Unit of inquiry 3

Context for learning

Transdisciplinary theme

How we express ourselves: An inquiry into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity; our appreciation of the aesthetic.

Central idea

We express our thoughts and ideas in many different ways.

Age group

3–4 years

School setting

This school in IB Africa, Europe, Middle East is authorized to implement all three IB programmes. It is a non-profit private school governed by a board of directors. The PYP is implemented with students aged 3 to 11, and there are three or four classes at each grade/year level. The school believes that its involvement with Harvard University’s Project Zero and its Visible Thinking Network is significant in enriching the school’s implementation of the PYP: the learning in one area is complementary to the practice in the other. Both contribute to establishing a culture of thinking within the school.

Grade/year level planning teams meet weekly for 45 minutes and then with the PYP coordinator for an hour and a half. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on teaching and learning throughout each unit of inquiry and specific reflection time is built into the planning sessions: two weeks before a unit of inquiry starts; midway through the unit; and as the unit draws to a close. Additionally, at the end of the school year, a grade/year level meeting is set aside to enable teachers to review the reflections for each unit and suggest changes for the following year.

Single-subject teachers join collaborative planning meetings prior to the beginning of each unit. For this unit, the music teacher was involved in planning with the teachers focusing on modes of expression through music and dance.

As this was the third unit of inquiry of the year, it was well placed to support students’ literacy readiness and for them to actively and confidently interact and communicate within the school community. Additionally, the unit provided an authentic context for students’ personal and social development, with particular emphasis on interactions.

Tags: 3–5 years, how we express ourselves, student-initiated inquiry, learner profile, attitudes, differentiation, resources, language, social studies, personal social and physical education, arts (dance), arts (music)

Related sample materials

Collaborative planning

Sample 3.1 document resource The completed planner

Sample 3.2 document resource An additional document was used to plan how the learning environment would be set up in order to provide students with a wide range of choices that could provoke open-ended inquiries connected to the central idea and the PYP essential elements for this unit of inquiry.


Sample 3.3 document resource Offering self-selected story-telling forms allowed students to communicate their learning with others, making use of their preferred learning styles. Each student was asked to retell a well-known story of their choice and to do this they could choose their own form of communication. Some students retold orally, others chose to make drawings and requested the teacher to write down the narration, while others painted. The teachers used various tools for documenting how the students engaged in this retelling process including audio tapes, photographs and anecdotal observations.


Sample 3.4 document resource The PYP key concepts in this unit of inquiry were connection and perspective. Different learning areas were set up in the classrooms and teachers regularly reviewed the set-up of these areas in order to observe how students’ conceptual understanding was developing in familiar and new situations. For example, the way in which students used the role-play area changed throughout the unit. Taking part in the various learning centres allowed students to develop different aspects of the IB learner profile and many of the PYP attitudes.

Student-initiated inquiry

Sample 3.5 document resource Incidental events in the classroom provided the students with opportunities to make authentic connections to the central idea. The students were able to communicate their experiences as well as share thoughts and ideas using different forms of expression, for example, through painting, music, and drama.

Learning experiences

Sample 3.6 document resource The setting up of the physical environment is crucial for young learners in that it can provoke inquiry, promote exploration and discovery, and allow students to synthesize, analyse and manipulate knowledge in developmentally appropriate ways. For this unit, the environment was set up so that the students had the freedom to explore different ways of telling a story or expressing a feeling. Allowing for open-ended activities encouraged students to be involved in reflecting on and planning for their own learning.

Transdisciplinary skills

Sample 3.7 document resource Several visible thinking routines were used during this unit of inquiry promoting the development of critical-thinking skills. One routine, called “Headlines” was used to promote awareness of the main theme of a narrative. This routine involved the students coming up with headlines or titles to try to capture the essence of a classroom or personal event. This enabled the students to respond to various events and stories, summarize the main ideas, and make their thinking explicit.


Sample 3.8 document resource Keeping parents informed about the classroom learning often results in extra opportunities for students to develop understanding beyond the confines of the classroom and school. The parent community was an important resource that was utilized during this unit of inquiry with a number of parents offering to come in and read stories to the students.

Future considerations

This unit of inquiry has been evolving over several years. This year, the teachers noticed a change in how the students interacted in the different learning centres. They saw evidence of a range of social skills being developed and applied, as well as a move towards unified purposes for play, communication and expression. When reflecting on the unit, the teachers thought that next year, they would document this development throughout the inquiry by making observations and anecdotal records. This could provide a clear picture of what the student is thinking and learning as well as assess the effectiveness of the environment in order to inform future learning.