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Utilizing essential questions was a game changer in terms of our teaching style! Once we started implementing them, they gave our students focus and purpose and encouraged them to showcase analysis and evaluation of complex ideas – talk about a win-win.
If essential questions are new to you, basically they are “big idea” questions about recurring themes in a novel or literary piece. These questions encourage students to do the following:
analyze different perspectives
create thoughtful connections
Essential questions are SOessential (really though!) to creating novel units that this should be the VERY first thing you do before planning any other part of a unit. Seriously.
Follow these three easy steps to utilize our Essential Questions Graphic Organizer (click here to access for free) to begin creating and implementing your own essential questions.
Look at the novel and ask yourself the following questions. Jot down ideas to begin creating broad, open-ended questions for students to discuss.
What are some of the themes of the story?
What lessons do I want my students to take away from the reading of this book?
At the start of a new novel, have your students write the essential question in the front cover of their book (or if you’re reading a short story or poem, at the top of the piece of literature). Explain to students that at the end of the novel, they will be writing a Response to Literature that answers this question … thus, taking away the element of surprise and helping your students feel more prepared for their final assessment!
As you read, require students to annotate their text (see this post for helpful strategies and a great free rubric to use) and keep track of any quotes that support their reasoning. You can utilize our Evidence Tracker to help students organize their quotes and justification. By the end of the novel, students have a bunch of textual evidence to help them begin writing their RTL.
By starting the novel with an essential question, students are able to dig deeper and come up with some amazing observations. It’s such an excellent way to meet Common Core Standards, and more importantly, engage students in a close reading of the text.
**Important Tip: When creating an essential question, PLEASE make sure you write your own essay or Response to Literature answering it. As teachers, when we sit down to write our own response to the essential question we’ve come up with, we are more easily able to find gaps in the question. The question might not be entirely clear and needs to be reworded. Or there might not be enough evidence from the text to adequately support an opinion.**
Looking for more ways to improve writing in your classroom? Check out this blog post.
Then, pick the date you’re going to teach it in your classroom, and sit back while you watch as your students show up to your classroom pumped about what the day holds…and gush about your class to their parents on the car ride home!