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Exploring living things through inquiry

Jessica Manglani, PYP teacher, Pathways School, Noida, India

This article showcases the concept of living things through the process of inquiry. It also reflects the constructivist approach where a child constructs knowledge through experiences gained by exploring the environment. 

Play-based learning is always supported by inquiry. The entire process is led by the child, which is only possible when given space and time to explore, experiment, assess and ask the questions to augment knowledge.

My students were inquiring into a unit with the central idea: Living things have requirements in order to grow, change and stay healthy. We began the unit with a provocation corner with various seeds like kidney beans, chickpea, wheat and sunflower. The students soon questioned: “How will this small seed become a plant?”, “How many days will it take to become one?”, “We eat kidney beans, will they grow in our stomachs too?”.

While playing in the garden, a group of students approached me with a ladybug which was still and had turned orange. The children were anxious as to why it had turned orange. “I think it is dead!” said one child.

For deeper understanding we invited parents to come to school to speak about caring for pets at home. Some parents also shared how they had lost their pets to sickness and age. Students soon theorized that all living things need care and why the ladybug may have died.

My students continued to stay fascinated with living things. For one of our mathematics engagements, students peeled pea pods and while peeling a child found a small green caterpillar, which triggered excitement and curiosity. Students spoke excitedly: “Hey, it is a caterpillar!”, “It is a living thing, see it is moving!”, “Is pea its food?”.

The students decided to keep the caterpillar in a jar. We covered it with net to provide air and added some peas because they insisted that peas might be its favourite food as they had found the caterpillar in a pea pod. Slowly they found that the caterpillar had formed a cocoon around itself and thought it had died. This sparked a new question: “Why did it die when we gave it food and air to breathe?”.

In order to help my students answer their question we read The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle which helped them understand the life cycle of a caterpillar. To make a personal connection, I asked parents to send a set of 2 photos; one current and another from the time of birth. At first students were given photos from the time of birth, which only a few of them could recognize. When seeing their current photos, they were astonished that they had changed so much. They began to understand that they have a life cycle too, just like the caterpillar.

By just giving time and space, we can see students inquiring, questioning and struggling to reach understanding. This will not only strengthen their confidence, but also deepen their thinking and assessment skills. What my students learned from this inquiry will never be forgotten and will support them in applying these understanding in the future.


Carle, E. (1969). The Very Hungry Caterpillar. United States. World Publishing Company.

Jessica Manglani is a PYP teacher at Pathways World School, Noida, India. She has over 3 years of experience as an educator, teaching Business Management to under graduates. Her desire to contribute at the foundation level landed me in primary teaching. Inquiry, experiment, instigate, curiosity words with different meaning and method to take on differently with age group of different levels, has expanded my thinking process and exposed me to new methods of teaching. 


7 Responses to Exploring living things through inquiry

  1. Deepa 13 March 2018 at 4:10 pm #

    Very interesting Jessica………….could you share the unit plan please ……..thanks

  2. Aruna 13 March 2018 at 5:57 pm #

    An enriching experience for learners and educators.

  3. Rohini 13 March 2018 at 6:49 pm #

    Curious children learn a lot.

  4. zaity rachida 13 March 2018 at 9:43 pm #

    c’est ma première visite sur ce blog et je le trouve très intéressant.

    j’espère faire plus ample connaissance avec d’autres membres dans le programme international.

  5. Meenakshi Singal 15 March 2018 at 2:31 pm #

    I can almost feel the excitement that the students must have experienced during the learning process. Wonderful.

  6. Reshma 30 May 2018 at 11:28 am #

    I.m glad to read the way you conducted inquiry in your classroom with just 3 years of teaching experience. .they have taken the ownership of their learning. Such type of teaching will definitely will make them a life long learners!!!!

  7. Malgorzata Labuda 24 April 2022 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Jessica,

    It’s great to see that not only the learners, but also the whole learning community was involved in the inquiry. I loved reading about the stages of the inquiry and how skillfully it was led with the involvement of the family members and the things students could relate to.

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