Curricular Enquiry Questions in RE – Blog 1


I have spent a long time reading and watching history teachers discuss the use of enquiry questions (EQs) and have considered how they might support forming a curriculum in RE.

As I’ve been discussing and thinking about how these might work in RE I think it is best to divide my thoughts into more than one blog. This blog will look at what I mean by curricular enquiry questions drawing on mostly historical examples & sources.

Throughout, I have questions which I don’t have answers to. I’ve written them in italics. If you do have any answers, please let me know!

What is an enquiry question?

Firstly it is really important to differentiate curricular enquiry questions with pedagogical enquiry. Christine Counsell explained this to me:


The latter, pedagogical enquiry is often known as ‘Discovery learning’ or using an ‘enquiry cycle’ where students are tasked to follow a set process for investigating a topic. My understanding is that this pedagogy primarily focuses on the skills that students are developing during the enquiry process with the substantive knowledge being part of the the output. The questions that are used in an enquiry cycle can be generated by students. This pedagogical model has been presented in some RE agreed syllabuses as the way that RE could or should (?) be taught. This blog isn’t about pedagogical enquiry learning but the research from Kirschner et al (2006) outlines some of the issues associated with this type of pedagogy.

To be clear, this isn’t a false dichotomy of ‘curricular enquiry questions’ vs ‘enquiry learning’.  They are different things that both use substantive knowledge and skills.

However, are the questions used in pedagogical enquiry useful for curricular enquiry?

What are curricular enquiry questions (EQs?)

So, to be clear, in this blog I’m talking about curricular EQs. What exactly are these? Here are definitions from the History community:

According to Michael Riley (2000) they:

• capture the interest and imagination of your pupils?

• place an aspect of historical thinking, concept or process at the forefront of the pupils’ minds?

• result in a tangible, lively, substantial, enjoyable ‘outcome activity’ (i.e. at the end of the lesson sequence) through which pupils can genuinely answer the enquiry question?

Practically they are:

  • the foundation for a short sequence of lessons (perhaps 3-6?)
  • Covering a central (historical) idea
  • Academically rigorous
  • Rely on substantive (& in History disciplinary knowledge) knowledge to answer coherently whilst developing skills ( the ‘opposite’ to enquiry learning’?)
  • Are always curated by the expert (the teacher)
  • Sometimes address a ‘topic’ within a single question, sometimes as a pair or even trio of questions – if one question doesn’t cover a whole ‘topic’ then a second may be needed
  • Since Riley, many have argued they should reflect the types of questions historians are asking

What makes EQs academically rigorous in RE?

What might RE use as it’s disciplinary knowledge at school level?

What questions are Theologians, Philosophers etc asking about religion that might be useful for EQs in RE?

The Historical Association gives a clear definition of how EQs work here (my emphasis):

The enquiry question in history teaching is therefore a planning device for teachers, enabling them to structure coherent sequences of lessons, building knowledge systematically within well-organised frameworks. It thus helps pupils to see the links between one lesson and the next, and through sustained attention to a single question, ‘to make connections, draw contrasts, analyse trends’ as the National Curriculum requires. Pupils’ ability to answer the enquiry question at the end of the sequence – most often by means of a written narrative or analytic essay – also serves as a fundamental means of assessing both their historical knowledge and their ability to produce an analysis in response to a type of historical question before moving on to the next lesson sequence.

The first point of this is an interesting one. Not only can EQs support a short-term series of lessons but can be used as part of curriculum planning. The Historical Association suggest that EQs can support curriculum coherence, so rather than a curriculum being a series of disconnected EQs, each EQ should be informed by the prior EQ and influence the subsequent one. Logically if one requires certain substantive knowledge to understand and answer it that won’t be covered in the EQ lesson sequence, then the EQ that deals with that substantive knowledge needs to precede it.

Can we use the concept of historical EQs and transfer how they are used in RE?

How might we organise the role of enquiry questions in RE?

Hugh Richards in this brilliant document organises the role that historical enquiry questions can play in several ways which could help inform how enquiry questions could be used in RE:

Hugh’s role of EQ in history

Possible role of EQ in RE ?

RE example EQ?

By historical period By religion? (or worldview if you want to use that term) Will Islam soon be the biggest religion in the word?
By first order concepts The core concepts in RE ‘belief, ‘commitment’, ‘diversity’ ‘morality’ etc How might belief in God impact the day-to-day life of a Jew?
By second order concepts We don’t have these in RE. Could these come from the disciplines? EQs in the main disciplines of RE; Theology, Philosophy & Social Sciences (see The Norfolk agreed syllabus for clear examples of this) What can be considered as the strongest arguments against life after death?
To cover a theme in breadth Known as Thematical teaching in RE, cross-religion themes e.g. Prayer in Islam, Christianity & Hinduism Is prayer the same in Islam, Christianity & Hinduism?
To delve into a narrower topic in depth by concept within a religion e.g. Sewa in Sikhism Do you have to perform Sewa to be a Sikh?
To unlock a rich and meaningful sense of period to unlock a rich and meaningful sense of….belief? practices? Religion? Why is Christianity declining in the UK?
Using scholarship to bring students in the work of Historians Bringing in the work of Theologians, Philosophers etc How far does Aquinas help Christians understand the origins of the universe?
Explore local history To explore local religious demographics Why is there a purpose built Gurdwara in Ipswich?

Are these correct equivalents? Do the equivalents work in RE? Are there more/different roles of EQs in RE?

Are my RE examples ‘good’ EQs? (I’m a novice at writing them and it’s difficult!)

Would providing an answer/response to these questions after a short (3-6 lesson) sequence of lessons be a useful way to assess students understanding in RE?

What is the disciplinary knowledge from the disciplines at school level RE?

What’s the difference between an interesting question and an enquiry question? What makes a ‘good’ RE enquiry question?

This is what I’ve been trying to work out. The problem is that when I see one, I think I know it would be a good EQ but writing them is really tough. In my head it requires a large amount of substantive knowledge, given by the teacher and will allow students to select which they feel is most useful in answering the EQ.  It leads to an overall judgement that the student has to conclude based on the evidence studied rather than just a presentation of knowledge. It requires analysis and synthesis skills to present a good argument that answers the question. It gives the students so much substantive knowledge that they don’t just write ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to EQs that might seem like closed questions. And the question is so interesting that they are motivated not to just write ‘no’ or ‘yes’.

Riley (2000) references an activity designed by Christine Counsell called ‘The Dodgy questions Game’.  ‘Dodgy’ questions in history could be those that are historically invalid, encourage ‘morally superficial or anachronistic judgements’, are not academically rigorous or have sloppy wording. They may focus too much on trying to capture students’ interest (by being controversial?) rather than focusing on what we want students to learn from answering it.

What might the ‘dodgy question game’ look like in RE?

Which of these would meet the enquiry question criteria? Which are ‘dodgy in RE?’ What might be the issue with these?

  1. Why is Jesus important?
  2. Why is Jesus important to Christians?
  3. How has belief in Jesus affected life in the UK today?
  4. How do we know about the life of Jesus?
  5. Did Jesus exist?
  6. Who was Jesus?
  7. Why should we listen to what Jesus said?

One criticism of some historical questions is that they elicit morally superficial answers, but in RE could these be used as part of moral arguments? 

Are ‘dodgy’ RE questions different from ‘dodgy’ historical questions? If so, Why?

Is there a place in RE for controversial EQs?

Finally, I asked RE colleagues their views on what make good EQs in RE and had some really interesting responses:

Nicki McGee responded “I like a question that challenges the students to do more than just agree or disagree because they can probably do that ( albeit badly) without our input. It gives some students an excuse for a lazy answer…..rather than “ is there life after death?” I would ask “ does believing in an afterlife improve the current life?”

Another RE colleague Sarah Stewart said “I particularly like quite loaded questions – ones with a deliberate bias that ignite discussion. For example, “Should Christians be greener than everyone else”?”

Joanne Burt added “I don’t think there necessarily is a difference but an enquiry question is always capable of being opened up for deep exploration – in fact it always leads to this.”

And from adviser Pat Hannam  “In both cases (RE and History ) it needs to have something that engages us and makes is want to go ou a journey with the enquiry…. and lead to making discernment in some way … at the end”

Hopefully that’s provided a foundation for further thinking. In my next blog/s I will look at suggestions of EQs in RE, what might be the specific challenges of using them in RE, what they look like within curriculum planning and what might be the overarching big questions for RE.

Thanks to everyone that has contributed to the discussion and to my thinking on this so far.  Especially @hughrichards who has been incredibly generous with his time and advice and to @Buisst_Teaching for checking this blog draft through. I hope I’ve not misrepresented views.

Please let me know your views on here or on Twitter @missdcox


Links & Reading (pay wall)

Paul A. Kirschner , John Sweller & Richard E. Clark (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery,
Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, Educational Psychologist, 41:2, 75-86,

Click to access into_the_history_garden.pdf


Click to access into_the_history_garden.pdf



Click to access nnn-2.pdf




2 thoughts on “Curricular Enquiry Questions in RE – Blog 1

  1. Pingback: The power of “explore” – Psychagogia

  2. Pingback: The Ofsted RE research review and assessment – thoughts & suggestions | missdcoxblog

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