Essential questions
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Essential Questions. Sandy Stuart-Bayer Lee’s Summit High School. Essential Questions. Are arguable-and important to argue about. Are at the heart of the subject. Recur--and should recur--in professional work, adult life, as well as in the classroom.

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Essential Questions

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Essential questions

Essential Questions

Sandy Stuart-Bayer

Lee’s Summit High School

Essential questions1

Essential Questions

  • Are arguable-and important to argue about.

  • Are at the heart of the subject.

  • Recur--and should recur--in professional work, adult life, as well as in the classroom.

  • Raise more questions—”parent” questions that produce more questions.

  • Often raise important issues.

  • Can provide a purpose for learning.

Essential questions2

Essential Questions

  • Are provocative, enticing, and engagingly framed.

  • Are higher-order, in Bloom's sense: they are always matters of analysis, synthesis, and evaluative judgment. You must “go beyond” the information given.

  • Or, in BPA terms, they are Proficient and Advanced, never Basic.

  • Answers to essential questions cannot be found. They must be invented.

Essential vs leading q s


Asked to be argued

Designed to “uncover” new ideas, views, lines of argument

Set up inquiry, heading to new understandings.


Asked as a reminder, to prompt recall

Designed to “cover” knowledge

Point to a single, straightforward fact-a rhetorical question

Essential vs. leading Q’s

Essential questions3

Essential Questions

  • Essential questions often begin with . .

    • Why?

    • Which?

    • How?

    • What if?

  • Why do things happen the way they do?

  • Which do I select?

  • How could things be made better?

  • Which is best?

  • What if this happened?

Essential questions4

Essential Questions

  • Should require one of the following thought processes:

    • Requires developing a plan or course of action


    • Requires making a decision

Essential questions5

Essential Questions


  • Must a story have a moral? A beginning, middle, and end? Heroes and villains?

  • Is Russia becoming more or less democratic since Brezhnev came into power?

  • Is geometry more like map-making and using a map, or inventing and playing games like chess? Were theorems invented or discovered?

  • Is prejudice more a view of race or class?

  • What makes a family a community?

  • Do statistics always lie?

Essential questions6

Essential Questions

Examples continued

  • Are some aspects of another language and culture not understandable by people from other cultures?

  • Is gravity a fact or a theory? Is evolution a scientific law or a theory?

  • In what ways are animals human, and in what way are humans animals?

  • Do mathematical models conceal as much as they reveal?

  • (From Understanding by Design: Curriculum and Assessment, pp. 34-35)

Related or supporting questions

Related or Supporting Questions

  • These are the smaller questions that must be answered in order to answer the big, essential question.

  • They provide background and guide the work.

  • They tend to be more topic and subject-specific.



  • For additional information on the importance of questioning and the different types of questions see:

    • Jamie McKenzie’s Questioning Toolbox

      • or

    • The Question IS the Answer

      • or

    • UnderstandingbyDesign Powerpoint

But my teacher wants a thesis statement

But my teacher wants a thesis statement. . .

  • If your research assignment is required to have a thesis statement, essential questions will help you develop it.

  • Take a look at this presentation on thesis statements from essential questions.

To learn more about thesis statements

To Learn More about Thesis Statements

  • Purdue OWL’s Thesis or Question

  • Joyce Valenza’s “What is a Thesis?”

  • Indiana University’s “How to Write a Thesis Statement”

Essential questions

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