Essential Questions for Social Studies

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

The essential questions behind a curriculum or unit of study address the conceptual elements of the subject. This lesson offers you some examples of essential questions pertaining to social studies.

Why Essential Questions Matter

Teachers ask questions all the time. We ask ourselves questions, we ask our colleagues questions, and, of course, we ask our students questions. These questions can assess understanding, encourage deeper exploration, or engage students who seem adrift. Yet, the most important questions in teaching are those called essential questions. The essential questions behind a curriculum or unit of study are those that address the underlying concepts. Though you may never directly ask your students essential questions, being clear about what these questions are will help you with all aspects of curriculum development and lesson design.

In social studies, essential questions are particularly important because social studies is by and large a conceptual discipline. Though students will, of course, learn specific facts about history and geography over the course of their educational career, the most abiding aspects of their social studies education will be the conceptual understanding they gain about how human society works and how different people interact with one another. The essential questions in this lesson by no means represent all of the questions that might underlie a social studies program, but they provide you a window into what essential questions look like and what sorts of things are important for students to think and learn about.

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