Calgary Board of Education

English Language Arts

Essential Questions

The greatest novels, the greatest plays, the greatest songs and the greatest paintings all explore Essential Questions in some manner.

Essential Questions are at the heart of the search for Truth.

These are questions which touch our hearts and souls.
They are central to our lives.
They help to define what it means to be human.
Most important thought during our lives will centre on such essential questions.

Essential Questions probe the deepest issues confronting us . . . complex and baffling matters which elude simple answers: Life - Death - Marriage - Identity - Purpose - Betrayal - Honour - Integrity - Courage - Temptation - Faith - Leadership - Addiction - Invention - Inspiration.

  • What does it mean to be a good friend?
  • To what extent is it important to have a dream?
  • How do I cope with the loss of a friend?
  • Does morality lie in obedience to rules or consideration for the needs of others?
  • What is my responsibility to the community?
  • To what extent does society have the right to intervene to save people from themselves?
  • To what extent does the community bear responsibility for the individual?
  • Are human beings innately evil or is it something we learn in school?

Essential questions spark our curiosity and sense of wonder. They derive from some deep wish to understand something which matters to us.

Essential questions reside at the top of Bloom's Taxonomy (Bloom, 1954).

They require that you

  • EVALUATE (make a thoughtful choice between options, with the choice based upon clearly stated criteria),
  • SYNTHESIZE (invent a new or different version) or
  • ANALYZE (develop a thorough and complex understanding through skillful questioning).

Answers to essential questions cannot be found. They must be invented.

Answering such questions may take a lifetime, and even then, the answers may only be tentative ones.

As Salman Rushdie reminds us, “[the novel] tells us there are no answers; or, rather, it tells us that answers are easier to come by, and less reliable, than questions...great literature, by asking extraordinary questions, opens new doors in our minds.”

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