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Engineering educators are increasingly being encouraged to adopt instructional methods that engage students in authentic activities to foster inquiry and deeper conceptual understanding. However, a significant challenge facing professors who would like to incorporate such methods into their teaching is a lack of understanding of its basic principles, mechanisms, and features. This paper reports results of an innovative means of investigating promising approaches to inquiry-based teaching/learning in undergraduate engineering courses at an urban research university on the U.S.-Mexico border. The research design incorporates analysis of natural language data from classroom interaction to shed light on teaching and learning practices that show promise for fostering enduring conceptual understanding. Highlighted are the classroom practices of one professor who designed and implemented a problem-based case in an undergraduate industrial engineering course, which the researcher video-taped and transcribed. Linguistic analysis of this transcript provided descriptions of instructional practices that encourage learnerspsila engagement with key concepts. Implications of the analytical approach are drawn for the investigation of conceptual understanding and the design and refinement of inquiry-oriented classroom practices.