Teaching Tip Tuesday: Essential Questions

What are the traits of an essential question?

  • The question probes a matter of considerable importance.
  • The question requires movement beyond understanding and studying – some kind of action or resolve – pointing toward the settlement of a challenge, the making of a choice or the forming of a decision.
  • The question cannot be answered by a quick and simple “yes” or “no” answer.
  • The question probably endures, shifts and evolves with time and changing conditions – offering a moving target in some respects.
  • The question may be unanswerable in the ultimate sense.
Essential Questions are… Essential Questions are NOT…
  • Important questions that recur throughout our lives
  • Broad in scope & timeless by nature, overarching questions that are important for framing courses or units of study
  • Point to the core of big ideas in a subject…historically important & alive in the world
  • Help students inquire and make sense of important but complicated ideas, knowledge, and know-how
  • Few in number and remain the same for an extended period
  • Lesson objectives reworded in interrogative format
  • Posted on the board & changed each day to reflect the goals of the lesson
  • Answered that day
  • Demonstration of what the student will learn and be able to do by the end of the unit/lesson


Essential Questions:

❑ Are open-ended to focus instruction and assessment

❑ Link directly to “unwrapped” standards and Big Ideas

❑ Forecast learning goals for unit of study

❑ Are written in student-friendly language

❑ Reflect both lower and higher levels of questioning—“one-two” punch questions (e.g., knowledge and application)

❑ Lead students to discovery of Big Ideas on their own

❑ Are engaging (not routine questions)

❑ Have “emotive force and intellectual bite” to arouse student interest; require discussion, thought, and investigation to answer

❑ Apply to different contexts across time and cultures

❑ Reflect Interdisciplinary Standards

What are some examples of essential questions? 


1. How do chemicals benefit society?
2. Are animals essential for man’s survival? 
3. Does Missouri have reason to fear a natural disaster?  Which ones or Why not?
4. What must a scientist do in order to research something?

5. What is the best way to balance the need for resource development with protection of the environment?

6. How can we enjoy the fruits of chemistry without spoiling our world?


1. When should I multiply? When can’t I multiply? When is multiplication most useful?  Can multiplication make things smaller?
2. How is geometry used in the real world?
3. What is the role of geometry in advertising, architecture, or fabric design?
4. How would you explain, demonstrate, or draw the ________ process?

5. When is the “correct” answer not the best solution?

6. How do we use ordinal numbers in everyday life?

7. Why do we use variables?

 Social Studies

1. How have ancient Greeks affected our society?
2. Why would the Europeans want to come to the colonies?
3. Why is the concept of ___________ important for students to study today?
4. How does the economy of a society depend on the geography of the region?

5. What does it mean to be a good citizen?

6. Which leader of the previous century did the most to advance the cause of civil rights and liberties?

7. What is the price of progress?

8. What are the traits of a good leader?

 Language Arts

1. Why read?

2. Is Catcher in the Rye a comedy or a tragedy?
3. What is the connection between reading and writing?
4. Do stories need a beginning, middle, and end?  Why?
5. What does literature teach us about life?

6. What does it mean to be a good friend?

7. What are the qualities of a good reader?


1. How can the computer be used as a tool?
2. How would our culture be different without computers?
3. What process would you use to write a letter using Microsoft Word?

4. How should the copyright laws be adjusted to take into account the impact of new technologies?

Physical Education

1. What could you do before athletic event to be in top physical condition?
2. What are the most essential skills for basketball?  Why?
3. How can advertising affect a teen’s choices?

4. Are you healthy? What makes a person healthy?

5. What can you start doing today to lead a healthier life?


1. Why is art necessary?
2. How do people express themselves through art today?
3. How has art changed through time?
4. What choices must a painter make before beginning a work?

5. How does art reflect culture or beliefs?

 Foreign Language

1. How is Spanish/French like and unlike English?
2. In what ways would learning a foreign language be beneficial?



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