How to Make Your Questions Essential

flickr photo by mripp http://flickr.com/photos/56218409@N03/15371262455 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo by mripp http://flickr.com/photos/56218409@N03/15371262455 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Strong, provocative questions drive the best discussions and push student thinking. This Educational Leadership piece outlines seven ways to make your essential questions hit their target.

Essential questions rarely arise in a first draft. Here’s how to construct good ones.

The well-known aphorism that “writing is revision” applies particularly well to crafting essential questions. With more than 30 years’ experience in teaching through questions and helping educators create great unit-framing queries, we’ve repeatedly seen the wisdom of this saying.

But what makes a question essential in the first place? Essential questions foster the kinds of inquiries, discussions, and reflections that help learners find meaning in their learning and achieve deeper thought and better quality in their work. Essential questions meet the following criteria:

  • They stimulate ongoing thinking and inquiry.
  • They’re arguable, with multiple plausible answers.
  • They raise further questions.
  • They spark discussion and debate.
  • They demand evidence and reasoning because varying answers exist.
  • They point to big ideas and pressing issues.
  • They fruitfully recur throughout the unit or year.
  • The answers proposed are tentative and may change in light of new experiences and deepening understanding (McTighe & Wiggins, 2013).”  Read the entire article here.
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Understanding by Design

Credit Some rights reserved by c@rljones via Flicker

Like many international schools, AAS-Sofia uses Understanding by Design for our curriculum framework. It was selected for a variety of reasons, including that it seemed the perfect marriage for teaching standards with an inquiry approach.

The best overview of UbD is a 13-page white paper available here. Another excellent resource is an article by Jay McTighe and Elliott Seif called Teaching for Meaning and Understanding: A Summary of Underlying Theory and Research.