inductive teaching

Inductive Teaching: Train Your Class Like Holmes and Watson

What makes Sherlock Holmes such a great detective?

Is it his British charm and quick wit? His encyclopedic knowledge of crime, Greater London and understanding of human behavior?

Or is it his determination to get results and the logical process of inductive reasoning?

For me, reading and watching the world-renowned detective’s mystery-solving processes unfold is just as exciting as the end reveal.

This is why I’ve always loved the great works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the stories of Holmes and Watson. The anticipation and journey leading to the eureka moment are just as exciting as the eureka itself!

But little did I know that I’d been implementing a teaching method known as inductive teaching in my English classroom from day one.

If you’re stuck wondering what exactly an inductive process of teaching involves, how it can be used in an English classroom setting and the possible pitfalls of such an approach, then it’s time to grab your tape measure, deerstalker hat and magnifying glass.

Because in this blog post, we’ll investigate this ultra-effective teaching method together!

Inductive Teaching: Train Your Class Like Holmes and Watson

What Exactly Is Inductive Teaching?

Firstly, it’s important to know that this method is commonly referred to as discovery teaching as well, and it makes sense why.

The underlying process is one in which the teacher would present their students with specific examples and encourage them to discover or infer the underlying rule based on the information before them.

In this way, you’re motivating your students to partake in an exercise of natural discovery, leading to a moment of realization and understanding sometimes known as “the A-HA moment.”

A shift occurs between the teacher and the student when using this method, and Cult of Pedagogy founder Jennifer Gonzalez provides an outstanding summary of it.

Inductive vs. Deductive Teaching

Let’s do a quick breakdown of the two popular approaches, as they’re commonly confused and mischaracterized.

Inductive teaching: Involves a process whereby an educator provides examples or a model is given, and a rule is therefore determined or inferred by the students (for a rundown of this see below!).

Deductive teaching: Essentially the inverse of inductive teaching, whereby a teacher would provide a specific rule and students would be required to apply this rule to their examples and questions.

When to Use Inductive Teaching vs. Deductive Teaching

When it comes to deciding which method to use, remember that there’s no one best approach. It’s generally accepted that a combination of the two could be beneficial depending on the subject matter at hand.

Let’s take a look at some factors that may play into your decision making.

When to Use Inductive Teaching

  • You want to ensure that learning is taking place in the hands of the students and they’re in command of their reasoning process.
  • You’re teaching a simple, consistent and applicable grammar rule (as it can be more easily comprehended by your students).
  • Your students work better in pairs or small groups.
  • There’s some room for exploration and discovery in the lesson.
  • Your students are motivated learners and eager to take on new skills.
  • Your class consists of primarily young students (as inductive teaching is generally more favorable for younger learners).

When to Use Deductive Teaching

  • You’re aiming to create a more equal classroom, as all students are provided with the same tools.
  • You’re teaching a complex concept that’s prone to a number of exceptions and is easily confused.
  • You’re teaching students individually or taking a one-on-one approach.
  • Accuracy is of paramount importance in the classroom or a particular lesson.
  • Time is a serious factor in the lesson.
  • Your class consists primarily of adult learners.

Why Does Inductive Teaching Work?

Inductive teaching forms part of a wider strategy of self-discovery and self-educating, which has seen a surge in popularity in recent times.

The learning takes place in the hands of the student and in this way it can be a highly effective tool to encourage student participation and engagement.

Studies have shown that when compared to the deductive approach, inductive teaching is generally more effective. In addition to this, inductive reasoning is an underlying force in the cognitive development of children.

Some of the greatest benefits of inductive teaching are as follows:

Of course, it’s important to be aware of some potential downfalls as well, such as:

  • Students may be more accustomed to a deductive way of learning, either through the overuse of textbooks or previous experience at institutions that used deductive teaching, as it’s considered a more traditional approach.
  • Incorrect conclusions may be drawn when presented with information, leading to student frustration.
  • The approach can be time-consuming.
  • The differences between student levels may become more evident, leading to discouragement and a loss of confidence in abilities.

Strategies for the Inductive Teacher

The inductive teacher must be modern, flexible and an inquirer who’s also attentive to the overall process of learning that’s taking place before them in the classroom.

In this way, a number of strategies can be implemented to ensure that the learning process is running smoothly and that the students are engaged and on the right track:

  • Review your goals as a teacher. Being up-to-date with the latest trends, methods and resources is not only a great habit to maintain but is now an overriding expectation in the modern classroom. It’s important to mix things up, and a balanced understanding of the key differences between inductive and deductive teaching is a great start.
  • Build a constructionist classroom. Remove the fear of inquiry and aim to create an environment in which students are actively encouraged to ask questions, dig deep and push each other to explore complex topics.
  • Motivate students to question. Encouraging students to ask questions can be a tough ask. That’s why it’s important to focus on the constructionist goal as mentioned above and to remind students that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
  • Inspire confidence and trust. By providing consistent encouragement, positive vibes and collaborating with students, they’ll in-turn be more willing to actively voice questions and explore.
  • Group students together. Inductive teaching is one of those approaches that works really well when students are paired. By doing so, the students are able to discuss and gain confidence, as the exploration doesn’t seem as daunting. By bouncing questions off each other, the process occurs in a team, thereby eliminating some of the fear we previously discussed.

What Would an Inductive Class Look Like?

Inductive teaching can be incorporated into arguably every component of the English language acquisition, whether it be grammar, spelling, syntax, vocabulary, pronunciation and more.

Here, I’ll propose two approaches to implementing an inductive lesson—a traditional approach to inductive teaching versus a more modern approach.

Traditional Approach

If we take a class for intermediate learners focusing on learning the second conditional and when to use it, a simple exercise may appear as follows:

You would begin by asking the students a couple of sample questions using the form:

“If I saw a person in trouble, I would/might help them.”


“If I won the lottery, I would build a swimming pool full of ice-cream.”

(Of course, as English speakers, we know that the standard structure of a second conditional is as follows:  “if + past simple + would/might + infinitive.” But we can’t give away the rule just yet!)

These questions could either be printed on worksheets for the students to discover or asked verbally. Some follow-up questions could be used to steer the students in the right direction:

“Do the sentences refer to a real or a hypothetical situation?”

“Do the questions refer to something that happened hypothetically in the past or something that will happen hypothetically in the future?”

“What are the differences between the questions?”

“What are the similarities?”

Hopefully, the conclusion drawn is that the structure is used when referring to hypothetical situations in the future or an unlikely situation.

The teacher may now feel confident presenting the rule in its usual form after ensuring students have reached a natural understanding of this conditional.

He/she could then continue by re-arranging the clauses and encouraging students to practice further.

Modern Approach

This is a perfect way to ensure that the class is contemporary and relevant to the modern student.

I can’t tell you how many of my students have had that A-HA moment not in the classroom but through understanding a particular rule or grammatical structure from their favorite TV series or song!

“I never knew it was pronounced that way!”

“Is Beyonce using the second conditional in her song ‘If I Were a Boy’?”

And on and on it goes.


Congratulations, you’ve cracked the case!

By ensuring that your classroom is engaging, your students are using their own reasoning and you’re facilitating proper learning through this inductive teaching method, you’ll successfully motivate the next generation of English grammar experts and speaking detectives!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe