Essential Questions
What is an Essential Question?
EQs are questions that are not able to be answered with finality. Instead, they provoke students
to probe deeper into inquiry which, in turn, prompts further questioning and the development of
critical thinking.
Seven Characteristics of EQs
1. Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.
2. Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
3. Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot
be effectively answered by recall alone.
4. Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
5. Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
6. Requires support and justification, not just an answer.
7. Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again.
McTighe, Jay, and Grant P. Wiggins. Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student
Understanding. Alexandria: ASCD, 2013. Print.
So, EQs are core-focused (get to the heart of the course), inquiry-based, interdisciplinary, and
engaging, and they reinforce thinking skills.
Writing An Essential Question
1. Avoid the simple question such as, “What is cholesterol?”
2. Think about planning backwards. What do you want the students to understand at the end of
the unit? Develop questions around these big ideas/topics.
3. Look in multiple places for inspiration: standards, desired understandings, conceptual topics,
and skills (which can be tricky!).
4. Use the DOK wheel’s Levels 3 & 4 to guide questions toward strategic thinking and extended
thinking (see next page).
5. Develop a question that puts the students in the “driver’s seat,” forcing them to inquire and
create! Using the simple question example from above, revise that question into “What plan
could you develop that would reduce your likelihood of developing bad cholesterol?”
Examples of Essential Questions
Is it acceptable to copy someone else’s recipe?
What plan could I use to prepare a five-course meal?
What is the best plan of action for losing 20 pounds?
How do we critique or improve upon someone else’s recipe?
What can I do to stay physically healthy?
Is it moral to change the chemical make-up of our bodies through what we eat??
How & When to Use EQs
Essential Questions can be used at any time, but they often guide units and discussions. The
most important thing is that you start with clear and explicit goals. Students must also be
“trained” so that they know what is expected of them. They need to know that the aim is
sustained inquiry, not one answer that they think the teacher wants.
Rigor, Depth of Knowledge, and the 4 Cs
The use of EQs should add rigor to your coursework and develop the 4 Cs (critical thinking,
communication, collaboration, and creativity) in your students; however, there are four myths
about rigor in the classroom.
1.
2.
3.
4.
Lots of homework is a sign of rigor.
Rigor means doing more.
Rigor is not for everyone.
Providing support means lessening rigor.
Instead, “rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high
levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student
demonstrates learning at high levels.”
http://static.pdesas.org/content/documents/M1-Slide_21_4_Myths_of_Rigor.pdf
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FCS Essential Questions info sheet