After all the initial work on causes of hunger, we asked students what connections they could make between the causes of hunger. They did this in small groups. Listening to how students identified connections and explained their thinking was a clear indication of the levels of understanding they had reached (or hadn't!) Students helped each other when they asked questions for clarification. They had to think about what they'd learned so far. Students had to think of how to put what they'd said in writing to add to the chart.
The more I hear discussion and questioning and thinking out loud from my groups of students the better I am able to decide when to have them start their own inquiries in our study area.
The substantive conversations that occurred during this collaboration are vital for our EAL students too. They learn new vocabulary. They hear it being used over and over and they get to practise using their new words and phrases as they all discuss their ideas.