Essential Questions. I first heard about them in the early 2000s when I took some Intel Teach to the Future training. We had to create a unit plan and portfolio using Microsoft products that we could use in our classes. I remember building my plan around To Kill a Mockingbird, but I can’t remember my essential question. That was nearly twenty years ago, and I still return to the idea of the “essential question” when I plan my units.
Confession: I am NOT good at creating the question.
Take for instance my current unit of study for seventh grade reading and literature. We are studying Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. I thought about essential questions I could use (there aren’t that many out there to steal, really), but I stumbled on the idea of choices, decisions, and consequences. Our next novel study will be Touching Spirit Bear, which is all about choices and consequences, and the effect of one’s choices on one’s life. I see there are so many possibilities for discussion. It should be of interest to middle school boys. (Just FYI: my seventh grade class is ALL BOY! I’m the only female in the room, and as one of the boys said the other day, I don’t count!)
I plan to introduce my question on Monday: How do our choices affect our lives now and in the future?
I think it will work. Now, I have to make sure that I am teaching all the “right” state standards! You know, there’s still an English language arts curriculum to be met!
I think in some ways, using essential questions and thematic topics has helped me unify my units. I work in other literature when I base my units around questions rather than around texts. I still choose anchor texts or mentor texts to help teach the literary concepts I want students to learn, but choosing related texts helps students make connections to other literature as well as to experience.
I suppose I could use this same essential question for a year-long exploration of literature as well because in each of my core novels and plays, characters make choices, some of which are life-altering. Now, the challenge is to get students to think about how the literature can help them evaluate and make choices for themselves.