Essential Questions to Frame Curriculum-Based Service Learning

Using essential questions in curriculum-based service learning helps organize the project around specific academic concepts related to course work and the service-learning project. They link the concepts and principles between academic content and the service to create a deeper, more rigorous learning experience. A good essential question sets the stage for the inquiry process and the search for understanding on many different levels.

Roy Travers, Higher Education Coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Education and Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate school of Education, describes good essential questions as:

  • Open ended, yet focus inquiry on a specific topic
  • Non-judgmental, but answering them requires high-level cognitive work, such as the development of a rich description, model, evaluation or judgment.
  • Contain emotive force and intellectual bite. As students, educators, and world citizens, we must try to answer them.
  • Succinct. They contain only a handful of words—yet they demand a lot.
Criteria for Essential Questions
  • Go to the heart of the discipline
  • Have no one or several obvious right answers
  • The question is non-judgmental
  • Require high level cognitive thinking to be made visible (Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • Recur throughout one’s learning
  • Are framed to provoke and sustain student interest
  • Contain emotive force and intellectual bite
  • Are demonstrated by a student performance
  • Are open-ended, yet focus inquiry on a specific topic
  • Are succinct

From Clover Park School District (Lakewood, Washington) Workshop on Essential Questions,

To begin exploring the use of essential questions with staff you might consider reading, “What is a Good Guiding Question” by Roy Travers. Click here for a pdf file of the article:

Check out these websites for additional information on creating essential questions:

Asking the Essential Questions: Curriculum Development by Kathleen Cushman

What are Essential Questions?

Writing Essential Questions

From Trivial Pursuit to Essential Questions

The Question Mark: Essential Questions

Comments are closed.