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The Shared Inquiry Method

Our discussions follow the Great Books Shared Inquiry Method. Participants help one another search for answers to fundamental questions raised by a text. Participants come to the discussion with their own unique way of viewing the selection; they then try to build on their own views through a sharing of ideas.

The leader’s role is to provide direction and guidance for the discussion by asking questions for which they genuinely do not know the answer. The leader is not an expert; the group should not look to him or her for answers. The leader assumes the role of co-learner and helps the group by asking interpretive questions – questions that have more than one possible answer based on the text. The leader also assists the group by asking follow-up questions – questions that encourage participants to clarify comments, to support ideas with evidence from the reading, and to comment on proposed interpretations.

The Four Rules of Shared Inquiry Discussion

  1. Only those who have read the selection may take part in discussion. Participants who have not read the selection cannot support their opinions with evidence from the text, nor can they bring a knowledge of the text to bear on the opinions of others.

  2. Discussion is restricted to the selection that everyone has read. This rule gives everyone an equal chance to contribute because it limits discussion to a selection that all participants are familiar with and have before them. When the selection is the sole focus of discussion, everyone can determine whether facts are accurately recalled and opinions adequately supported.

  3. All opinions should be supported with evidence from the selection. Participants may introduce outside opinions only if they can restate the opinions in their own words and support the ideas with evidence from the selection.

  4. Leaders may only ask questions – they may not answer them. Leaders help themselves and participants understand a selection by asking questions that prompt thoughtful inquiry.


The goal of a Shared Inquiry discussion is interpretation. Your discussions will be richer and more productive if you remember to:

  • Temper the urge to speak with the discipline to listen.

  • Substitute the impulse to teach with a passion to learn.

  • Hear what is said and listen for what is meant.

  • Merge your certainties with others’ possibilities.

  • Reserve judgment until you can claim understanding.

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