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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

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”

Return to LSHS Research

and Problem-Solving Model