Schools and districts strive to be proactive and engage in activities promoting and supporting mental health awareness. Academic stress, peer pressure, and social media can impact students’ and teachers’ mental health. All of us are facing increasing stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, so it is essential to have effective strategies to support our well-being. One approach that can be particularly useful is the Great Books Foundation’s Shared Inquiry™ methodology. Shared Inquiry promotes critical thinking, active listening, and respectful dialogue, all key components of fostering mental health and well-being.

Shared Inquiry is a method of teaching and learning that focuses on exploring complex texts in a group setting. The method involves three key components: close reading, discussion, and interpretation. Students work collaboratively to analyze a text and interpret its meaning by engaging in respectful dialogue and active listening.

Using the Shared Inquiry method in schools can be an effective way to promote mental health awareness. Here are some of the ways this approach can help:

Blaine students reading to each other

First-graders enjoy discussing “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts at Blaine Elementary School in Chicago.


Encourage Open Communication

Shared Inquiry encourages open communication and active listening, which can help students feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues related to mental health. When students feel heard and validated, they are more likely to open up about their struggles and seek help.


Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Shared Inquiry emphasizes critical thinking skills, which can help students analyze their own thought patterns and challenge negative self-talk. This can be particularly helpful for students dealing with anxiety and depression, as they can learn to recognize and challenge their own negative thoughts and beliefs. This skill is essential for mental health awareness because it allows students to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings and assess whether they are healthy and constructive.


Build Empathy

Shared Inquiry also fosters empathy, as students are encouraged to consider multiple perspectives and understand the experiences of others. This can be helpful for students who may be struggling with mental health challenges themselves or who may be supporting friends or family members who are.


Promote Active Listening

Shared Inquiry requires students to actively listen to one another and build on each other’s ideas. This skill is vital for mental health awareness because it helps students to develop empathy and understand the perspectives of others. Active listening also encourages students to be present in the moment and fully engage with their own thoughts and feelings.


Foster Respectful Dialogue

Shared Inquiry promotes respectful dialogue, essential for creating a safe and supportive learning environment. By practicing respectful dialogue, students learn to express their thoughts and feelings constructively and respectfully, even when disagreeing. This skill is crucial for mental health awareness because it helps students develop healthy communication habits they can use throughout their lives.

Incorporating mental health awareness into Shared Inquiry discussions is relatively straightforward. Teachers can select texts that address mental health topics, such as depression, anxiety, and resilience. Alternatively, teachers can encourage students to relate the themes and characters of a particular text to their own experiences and emotions. Junior Great Books® has thematic units on Confidence, Bravery, Friendship, and many more topics that show students how characters work through challenging times.

Confidence theme introduction page from Junior Great Books Series 3, Book One. Each thematic unit has three stories.

Developing Skills for Healthy Lives

As schools continue to prioritize mental health, approaches like Shared Inquiry can be an essential part of a comprehensive approach to promoting well-being and success for all students. This approach provides a safe and supportive learning environment where students can openly discuss mental health issues and learn from one another’s experiences. Ultimately, it enables students to develop skills for healthy, productive lives.

To learn more about Junior Great Books programs and the Shared Inquiry method of learning, get in touch with your K–12 partnership manager. They will be happy to talk about how our programs can benefit your students, and how educators in your setting can take our professional development to learn, practice, and master Shared Inquiry and use the method not only in language arts, but across the curriculum.