A good essential question:
- Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.
- Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
- Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
- Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
- Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
- Requires support and justification, not just an answer.
- Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again.
Questions that meet all or most of these criteria qualify as essential. These are questions that are not answerable with finality in a single lesson or a brief sentence—and that’s the point. Their aim is to stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, and to spark more questions, including thoughtful student questions, not just pat answers. They are provocative and generative. By tackling such questions, learners are engaged in uncovering the depth and richness of a topic that might otherwise be obscured by simply covering it.
Adapted from Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding, by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (April 9, 2013)
Sample Essential Questions:
- Who am I?
- What is a family?
- What makes a city special?
- Where does our food come from?
- How will you help a TC student adjust to spending a year at your campus?
- How do people here and in France describe a balanced lifestyle?
From: The Keys to Planning for Learning, by Donna Clementi and Laura Terrill, ACTFL, 2013