Essential Questions

Unit Questions, Inquiry-Based Learning

UDL 3.4

Essential Questions are open-ended questions that require students to engage in higher-order thinking and lead to deeper understandings about a unit of study or specific subject area. This strategy can be used at any time during a lesson or unit to challenge students. Essential Questions should be revisited as students’ responses may change as their perspectives and experiences broaden. Essential Questions can be overarching (e.g., "Does the rapid development of technology have a positive impact on all communities?") or topical (e.g., "In what ways has Romeo and Juliet impacted society's expectations for love?") This strategy supports discussions, debates, and further inquiry. This strategy gives students an opportunity to make connections between units and evaluate complex ideas and knowledge by linking them to personal experiences and prior learning. Features of an Essential Question:
* Open-Ended: The questions do not have a definite answer
* Engaging and Thought-Provoking: The questions are relevant to students' everyday lives
* Promotes Critical Thinking and Further Inquiry: The questions lead to more questions, require analysis of information

Ready-to-Use Resources

Planning Guide

English Language Arts Essential Questions

A set of resources to support writing Essential Questions for English Language Arts that includes sentence frames for the most common Essential Questions and a list of sample topics.

Grade 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · English Language Arts, Reading, Writing · 3 pages

Planning Guide

Math Essential Questions

A set of resources to support writing Essential Questions for Mathematics that includes sentence frames for the most common Essential Questions and a list of example topics.

Grade 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · Math · 3 pages

Implementation Tips

Drafting Essential Questions
Questions should be open-ended and enduring (i.e., are not tied to the values/beliefs of a particular time period). Teachers should avoid questions that are leading (i.e., have a definitive, unchanging answer). Use these resources to write [[|Literary/Informational]] and [[|Mathematics]] Essential Questions.
When to Use
Introduce Essential Questions prior to beginning a new unit. Students can select questions that they are particularly drawn to and would like to focus upon during the unit. Additionally, Essential Questions can be revisited, since they are intended to connect big ideas across units.
Metacognitive Skills
Explicitly teach students the purpose of Essential Questions and how they differ from typical comprehension and analysis questions in order to increase higher order thinking and metacognitive skills.
Student Choice
To increase student engagement, have students develop their own Essential Questions. Teachers can have students complete this exercise at the beginning of the school year or semester as a way to generate overarching questions. Students can also create topical Essential Questions throughout the school year, generating them after previewing the information for a new unit.
Additional Resources
For a sample of different types of questions, visit [[|Essential Questions]]. The list is randomly generated every day with 25 questions across content areas.


Journal Entry
Because Essential Questions are intentionally challenging, it is helpful for students to process their ideas in written form. Teachers can have students respond in a journal or notebook to an Essential Question as a classroom starter activity (i.e., Warm-Up, Bellringer, Do Now) and as a closure activity (e.g., Exit Ticket). Because it is important to revisit Essential Questions, teachers can have students answer an Essential Question several times in different contexts. For example, an introductory Essential Question might ask students, "What makes a hero?" while a follow-up might have students answer, "How does Beowulf change or affirm your thoughts on what makes a hero?"
Essential Questions should broaden students' perspectives. Teachers can have students use Think-Pair-Share as a way to not only share their responses, but listen to a peer whose opinion might be vastly different from their own. After establishing set times for sharing and listening, the teacher can call upon different students to share with the entire class something they said to their partner or something their partner had said to them.
Large-Group Discussions
Essential Questions can be used to stimulate focused, large-group discussions. Use Essential Questions to guide a discussion by having students cite examples from a text or specific piece of content while responding. For example, a teacher might use The Emancipation Proclamation as the focus of the discussion and ask the question, "In what ways can we see the impact of historical events such as the Civil War in our community today?" During the activity, students would respond to the question using quotes from the speech to support their analyses.
Project-Based Learning Activity
Essential Questions can be used as the framework for a unit or a project. The question can be drafted as a challenge or issue that merits further inquiry and results in a proposed solution. For example, students can be asked, "What are ways our school can support healthy eating in the community?" This question promotes further inquiry and guides students in their research (e.g., "What is a healthy diet?" "Why do people eat unhealthy foods?") as they develop an action plan to address the problem.

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