are not “properly” punctuated and at unfortunate punctuation errors in more formal writing to deepen the inquiry
and lead to important general understandings.
Some easy editing moves can open things up.
Rephrase a draft question using sentence stems like,
To what extent . . . ?, In what contexts . . . ?, How
important was . . . ?, and so on. By doing so, you can
I important?—into something vastly improved: How
important was World War I in shaping the modern world?
Tip: When planning your questions, make a T-chart
in which you list both the important factual questions
and the essential questions of the unit to avoid conflating
the two or landing on factual questions out of habit. To
move from inarguable to arguable aspects of the topic,
try framing key learning and assessment tasks using the
suggested stems. Here are a few more: What’s the value
of . . . ? When should we . . . , and when shouldn’t we . . . ?
What’s the optimal strategy? Or try the provocation we
use in Understanding by Design: If the facts are answers,
what were the questions?
3. Is the question merely engaging? Or will pursuing
it lead to the topic’s big ideas?
To engage students, some teachers frame an essential
question that goes off on a tangent. But a good question
has to be more than just intriguing. The best essential
questions are, literally, of the essence: They take you to
the core issues and insights of a topic.
Our longtime favorite engaging, but tangential,
question is, Crustaceans: What’s up with them? It’s certainly open ended, and it could go in a million directions.
But it’s unlikely to uncover rigorous, in-depth learning
in biology. On the other hand, What good is a bug? more
easily leads to deep inquiries into ecology, agriculture,
health, and so on.
In math, here’s a common first-draft question: Where
do we find examples of ____ in the real world? This
question means well, but it leads to the world of things,
not to the world of ideas; it will yield only a list of factual
answers. There’s no inquiry into mathematics.
A teacher we worked with wanted to ask, Where in the
world do we find examples of similar triangles? After listening to the above argument, he quickly came up with
this edited version: How much and in what ways would we
most miss similar figures if they didn’t exist? Not only is
this a more intriguing and arguable question, but it also
goes deep into math, opening up an exploration of other
geometries besides the familiar Euclidean one.