The full lesson plan for this inquiry lesson can be found at

Searching for Gold: A Collaborative Inquiry Project

This activity has been labeled for use with grades 3-5 but I believe it can easily be adapted for use with middle and high school grades.

Using "WOO HOO," I will examine the parts of the lesson:

"W" What is the assignment and what information do I already know?
Invite students to share information on research and inquiry projects they have completed in the past. Ask students to share details on the topics they have researched, the steps they completed in their research process, and how they worked (alone or in groups).
In small groups, students research one aspect of the Gold Rush and teach that topic to the rest of the class. Students create a project to aid in their oral presentation of their researched topic. Once research is complete, each group teaches the rest of the class what they’ve learned through an activity of their choice.
This activity should likely be done after the introduction of the topic of westward expansion and used to expand their knowledge of the gold rush. Most likely, students will have some knowledge that people went west after gold was discovered, but not much beyond that.

"O" Outside sources are used to gather information.
To begin this process, ask students do an initial exploration of the Gold Rush, using selected texts from the Gold Rush booklist. For this part of the project, students can work individually, with partners, or in small groups.
Display the Gold Rush Web sites using the Travelogue, which allows them to take notes as they view Web sites. They can read and take notes online, or print from the Web sites and highlight important information.
The actual lesson plan also suggests having students visit other web sites which can help them in finding facts in a paragraph and then practice on a site with basic information about the gold rush.
Encourage students to use a variety of sources to find information on their topics, including their textbook, selected reference and nonfiction books, and Web sites. Web sites can be bookmarked at a site such as for easy referecing by the students, or students can Google their own sites.

"O" Organize all the information collected.
As student groups work on gathering information for their topic, circulate among them and act as a resource as needed:

  • Meet with each group in rotation to help members identify important information, define terms, and keep their information organized.
  • Ask questions about information that has been recorded and/or group needs.
  • Answer questions.
  • Make suggestions for research materials (books, Web sites, textbook pages, photographs, and other materials related to each group’s topic).
  • Provide assistance for students as needed.
  • Help students do Web site searches and print out information and photographs.
  • Encourage students to keep their information organized.

"H" How does it all connect?
Give students time to consider how does what they have learned connect to the other things they have learned about the United States at during that time period. It would be helpful to give students time at the end of class to share any intersting onformation they have learned and see if the class can make connections between what each of them has discovered.

"O" Orchestrate and synthesize all relevant information into a project that can be shared.
Provide time for students to work on and complete their presentation product on their selected topics. Students can also use any applicable online tool to create their product:

"O" Omega (the end!)
Share your project.

Of the four levels of inquiry learning (confirmation, structured, guided, and open), I believe this lesson, overall, is structured, but allows the children some freedom to visit sites and resources at their own pace. For middle and high students, they could be allowed more frredom in the sites they choose and the projects they wish to create to make it more open. It could be expanded further to allow them to invesitagte any topic related to westward expansion.