We have completed a Teacher Training Agency (TTA) funded project looking at the teaching and learning of algebra with one mixed- ability year 7 class (11-12 year- olds in the UK). We take Kieran’s (quoted in Sutherland, 1997) definition of algebra and see ourselves as developing a ‘community of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991) in the classroom where the practice is not that of mathematician but of inquirer (Schoenfeld, 1996) into mathematics. The teacher in this community acts as role model for inquirer and metacomments (Bateson, 1972) on the practice of inquiry. In this paper we present evidence for how such metacommenting supports the development of a ‘community of inquiry’ which leads to the ‘need’ for algebraic activity. We conclude with a case study, illustrating one student’s needfor algebra.