Using Essential Questions to Uncover Content and Spark Thinking



Whole child Podcast 300x300Students learn best when they are engaged in what they are learning, understand why they are learning it, and are able to apply what they’ve learned via authentic performance. To assess student understanding, one of a teacher’s most important practices is asking questions—to spark students’ interest, evaluate their readiness for instruction, reinforce their learning, and develop their critical-thinking skills.

On this episode of the Whole Child Podcast, we’ll explore what makes questions essential, how they are used to engage learners in thoughtful “meaning making,” and how they help develop and deepen understanding of important ideas and processes.

Listen to the episode below or download here.


  • Jay McTighe is an accomplished author, having coauthored 14 books, including the award-winning and best-selling Understanding by Design series with Grant Wiggins. He has also had his books translated into 14 languages, written more than 35 articles and book chapters, and been published in leading publications such as Educational Leadership® magazine and Education Week. He has an extensive background in professional development and is a regular speaker at national, state, and district conferences and workshops. Connect with McTighe on Twitter @jaymctighe.
  • Denise Wilbur is an experienced teacher and administrator and the president of Authentic Education, an organization she cofounded with Grant Wiggins in 2002. In recent years, she has designed and directed large-scale professional development and curriculum design projects. Wilbur is the coauthor, with Grant Wiggins, of an article in the September 2015 issue of Educational Leadership magazine on how best to revise essential questions to maximize their power. Connect with Wilbur at
  • Donnell Gregory is the president and CEO of the educational consulting group D. Gregory and Associates. Prior to his current position, he was an elementary and middle school teacher, a clinical supervisor for student teachers in both urban and suburban schools, and an associate professor where he taught classroom management, diversity, and foundations of education. An ASCD Faculty member, Gregory is an expert in developing instructional coaches and supporting teacher leaders as they implement curriculum, assessment, and instructional research-based practices in their classrooms and apply effective professional learning practices to their work.

 Begin With the End in Mind

Beginning with the end in mind—that is, starting with the desired learning results, then determining how to assess evidence of learning, and finally planning the learning activities—helps keep the focus on students’ understanding. Take a deep dive into Understanding by Design® resources from ASCD to learn how you can begin with the end in mind.

 How do you use essential questions in your classroom?


The Whole Child Podcast: Changing the Conversation About Education seeks to inform and engage educators, parents, and community members about what works in today’s schools. Guests include educational leaders, practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and students from around the globe who share their insight into sound education policies and practices that ensure that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.