Driving Questions and Essential Questions
A DBQ, document based question,
is a question that focuses around one or more documents. The documents
can be a graph, cartoon, short excerpt, picture, etc, basically anything
that a child can glean information from.
In New York State, beginning in fifth grade, the
state tests in Social Studies have a DBQ Essay. The children look at 2
to 7 documents (depending on the grade), answer 4 questions, then write
an essay using their answers to those questions.
Students have to analyze the documents and write an essay around the designated
theme that incorporates information from the documents.
Breaking Down DBQ's
These are some tasks that students could be asked to do in a DBQ:
Analyze: Break a topic down into separate parts and discuss each one.
Criticize: Make judgments. Evaluate comparative worth.
Define: Explain the exact meaning, specific to the course or subject.
Describe: Give a detailed account, listing characteristics, qualities
Discuss: Argue the pros and cons of an issue.
Evaluate: Give an opinion or cite the opinion of an expert.
Illustrate: Give concrete examples.
Summarize: Give a brief, condensed account, including conclusions.
An essential, or driving, question
is a question that gives a reason for the student to study the subject
or unit. To find these questions look for unifying themes in units as
well as ways to connect these units to kids' lives. Aim for questions
to get at the root of what is being taught: Why is this historical event
or time period important? Why do we need to know about it? How does/did
it affect our lives today? How much time do I spend on it?
Benefits of using essential questions
They make the learning
have purpose. The students are trying to reach the goalof answering the essential
question. They connect the huge amount of factual information kids need to learn.
The essential questions also help students learn to connect and interpret facts
in order to answer questions and define themes and eras. History, for example,
becomes for them not a memorizing of facts but rather a quest for meaning.
By posting the essential questions teachers and students stay on 'track.' They
can be used as guides to keep classroom discussion on topic, as writing assignments
following a unit of study, as a way to integrate between disciplines and also
as a way to communicate with parents.
Ideas for using essential questions:
You can use a driving, or essential, question with every unit. To begin
a unit, open with the essential question(s) (EQ's). You might give each
student a syllabus with the EQ's at the top, a list of vocabulary terms
for the whole unit (broken up by subtopics within the unit) as well as
focus questions for the whole unit. These syllabi are used as a place
to take notes on and then as a study guide for the eventual test.
At the start of each daily lesson review the essential question for the
unit and at the close of daily and/or weekly lessons have the students
write in their journals how what they learned that day/week relates to
the essential question. They can also reflect on additional questions
that have come to them or try to relate what they learned in other units.
Another way to use essential questions is for students to make a list
of all different types of questions at the beginning of a unit. The teacher
then classifies them in some way and students designate one of the essential
questions as a personal goal. Throughout the chapter students mark questions
they felt they can now answer. The final assessment then could be research
paper or project based on their personal learning quest.
The essential question might be a question that will be explored for the
whole school year. For instance: Year Long Question-How does geography
affect the development of culture? Sub-question: How did geography affect
the development of the Ancient Egyptian Culture? The "final exam"
for every class would then be to answer the year long question, using
two examples studied during the year and one example not studied. Students
can answer the question via an essay, a presentation, a play - whatever!
by Alisa Berger
Links to Resources and Examples of Essential
Creating Essential Questions: http://www.galileo.org/tips/essential_questions.html
Evaluating Internet-based Information: A Goals-based Approach:
Examples of Essential Questions
How has a desire for land, freedom,
power, and wealth shaped history?
What does a culture need to survive and
how does it evolve?
How is the present a reflection of the past, and an influence
on the future?
What's the deadliest snake/shark/animal on earth?
had unlimited money, which of these outrageously expensive cars would I buy and
How would I survive on my own in the wilderness? Would I measure up?
Why is dog-fighting illegal in the United States?
To what extent is poetry
a form of self expression?
How can we use our writing skills to help others
understand more about why friendship is important?
What would you dream house
look like and cost to build?
What patterns are found in nature?
patterns are copied by people in art and architecture?
How do patterns help
us describe and understand our world?
What is the American Dream?
has the American Dream changed over time?
How do diverse cultures view the
How have significant historical events effected the Dream?
How will new opportunities of the 21st century challenge the American Dream?
What makes your area of interest (eg. photography) an effective medium for
sharing the American Dream?
What is your American Dream?
How has a desire
for land, freedom, power, and wealth shaped history?
What dowes a culture
need to survives and how does it evolve?
How is the present a reflection
of the past, amd an influence on the future?
Examples of Essential Questions for Professional
questions which need to be answered in any complete process:
Create 3-column agendas where only what is being done
is writen under the "what" column. It is then left to the participants
to fill in the So What... as they are they learning, understanding, questioning,
and the "now what" column - ways they can use/adapt these activities
and ideas at their site.
The essential question then overarches the entire
seminar and the daily focus questions.
"How can I construct a meaningful school environment that ensures success
for students and the rest of the school community?"
is a meaningful school environment?"
"How do you define school
"What makes learning meaningful?"
"What does power look like in our schools?"
the role of collaboration in the creation and sustenance of a learning community?'
"What's the relationship between authentic choice and meaningful learning?"
"What, so what, now what?"
" How will you
translate your new learning into a meaningful experience for students and the
rest of your community back at your school?"