Essential Questions*


Essential questions have certain qualities*
  • They point to the heart of a subject or topic, especially its controversies.
  • They generate multiple plausible answers and perspectives leading to other questions.
  • They cast old knowledge, ideas, and texts in a new light
  • They lead to discovery. You don't need to know all the information on a particular topic, but know essential information well. Less is better.
  • Go in depth in your study instead of trying to cover a broad topic
  • Essential questions engender further and deepening interest in the subject.
  • Essential questions require higher-order thinking: they require analysis, synthesis, and evaluative judgment.
  • You must go beyond" the information given.
  • Answers to essential questions cannot be found. They must be invented.


Brainstorm your topic to develop an essential question. Use the Cues below to help you
  • Which one? (Collect information to make an informed choice.)

  • Should? (Make a moral or practical decision based on evidence.)

  • Why? (Understand and explain relationships to get to the essence of a complicated issue.)

  • How? (Understand problems and perspectives, weigh options, and propose solutions.)

  • What if? (Use the knowledge you have to pose a hypothesis and consider options.)

Question descriptions developed by Barbara Jansen at