Essential Questions: What’s the BIG IDEA?!



Essential questions are open-ended and allow for connections throughout disciplines. They avoid yes/no answers and often begin with Why? and How?


Essential questions encourage students to think deeply about a topic and engage in healthy debate. The potential exists for multiple right answers.


Essential questions can be backed up with evidence to support various responses. They are also revisited again and again.





When creating essential questions, ask yourself if you could ask this question in a math class. How about science? Global studies? When properly crafted, essential questions help students find connections between disciplines. As an art educator, up the ante by collaborating with other teachers at your students’ grade levels to build timely cross-overs into your lessons. The more hits students get on a concept, the more likely it is to stick!

Big Ideas

A big idea, hailing from the German psychological concept of “gestalt” or whole form thinking (the mind’s tendency to create a global whole independent of the individual parts), encourages higher order thinking by asking students to step back from their learning to consider the bigger concepts at play in an assignment. Big ideas often center around human commonalities. Some examples could include the concepts of work, survival, love, faith, conflict, and power. In the art classroom, big ideas are abundant as art is one of humanities most popular modes of understanding and examining our shared world. Essential questions can often help students tease out the big ideas they may be grappling with in a project.

For All Ages

Essential questions and big ideas can and should be a part of lessons for students at all age and ability levels. When students are provided with a framework to build their knowledge from lower order thinking skills all the way up to, BIG IDEAS and higher order thinking, they can then carry those cognitive habits of mind into other areas of their lives.