etc. ) 

Developing Collaborative Communicators

Fostering effective communication skills and nurturing inquiry-driven minds is more important than ever. With Concept Discussion Mats, you have a powerful tool at your disposal to promote collaborative dialogue, support transdisciplinary learning, and empower students to become active, engaged learners.

I invite you to explore the possibilities of Concept Discussion Mats in your classroom and witness firsthand the transformative impact they can have on your students' communication skills and inquiry-based learning. They are super easy to create yourself. But if you want to save time, I have them all ready for you. :) 

Here's to fostering a community of curious, articulate, and empowered learners!


P.S. If you're looking to go more in-depth with planning, implementing and assessing the ATL Skills, take a look at my online training course, Essentials for Inquiry. It is packed with practical information and strategies with over 12 hours of online video training to help you get off to a confident start with student led inquiry. 


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