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What are Essential Questions?
In educational terms, an "essential question" is a question that drives the lesson being taught. When creating a lesson plan, the teacher should base the lesson on essential questions, which are based on concepts that students should understand by the time they complete the unit. Preferably, essential questions should provoke thought, and not be answered "yes" or "no." ("Why is the sky blue?" not "Is the sky blue?")
For example, in a lesson plan about the water cycle, essential questions might be:
- What are the steps in the water cycle?
- What are the causes and effects of evaporation?
- Why is the water cycle important?
A question is essential when it:
causes genuine and relevant inquiry into the big ideas and core content;
provokes deep thought, lively discussion, sustained inquiry, and new understanding as well as more questions;
requires students to consider alternatives, weigh evidence, support their ideas, and justify their answers;
stimulates vital, on-going rethinking of big ideas, assumptions, and prior lessons;
sparks meaningful connections with prior learning and personal experiences;
naturally recurs, creating opportunities for transfer to other situations and subjects.
Here is a variety of subject-area examples of such questions:
How well can fiction reveal truth?
Why did that particular species/culture/person thrive and that other one barely survive or die?
How does what we measure influence how we measure? How does how we measure influence what we measure?
Is there really a difference between a cultural generalization and a stereotype?
How should this be modeled? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this model? (science, math, social sciences)
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.
The question may frustrate the researcher, may prove arid rather than fertile and may evade the quest for clarity and understanding.
Essential Questions For Students
Mary Alice Osborne
A mini guide to asking essential questions:
How to ask essential questions:
Lesson plan using essential questions (and newspapers):
Websites for Essential Questions
help on how to format text
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