Children with disabilities, complex learning needs, and challenging behaviors deserve to participate meaningfully in their world. What better way for this to start than in the classroom at the youngest grade levels? The flexible activities of the Shared Inquiry™ method naturally differentiate instruction. The outstanding complex texts in Junior Great Books® support meaningful discussions of essential questions about friendship, fairness, generosity, community, and many other themes that help students grow and captivate student interest. This student-centered approach to learning allows for participation in classroom general education activities for students with disabilities, giftedness, special learning needs, and those who are English language learners. Here are several ways to differentiate instruction for these learners through Junior Great Books materials and the Shared Inquiry method of learning.

Students can access texts in a variety of ways, such as hearing the audio recordings provided in Junior Great Books Digital Classroom.


English Language Learners

Many of the activities in a Shared Inquiry unit help English Language Learners have deep conversations about texts with their peers. For example, the first reading of a text is usually done aloud. This is followed by the Sharing Questions activity, in which participants share their questions about the text with the class, and their peers help them find answers to those questions, which can include questions about language and usage. The read-aloud format of this activity gives all students access to texts that they may not have had before. For the ELL student, there is an added benefit of hearing patterns of fluency and intonation in the English language. This provides a differentiated way to build vocabulary and background knowledge, while practicing oral language skills.

Teacher reading to kids before a Great Books Shared Inquiry Discussion

Most teachers provide the first reading of a Junior Great Books story by reading aloud.


Special Needs and Disabilities

Diverse learners have multiple opportunities to connect with and build their understanding during a Junior Great Books unit, thanks to sustained interaction with rich texts. With multiple opportunities to engage with the same text, students are given time to process information and formulate carefully considered opinions about the meaning of a selection, based on evidence they have gathered to support their ideas. 

The method also offers flexibility in how answers can be submitted and graded. Students can share their thoughts orally, in writing, and even in picture format. Students can also access the content in multiple ways throughout each unit. Read-alouds are encouraged at all grade levels, and digital versions of the text support engagement for students with visual impairments through text enlargement and color change.

A student participates in an extension activity by drawing a comic strip of the soldiers making the soup from the story “Stone Soup” in Junior Great Books Series 1.



During Shared Inquiry discussion, the cornerstone activity in a Junior Great Books unit, students are given an open-ended question to consider and discuss with peers. This interpretive approach challenges gifted students to consider multiple perspectives and reasonings behind ideas. It also gives them the opportunity to dive into the deep meaning of rich texts and explore nuances in texts that probably would not be discussed in traditional approaches to learning. This interpretive approach has proven to support twice and three times exceptional students in being challenged. This approach also helps teachers identify students for gifted programs who have been under-identified by traditional methods of assessment. 

Combining outstanding literature, the flexible student-centered activities, and a model of the teacher as a “guide on the side” enables all students to share their unique perspectives and grow as learners. Teachers who use the Shared Inquiry method transform their classrooms into places where inclusion is the norm, not the exception.

Learn More!

The Great Books Foundation provides outstanding classroom materials for grades K–8, as well as top-notch professional development in inquiry-based learning to help you make the most of each of our high-quality readings in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. We help you bring a spirit of collaboration and inclusiveness to all students, while improving reading comprehension, critical thinking, writing, and speaking and listening skills. Contact us today to see how we can help!