Essential Questions

Essential Questions should:

1) Provoke deep thought – spark discussion and debate.
2) Encourage critical thinking, not memorization of facts.
3) Require information gathering and evaluation of data.
4) Result in an original answer.
5) Do not have a yes or no answer.
6) May not have an answer.
7) May have multiple answers.
8) Raise additional questions and spark further inquiry
9) Take a long time to answer.
10) May change as understanding deepens.

Examples of the first few words that typically lead to essential questions:

Which one…?
What if…?
How would you….?
What would result if….?
How would you describe….?
How does…compare with….?
What is the relationship between….?
What would happen if….?
How could I change….?
How would I improve….?
How do I feel about….?
Why do I believe….?

Here is a sampling of current and past essential questions.

Can insects be trained to avoid certain stimuli?
Is there a difference in the ability to lie based on age?
How accurate are the physics in video games?
How does gardening prevent Nature Deficit Disorder?
Does square foot gardening produce more food?
What is the root cause of gender wage discrepancy in Kenya?
Can performance poetry be used to help students gain confidence?
What are characteristics good leaders in Kenya and Canada have in common? What are the risk factors for heart attacks in Kenya? How can communities be encouraged to take care of their health?
How can sound be manipulated in a sound studio in order to change the listener’s perception of the subject?
What is the evolutionary history of human anger, curiosity and trust?
Do people perceive colour in the same way?
How can social media be used to stop elephant poaching?
How can visual arts be used to aid animal conservation?
How can youth further the aims of the Residential School Truth and Reconciliation.
How can schools become better environmental role models?

Comparison between essential and non-essential questions:

Not Essential:
What is Ebola?
Which disease most deserves research funding?

Not Essential:
What subjects do students study in schools?
What if students didn’t have to go to school?

Not Essential:
Which countries are trying to clone humans?
Should we clone humans?

Still Wondering? Here are a few more examples of strong Essential Questions:

How do individuals develop values and beliefs?
How do values and beliefs change over time?
How does family play a role in shaping our values and beliefs?
Can literature serve as a vehicle for social change?
How are prejudice and bias created?
Why is art necessary in our schools?
How has art in schools changed through time?
How can advertising affect a teen’s choices?
How does Facebook affect our relationships with our friends?
How can teachers/schools become better environmental role models?
How can we encourage teenagers to feel good about their bodies?
How can we bridge the generation gap between parents and their children? Through music – arts?
Can music (any other art) help young students gain confidence and become more social?
Can teenagers influence younger students to avoid drugs and other harmful behaviour?
What if students could find a safe place to share their fears?
How can contributing to a social cause help students overcome their own problems?