Writing Effective Essential Questions By: DonReita Nelson, M.Ed. Goals • To understand what an essential question is • To be able to write effective essential questions An Essential Question is: A question that lies at the heart of a subject or a curriculum and one that promotes inquiry and the discovery of a subject. Essential Questions are critical drivers for teaching and learning… • They can help students discover patterns in knowledge and solve problems. • They support inductive teaching—guiding students to discover meaning, which increases motivation to learn. • They are one of the most powerful tools for helping students think at more complex levels. • They engage the personal intellect—something that traditional objectives usually fail to do. Essential Questions • Have no obvious “right” answer • Raise other important questions, often across subject-area boundaries • Address a concept • Raise other important questions • Naturally and appropriately recur • Stimulate critical, ongoing rethinking • Are framed to provoke and sustain student interest Examples • • • • What is a true friend? What makes an artist amazing? In what sense is the body a system? What is the law of nature, and how is it like or unlike social laws? • To what extent is US history a history of progress? • In what ways do diet and exercise affect health? Examples • Must heroes be flawless? • How do effective writers hook and hold their readers? • How do cultures affect one another? • Does practice make perfect? • What is healthy eating? Healthy living? • How and when do we use mathematics? • How does something acquire value? What makes a question “Essential”? • Continues throughout all our lives • Refers to core ideas and inquiries within a discipline • Helps students effectively ask questions and make sense of important and complex ideas, knowledge, and know-how • Engages a specific and diverse set of learners Intent, not language, is the key: • Purpose for asking the question • How students are to undertake the assignment • What learning activities and assessments we expect Types of Essential Questions • Overarching: The overall “Big Idea” • Topical: Unit or lesson specific but still promotes inquiry GOOD TEACHING USES BOTH! Overarching Essential Questions • More general, broader • Point beyond specific topics or skills • Promote the transfer of understanding Examples of Overarching E.Q. • How do a region’s geography, climate, and natural resources affect the way people live and work? • How does technological change influence people’s lives? Society? • How does what we measure influence how we measure? Examples of Overarching E.Q. • How do we classify the things around us? • Do artists have a responsibility to their audience? To society? • How does language shape culture? • Is pain necessary for progress in athletics? Topical Essential Questions • Unit or lesson specific - used to guide individual units or lessons • Promote inquiry • Resist obvious answers • Require explanation and justification Examples of Topical EQ • How might Congress have better protected minority rights in the 1950s & 1960s? • Should we require DNA samples from every convicted criminal? • Is Holden Caulfield a “phony”? Examples of Topical EQ • What is the value of place value? • What is electricity? • How do we hit with greatest power without losing control? Finding Big Ideas • Unpack the Course of Study Standards – Circle key nouns, adjectives, & verbs – Draft implied or stated big ideas based on those key words. • Critically analyze the course text – Work “backward” to determine what big ideas and/or EQ the text addresses Making the Connection Big Idea Topic or Content Standard Understanding Essential Question Example • Objective: The learner will be able to read, respond to, and critique historically and culturally significant works of literature in order to understand their importance and relationship to past and present cultures. • Overarching EQ: Does literature primarily reflect culture or shape it? • Topical EQ: What does Romeo and Juliet teach us about Shakespeare’s view of destiny? How does it compare to yours? Tips for Brainstorming Essential Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Essential questions combine specific “what” questions related to a particular theme with open-ended “why” and “how” questions to develop conceptual thinking and deep understanding. The purpose for essential questioning is to send students on a search for knowledge toward essential understandings. Essential questions can apply to specific subject areas or topics. Add other questions that you feel are important. Use a combination of specific and open-ended questions to include the how and why. Stop covering curriculum and let students uncover essential understanding.