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Tool: Constructing essential questions*

"Essential questions" are general questions--central questions--that have considerable power to motivate and guide classroom activity. Much that we teach was produced at some time in response to questions; the aim is to put such questions back into students' studies. This tool aims to help you do that by starting with the curriculum standard that your students need to meet:

Curriculum standard:


What are the key ideas
in the standard?

What essential question could motivate and guide activity to learn each key idea?

What subordinate questions would guide given units, lessons or tasks?







*Adapted from McTighe J., & Thomas, R. (2003). Backward design for forward action. Educational Leadership, V. 60, N. 5, 52-55 and Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice-Hall.

See Developing essential questions: A social studies example.

PDF version for printing .... RTF version for revising