National History Project

Criteria For Good Essential Questions
Source: MYP Humanities Training Manual, IB Seminar, Austin Texas, Jul 23-26, 2008

What are the characteristics of a good essential question?

1. A good question is open ended yet focuses inquiry on a specific topic.

•Ask: “Whose America is it? Rather than

“Why do people want to immigrate to America?’

2. A good essential question is non-judgmental and does not suggest or lead to a specific “right” answer.

•As “Who will survive?’ not “Should species be allowed to go extinct?”

•Ask “What is waste?” not “Why should we recycle?’

•Ask “Where does hunger come from? not

“Why is the distribution of food in the world inequitable?’

3. A good question is intellectually stimulating or intrinsically interesting.

•”What is family?”

•”How can we share our world?’

•”What is a good sneaker?”

•”What is proof?’

•”How are organisms related?”

4. A good question is succinct but challenging.

•”Is America an empire?”

•”Where do waves come from or “Where do waves go?”

5. The question cannot be value laden.

Ask: “What are the economic consequences of democracy and communism?” not “Why is democracy a better system than communism?

6. The question should not lead toward some preconceived answer.

Ask “Who will survive?” not “Why should we save endangered species?”

7. The question should force the student to grapple with the content of the topic.