An “essential” question is a driving question that leads us to explore the background of a problem and choose from various plans, strategies, or possible courses of action to generate a complex applicable solution.

A good essential question is important to any lesson plan because:

  • it inspires a quest for knowledge and discovery;
  • it encourages and develops critical thinking processes;
  • it leads students to engineer real-world solutions for real-world problems;
  • it is all about possibilities.

So where do you write your essential questions in the unit plan? Start on your Challenge page. You’ll see the prompts for it right in the text area (EQs can be no more than 300 characters).

How to Write an Essential Question

Writing essential questions is actually easy once you understand the concepts and have a place to start. Here is a list of activities you can follow for writing and refining your EQs.

Tip: Being succinct is important with your EQ. It’s just one single question that will drive your whole unit, so make it count!

1. Start with standards

The best place to start is with your curriculum and what you’re passionate about.

Guiding question: What curricular connection do I want to make in my EQ?

2. Present a clear problem or challenge

Your essential question should always present some kind of challenge or problem that students must tackle in order to learn the objectives.

Guiding question: What is the specific problem or challenge I want students to face in this question?

3. Have projects in mind

Make sure your question gives students a need to develop a product/process that will be a solution that they must then apply to the problem or challenge. Note: The project descriptions shouldn’t appear in the actual question (that’s for your learning activities), but the question should be formed with them in the back of your mind.

Guiding question: How can students meet the challenge of this EQ using creativity and ingenuity?

4. Build collaborative challenges

Whenever possible, guide students towards working together to face challenges and to support each other in all problem-solving processes.

Guiding question: What kinds of problems would require students to work together in groups to solve them,  and how can I incorporate that into my EQ?

5. Make sure they can’t “Google it”

Any question that can be answered Yes or No or by a simple Web search isn’t essential—stretch their imaginations!

Guiding question: How can I create curiosity and inspire a knowledge quest with my EQ?

6. Know your limits (and theirs)

Always keep in mind your timeframe and budgetary considerations, and what technology you have available for students to use.

Guiding question: Can these projects be completed within a specific budget/timeframe and with the existing technology we have available to us?

Resources for Essential Questions

You can download our free Essential Questions Guidebook for some great tips and tools on how to build your very best EQs. Also, we’ve got some great links below for you to explore.

  1. Grant Wiggins: What is an Essential Question?
  2. Essential Question Cheatsheet
  3. Tools for Understanding Essential Questions
  4. 25 Essential Questions (list is randomly generated every day)
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