Craft the Essential Question
Section 4 of the Coming-of-Age Unit Planning Toolkit
Essential questions invite students to grapple with complexity, deepen their understanding of a topic or theme, and explore connections between what they are reading, what they are experiencing, and what they are learning about the world today. When students revisit essential questions over the course of a unit, in their journals and in conversation with others, they come to realize how questions can lead to new questions, as well as how literature can deepen their understanding of themselves and their world.
According to Grant Wiggins, an essential question “causes genuine and relevant inquiry into big ideas.” In the same vein, Harvard professor David Perkins describes these “big questions” as inspiring wonder and curiosity about the human condition and our world.1 Unfortunately, classroom research shows that most of the questions that students encounter are review and procedural rather than exploratory.
Facing History essential questions invite students to use their imagination and lived experiences to explore complex questions about human behavior with the hope that these questions will spark new ones as students deepen their understanding of the literature they read and the world in which they live.
Educators can choose from the following Facing History essential questions to frame their coming-of-age unit. Each question invites students to wrestle with complexity and to engage the mind, heart, and conscience in an exploration of the text and reflection on their own lived experiences.
For educators who plan to implement the “This I Believe . . .” Personal Narrative summative assessment, consider one of the first five essential questions for your unit.