Essential Questions

Essential Questions help us steer student learning, getting them to think critically about the world around them. They are not answered. They are invented!

Essential Questions :

  • Have no simple "right" answer; they are meant to be argued
  • Are designed to provoke and sustain student inquiry, while focusing learning and final performances
  • Often address the conceptual or philosophical foundations of a discipline
  • Raise other important questions
  • Naturally and appropriately recur
  • Stimulate vital, ongoing rethinking og big ideas, assumptions, and prior lessons

Samples of Essential Questions?

(Most samples taken from Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe)


  • Must a story have a moral, heroes, and villians?
  • Must a story have a beginning, a middle, or an end?
  • Why do we read?
  • What makes a great story?
  • How do you "read between the lines"?
  • What do good readers do?


  • Why do we write?
  • How do authors "hook and hold" readers?
  • How do writers persuade readers?
  • How is spoken language different from written language?
  • Where do ideas for writing come from?
  • What if we didn't have punctuation marks?


  • What would life be like without numbers?
  • How do patterns affect our lives?
  • what determines value?
  • How would our lives be different if we couldn’t tell time?
  • What does it mean to "reason mathematically"?
  • What can patterns reveal?
  • How can numbers or data lie or mislead?
  • When is estimating better than counting and when not?
  • When is the correct answer not the best solution?


  • Is gravity a fact or theory?
  • How are scientific questions answered?
  • How do simple machines help us in daily life?
  • What is the difference between a human and an animal
  • How does weather affect our lives?
  • Do people influence weather changes?
  • How doe we know what to believe in science?
  • How does an ecosystem respond to change?
  • How can we prove cells make up living things?
  • What is healthful living?

Social Studies

  • Is US history a history of progress?
  • When is a law unjust?
  • What is a community?
  • How can studying the lives of others help us to understand them and ourselves better?
  • What can we learn from the past?
  • Is it always true that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it?
  • Who were the "winner" and who were the "losers" in any historical event?
  • How do a region's geography, climate, and natural resources affect the way people live and work?
  • What story do maps and globes tell?
  • What is worth fighting for?
  • What does it mean to be civilized?
  • Who should decide?
  • Is it OK to break the law? If so, when?


  • How does art convey feeling or evoke emotion?
  • Where can we find art?
  • What can we learn from studying the art of others?
  • Is one picture worth 1,000 words?
  • What determines art?
  • Should we ever sensor artistic expression?
  • Does art have a message? Should it?


  • How does music convey feeling or evoke emotion?
  • What makes music engaging?
  • What determines music?
  • Should we ever sensor musical expression?
  • Does music have a message? Should it?
  • How are sounds and silences organized in various musical forms?

World Language

  • How does language shape culture?
  • How does culture shape language?
  • Why study another culture?
  • What do I do when my ideas are more complex than my ability to communicate them?
  • How can one express complex ideas using simple terms?
  • What determines a fluent foreigner from a native speaker?