Asking intriguing, open-ended questions is an effective way to encourage students to think deeply and to provide them with a meaningful context for learning. When students are given questions that they are truly interested in finding the answers to, they engage. When questions help them see the connections between the subject matter and their own lives, learning has meaning. We can help our students become more motivated and self-directed by asking the right questions. But what are the right questions?
Curriculum-Framing Questions provide a structure for organizing questioning throughout projects and promote thinking at all levels. They give projects a balance between content understanding and exploration of intriguing and enduring ideas that make learning relevant to students. Curriculum-Framing Questions guide a unit of study and include Essential, Unit, and Content Questions.
Essential and Unit Questions provide the rationale for learning. They help students to recognize the "why" and "how" and encourage inquiry, discussion, and research. They involve students in personalizing their learning and developing insights into a topic. Good Essential and Unit Questions engage students in critical thinking, promote curiosity, and develop a questioning approach to the curriculum. In order to answer such questions, students must examine topics in depth and construct their own meaning and answers from the information they have gathered.
Content Questions help students to identify the "who", "what", "where", and "when", and support the Essential and Unit Questions by providing a focus for understanding the details. They help students to focus on the factual information that must be learned in order to meet many of the content standards and learning objectives.
Curriculum-Framing Questions build upon each other. Content Questions support Unit Questions and both support Essential Questions. Essential Questions are often the most intriguing and posed first. The questions below from a civics unit show the relationship between each.
Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2001). Understanding by design. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.