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Lesson Planning Using Essential Learning Questions

Lesson Planning Using Essential Learning Questions

Author: Trisha Fyfe

This lesson will provide learners with an overview of creating lesson plans that emphasize essential questions and how those align with assessment.

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Source: Image of light bulb, Public Domain,; Image of question marks, Public Domain,

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Welcome to a tutorial on lesson planning using essential learning questions. In today's tutorial, we will discuss the following question together. What does it look like to apply the use of essential learning questions to your teaching? Let's start out by reviewing what are essential learning questions.

Remember that essential learning questions are open ended questions. these questions have no right or wrong answer. They allow students to do things like get to that high level thought and have lively discourse. They also help promote that new understanding of the ideas and the big ideas that we want our students to reach.

Essential learning questions ask our students to consider those big ideas and really dive into that deeper knowledge. Essential learning questions promote meaningful connections within students' learning, and they also create opportunities for transfer of learning. Students will be able to use the knowledge that they have from this lesson and transfer that learning to other ideas, maybe past experiences or past knowledge that they've learned.

Essential learning questions help students make sense of those core content and the ideas. As a teacher, you need to understand what are your content and standards that you're addressing in this lesson, and are these questions guiding students to making sense of the content and ideas.

So let's apply these ideas to some actual learning questions. One example of an essential learning question is, what must a scientist do in order to research something. And here, we are asking our students to think about the big ideas. Not just what is a scientist, what is the definition of a scientists, but making connections between a scientist role, and what research is, and how those two things are connected.

Another example of a question is, how does pollution affect our environment. Again, this is not a yes, no, right, wrong answer question. It is an open ended question that promotes that inquiry and allows for discourse of our students. Another example is, how is geometry used in the real world. Again, this is not a right or wrong answer. There are many ways geometry is used. We would like our students to make those connections and show us their understanding of geometry.

Yet one more question is, when might you use multiplication in your life. And again here, we're asking students to take this idea of multiplication, this big idea, and connect it to their life, make those transfers of learning. Let's look at some questions that are not essential learning questions.

What are the steps in the scientific process? Here there is a right answer to this question. It is not an open ended question. It does not promote any inquiry or discourse. It is an answer that we can relay after the question is asked, without much thought.

Another example of a nonessential learning question is, what is the formula for finding the area of a triangle. Students can give you an answer to this question without much inquiry into this idea, and it also is not promoting the understanding of the deeper ideas of area of a triangle.

Remember here, the goal of essential learning questions is to help support the understandings, those deep understandings, of our lessons, and goals, and objectives.

Let me give you just a few more examples of essential learning questions. Questions like, do the people in our state have a reason to fear a natural disaster. If so, which ones? If not, why not? Or maybe, when is division most useful. What is the role of geometry in architecture? Or maybe how have ancient Romans impacted our society. Another might be, do all stories need to have a beginning, middle, and an end. Why or why not?

Let's review some examples of non-essential learning questions. What are the steps for long division? Who are the leaders of our city, our state, and our country? Can you identify the main idea and details in a story? Remember, if we are trying to our students to those big ideas and deep understandings, these are definitely not the types of questions that we want to start out with as our essential learning questions.

They're not open-ended. They promote no inquiry, and promote no discourse for our students. So how can we, as teachers, apply essential learning questions and use technology at the same time? Let's look through some examples. Maybe we can use Skype to interview or discuss. We might also use YouTube videos. These might be great tools for something different than the reading material.

They're more interactive and they're allowing students to have a more visual representation of ideas. Maybe we use virtual field trips. We could use some web 2.0 tools to have our students go through a field trip online and learn about all of the different ideas or concepts from a specific culture or place. We might have our students use a blog or a Wiki on a content area.

And again, instead of reading in a textbook, this might engage our students and hold their interest for a longer period of time, as well as help them develop that deep understanding of the idea. Let's talk about some tips for you as a teacher. Ask yourself this question. What main concepts do I want investigated?

What are the objectives, the concepts, the standards, that you want your students to come to during this lesson, and what are questions that you can use to help them get there? What are questions that will stimulate thought and promote inquiry and discourse? What are some questions that are open-ended? What are questions that do not have that right, wrong answer?

Are my questions aligned? It's important to make sure, here, that you're aligning your essential learning questions to your goals, and outcomes, and those big ideas that you want your students to come to. So we've explored many ideas in today's tutorial. Let's talk about the question that we focused on. What does it look like to apply the use of essential learning questions to your teaching?

Not only did I give you some examples of essential learning questions, we also talked about how you can use those in your very own lessons. I've enjoyed going through this idea with you today, and applying essential learning questions to your lessons. I hope you are able to use these tools in your very own classrooms.

Let's apply these ideas. What might the challenges be to applying essential learning questions to your own lessons? Can you think of a lesson that you can adapt using essentials learning questions? As you reflect on this new information and how it can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set.

Notes on "Lesson Planning Using Essential Learning Questions"


(00:00- 00:13) Introduction/objectives

(00:14- 01:24) What are Essential Learning Questions?

(01:25- 04:22) Samples of Essential and Non-Essential Learning Questions

(04:23- 05:17) How can we use technology with ELQs

(05:18- 06:06) Tips for application

(06:07- 07:00) Review

Additional Resources

Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions

This post from Dr. Jackie Gerstein's blog suggests that students generate their own essential questions. Scroll down to read the six steps she encourages to empower and engage students in owning their learning.

All About Writing Essential Questions

This handout provides helpful strategies for crafting essential questions. In addition, example essential questions from many subject areas are provided for your review.

Structure Learning with Essential Questions

In this video, you will learn the qualities of effective questions. You will also learn the impact of beginning a lesson or a unit with a question rather than an objective.