Welcome to part four of a six-part series focusing on the world of inquiry in teaching and learning.

You can find a narrated slide show version of this web page at Vimeo (on the right)

Once students have worked their way through the process of questioning and exploring information, they begin to organize their thoughts about their topic, problem, or issue.

Assimilation involves processing, associating, and integrating new ideas with already available knowledge in the human mind.

Assimilation also involves altering thinking and rejecting information that isn't relevant or doesn't meet a students' belief system. The key to this stage is maintaining an open mind.

Carol Kuhlthau has found that as students identify and select ideas they form a focused perspective of their topic. Their direction becomes more clear. As they see how existing ideas connect with new information their confidence and enthusiasm increases.

This stage is characterized by sudden moments of insight. Learners begin to see how ideas fit together, discover new ways of thinking and alternative points of view.

Let’s explore five elements of the assimilation phase of inquiry. Let’s start with reading and inquiry.

Reading and Inquiry

Reading is often the primary source of information during an inquiry. Nonfiction reading across content areas is a critical skills for today's students.

However at this point in the process, students are often thinking “I’ve collected all this stuff, now what do I do with it?” They want credit for their gathering activities. Learners don’t know what to do once they’ve collected all their ideas. They want to go straight right to the answer, paper, or final product without reading what they’ve located.

Students need strategies to scaffold their reading.


Skimming is used to quickly identify the main ideas of a text. When you read the newspaper, you're probably not reading it word-by-word, instead you're scanning the text. Skimming is done at a speed three to four times faster than normal reading. People often skim when they have lots of material to read in a limited amount of time. Students use skimming when you want to see if an article may be of interest in your research.

Provide students guided experiences skimming online articles. Scholastic archives their articles. This would be a good source for practice articles.
There are many strategies that can be used when skimming. Some people read the first and last paragraphs using headings, summarizes and other organizers as they move down the page or screen. You might read the title, subtitles, subheading, and illustrations. Consider reading the first sentence of each paragraph. This technique is useful when you're seeking specific information rather than reading for comprehension. Skimming works well to find dates, names, and places. It might be used to review graphs, tables, and charts.


Scanning is a technique you often use when looking up a word in the telephone book or dictionary. You search for key words or ideas. In most cases, you know what you're looking for, so you're concentrating on finding a particular answer. Scanning involves moving your eyes quickly down the page seeking specific words and phrases. Scanning is also used when you first find a resource to determine whether it will answer your questions. Once you've scanned the document, you might go back and skim it.

Provide students with three online articles, ask them to scan the articles and select the one that best fits their question. Online journals such as The Smithsonian, National Geographic, or Nature work well for these types of activities.
When scanning, look for the author's use of organizers such as numbers, letters, steps, or the words, first, second, or next. Look for words that are bold faced, italics, or in a different font size, style, or color. Sometimes the author will put key ideas in the margin.
Reading off a computer screen has become a growing concern. Research shows that people have more difficulty reading off a computer screen than off paper. Although they can read and comprehend at the same rate as paper, skimming on the computer is much slower than on paper. In addition, students need practice navigating websites for information. They need to be able locate areas of the website using the navigation tools and search tools. Provide practice by giving students a link to the entry page of a website and asking them to locate information within the website.

Resources for Skimming and Scanning

Informational Reading

When conducting an inquiry, students are looking for information that will be useful in addressing their questions and problems. Provide students with questions to help guide their reading. Students often recognize information they already know and forget to look for new information.

BBC contains good articles for this type of assignment.

Use the following question to help students locate useful information:

There are three keys for reading during research.

Resources for Reading Comprehension


There are many ways to take notes.

Source Notes

It's important that students become accustomed to keeping track of the resources they use before beginning the process of writing or creating a final product.

Key Features

Use Is This Source Useful? (PDF) handout for ideas.

Use Leslie Preddy's Source Notes (Book PDF) (Reference PDF) (Location PDF) (Periodical PDF) (TV or radio PDF) (File PDF) (Video/Audio Recording PDF) (Web Conference PDF) worksheet for ideas.

Use Leslie Preddy's Internet Source Notes (Blog/Email PDF) (Online Journal PDF) (Database PDF) (Website PDF) (Website w/Citation PDF)

Note-taking Activities

The key to notetaking is the cognitive process of asking relevant questions, locating quality information, and recording the key ideas without simply copying information.

Practice three different approaches:

Paraphrase and Summarize. A traditional approach to note-taking is paraphrasing or summarizing information. Provide students with practice in summarizing information. This works well with screen reading. Rather than copying, students read off the screen, think about what they read, and switch to a word processing document. Ask them to write without looking at the original document.

Text-messages. When you take notes, you can't write everything down. The second approach is to think of note-taking like sending a text message. What is the most important information you need to remember? Include the key words and your thoughts about the usefulness of the information without using lots of words.

Trash or Treasure is an example of a technique used by many teachers and students. When taking notes, you only want to keep the treasures. Think of a treasure map. The map is the article and the X on the map is the exact location of the buried treasure. When you find the spot with good information, toss aside the dirt and rocks (trash). Record the treasure words that help answer the research question. Demonstrate this approach using a research question (highlight key words) and a sample article (mark out unrelated information and circle the treasures). Go back and mark out more words until you focus on the "spot" containing the best treasure.

Help students build arguments. "I'm looking for information about conifers that will grown best in our area. I'll trash information that doesn't fit my need." The Trash or Treasure approach is effective in helping young people collect evidence and build arguments.

Invent your own ways to help students analyze information.

Use Leslie Preddy's Taking Notes (PDF 1) (PDF 2) sheet and bookmark for ideas.

Online Tools

Many online tools can be used to organize notes:

Citations & Plagiarism

As students take notes, it's important that they cite sources.

Citing Sources

Model the process of citing sources. Complete a citation as a group identifying the required information. Use Leslie Preddy's Pre-Search Activity 2: Free Inquiry (PDF) sheet as an example.

Consider the use of an online citation builder.

Easybib is a cool service that helps you cite sources, but it also provides resources for research. You can search the bibliographies of the many people who have cited sources to locate good materials for search.

Discuss the copyright law with students and why citing sources is important. Use online interactives to teach about the law.


Plagiarism is a concern of both students and teachers. It's a form of academic dishonesty and occurs when a student claims the work of others as he or her own. It doesn't matter if the "copying" is intentional or not. It's still plagiarism. There are three easy ways to avoid plagiarism. First, cite all information including audio and images used in a project. Second, always use quotes when copying directly from a source. Third, summarize or paraphrase key ideas not entire passages.

Creating a final product that involves transforming information from one form to another is an easy way to avoid plagiarism. For instance, turn historical facts into a visual timeline or turn a photograph into a paragraph description. Or ask students to make a comparison rather than simply reporting on a topic.

There are some great online resources to help teach students about plagiarism.

Evidence & Associations

As students collect data, they need to begin thinking of this information as evidence to support their thoughts and address their questions. Otherwise, they'll end up with a report that's simply a patchwork of quotes from articles.

The Ds of Evidence

deathStudents need to keep their central question in mind as they work with evidence. For instance, they might ask "what should be done with "road kill"? Use the Ds of evidence to guide this their analysis. They could use the visuals collected from sites such as the Wild Images Gallery: The Cycle of Life after Death from Banff National Park in Canada to analyze the question and possible solutions (see a sample image from the series on the right).

Apply the Ds of Evidence to this problem:

VillageThe Ds of Evidence can be applied to any topic such as The Lost Colony of Roanoke.

My teacher asked me to select an image that represents the main idea of my inquiry. I'm applying the Ds of Evidence to see if this illustration by John White really emcompasses my understanding of the native people at Roanoke during the 1500s.

John White (1540-1593) was an artist and become governor of Roanoke Colony. His were some of the earliest images by Europeans depicting native people. The recreations at historical sites match White's images and the materials available for construction in the 1500s. In 1590, Theodor de Bry copied White's work, but distorted the images.

The Ds of Evidence can be applied to any question or problem such as "how harmful is smoking to human health?"

Build Associations

In addition to analyzing evidence, students also need to begin organizing this information. Although assimilation occurs deep within our brain, we can use visual activities to build these associations. Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (1997) identified six graphic organizers that correspond to six common information organization patterns:

These patterns can be applied to syrup production.

Syrup production

Another way to build associations is to make comparisons of personal relevance. For instance, use state and local websites to make local connections.



Information Organization

Students need tools such as concept maps for organizing information. As students take notes and arrange their ideas they begin to see where they need additional information related to their focus.

Rather than a semester-long project, think about how you can use online information to model how information can be skimmed, analyzed, and categorized. Each of the following activities requires students to skim for information, then organize their findings.

English. Exploring superheroes is a fun way to explore the fictional world of characters. Go to the Superhero Database. Ask students to categorize superheroes showing their results on a chart or concept map. Students could then build their own.

Science. The macroinvertebrates found in water indicate the health of the water. Go to the Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Our Water page. Click on a creature and scan the page for indicator information. Categorize the macroinvertebrates into helpful and harmful. Then create a visual diagram showing at least four creatures in each of these two categories.

There are many technology-enhanced tools to help students organize, visualize, and associate information they gather.

ReadWriteThink Tools

The ReadWriteThink tools from the National Council of Teachers of English can be used across the curriculum. The website has links to their many organizing tools.

Data Calculation and Conversion

Data Calculation and Conversion

Data Organization and Synthesis

Use tools where data can be easily organized and reorganized. Use tools to get students thinking about their data and the information they’ve collected. Use real-world company websites such as the AT&T data calculator. Use tools to help students visualize comparisons or see cause and effect.

Additional Resources

Facilitate Inquiry

At this point in the research process, you want young people to be begin comparing ideas, possible solutions, and alternative ways of thinking. Look for ways to encourage discussions beyond the classroom into hallways and cyberspace.

Encourage students to think of note-taking as more than summarizing information. It’s about collecting evidence and building association. This is a time for thinking rather than making final decisions or drawing conclusions. Provide students with questions to guide their reading.

Use guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:

  1. What evidence have I collected?
  2. What are the patterns, relationships, connections, sequences, or causes/effects?
  3. How do I handle ambiguity?
  4. How does this new evidence match my prior knowledge?
  5. How does this relate to...?
  6. What ideas have we learned that I can apply in this situation?
  7. Can I give examples and non-examples?
  8. How and why is this happening
  9. What inferences and be drawn?
  10. What additional information is needed?
  11. How can this data be synthesized?
  12. How do I know what formula or concept is most useful in applying to this situation?


Learn More



As you develop assignments related to inquiry, consider the information standards that can be addressed.

(Common Core Standards for Literacy Across the Curriculum Grades 6-8)

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).

Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic.

Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Analyze the author's purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text.

Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.

(Standards for the 21st Century Learner)

Make sense of information gathered from diverse sources by identifying misconceptions, main and supporting ideas, conflicting information, and point of view or bias.

Seek divergent perspectives during information gathering and assessment.

Organize knowledge so that it is useful.

Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information.

Respect the differing interests and experiences of others, and seek a variety of viewpoints.

Connect ideas to own interests and previous knowledge and experience.

Organize personal knowledge in a way that can be called upon easily.

Maintain openness to new ideas by considering divergent opinions, changing opinions or conclusions when evidence supports the change, and seeking information about new ideas encountered through academic or personal experiences.

(National Educational Technology Standards for Students)

Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.

Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.

Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.

Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.

Websites to Explore

Explore the following online resources to learn more.


Kuhlthau, Carol (2004). Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd Edition. Available through Libraries Unlimited.

Professional Development Activity

sharePick ONE of the following five activities. Then, share your ideas on the group Graphic Inquiry Ning. Look for the assignment forum related to "ASSIMILATION".

  1. Discuss an activity that helps students become more effective online readers in your content area.
  2. Create a mini-lesson to review citing sources and the hazards of plagarism. Consider the use of an online citation builder.
  3. Build your own Ds of Evidence activity.
  4. Design an activity that focuses on one of the 6 patterns to build associations.
  5. Explore data calculation, data conversion, data organization and synthesis technology tools. Discuss how you might use one of these tools in your classroom.

Add your posting as a REPLY at the bottom of the forum page. It's fine to attach a document or link to a Google Doc if you wish.

After sharing you ideas, be sure to come back and provide feedback for at least one of your peers. I'll be sharing my ideas, suggestions, and comments too!

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