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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks – What I Learned Recently – Essential Quesitons

Hello again,

I spent another Saturday at my Alma Mater, Claremont Graduate University, in a workshop for Master teachers. I’m going to have at least two, maybe three student teachers during the summer. I’m sure I’ll be posting about that.

I like going to these workshops, because I get to learn new strategies that are being taught in college, and although I consider myself a pretty good teacher, even this old dog can learn new tricks.

I’d like to share one of the strategies that I learned in the workshop that I’ll be incorporating into my lessons from now on.

Most of you already do this, but for me it’s new.

It’s called the Essential Question.


I have always written the state standard that the class was learning about each day on the white board. I write it in easy-to-understand language, but most of the time, the kids don’t even notice it. I basically put it on the board just in case the administrator walks in.

From now on, however, I’m going to change what I write on my board. I’m going to make it into a question – an Essential Question.

I’m also going to make my students write it down each day and collect them in their binder.

So instead of writing, “Students will learn the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation,” I’ll write:

What is the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation?

The students will have to write down the question, then by the end of the lesson, they’ll need to write the answer. They will then keep these in their binder, and each day, they’ll add a new question and answer.

I’ll collect them after about  two weeks and give them a grade for having all the questions and answers, then I’ll return it to them.

Come test time, they can use these are their study guides.

I thought it was such a great idea.

Not only does it give purpose to the sentence on the white board, it becomes a useful tool for the students to use as a refresher before the test.

Also, when the state tests come around (We just got finished taking them.), the students can go throught their Essential Questions sheets to fill their brains up again with information from early in the year.

With the state history exams, it’s not like Language Arts or Math where they test the student on a skill they have acquired. With history, it’s all about what they can remember on that particular day. I personally don’t think it’s fair, but that’s for another post.

With this Essential Question study sheet, the students can go back and remind themselves what we learned, and hopefully do better on the test.

I think I might give it another name, however. Essential Question sound boring, and I don’t like boring. How about Today’s Treasure Question?

Too hokey? Oh well, I’ll work on it. Any suggestions?

I think this is going to be a good thing. I’m encouraged to see that new teacher candidates are learning some pretty cool strategies before they start teaching.

It goes to prove that even us more seasoned educators can still learn some new ways to help students learn, and it makes me feel less like an old dog. : )



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  1. May 27, 2011    

    I too am an “old dog” who just recently learned about Essential Questions. I find the strategy effective.

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      May 27, 2011    

      Hi Elona,
      Why didn’t they have these strategies back when we started teaching? : )
      Thanks for the comment.

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