A List of 26 Student-Focused Essential Questions That Really Matter

by | Feb 2, 2017

As our students begin to get ready for life outside of school, they will have questions—lots and lots of them. The biggest and perhaps most awe-inspiring one of all will simply be What Now? In truth, they can find out by quizzing themselves critically and thoughtfully about the things that are most important. It all comes down to asking the right questions. That’s exactly what you’ll find in this thought-provoking list of student-focused essential questions from TeachThought.

In this article, Terry Heick beautifully sums up what matters most for students when looking ahead to building their futures beyond school. In the end, self-awareness is both the key to considering each question, as well as the result of answering it honestly. Says Terry:

“As an educator, your job is to lead students to understanding, but student self-awareness and self-knowledge should precede that. These questions hit at a range of topics, but all revolve around that idea of a learner’s identity.”


Terry stresses that these are not easy questions to answer off the bat. They can, however, be reworked into ones that are more flexible and less daunting. He suggests some cool strategies for approaching them, which are summarized below.

  • Students can group together and talk about each one, and record their own answers for furthering the discussion.
  • They can choose to respond to certain ones and skip others.
  • Assign questions according to individual need.
  • Use the questions as creative writing prompts.
  • Incorporate the questions into team-building games.
  • Explore assumptions by asking students to talk about why such questions are important to consider.
  • Encourage them to answer in creative ways using drawing, social media, debates, concept maps, and more.

26 Student-Focused Essential Questions

As you share these powerful student-focused essential questions, think about the impact they can have. How does pondering the nature of such questions shape a student’s critical thinking and problem-solving capacity? What can these questions do to inspire ideas that lend students confidence? How do the questions bridge the gap between you and them? How many of them can be used as self-awareness tools again and again throughout their lives?

If you use them as Terry suggested, chances are you and your students won’t go wrong.

  1. What do I need to know about you?
  2. What do you need from me more than anything else?
  3. What does success in the classroom mean to you?
  4. What do you know about how people learn?
  5. What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done?
  6. How can technology be used for learning?
  7. What does it mean to understand something?
  8. When was the last time you’ve solved a problem?
  9. How do you respond to expectations?
  10. What is your proudest moment?
  11. What do you want to learn about?
  12. Are you a picky reader? What are your strengths as a reader?
  13. What is your personal philosophy?
  14. When do you write best?
  15. What’s worth understanding deeply?
  16. What are your best habits as a thinker?
  17. What’s most important to you in life?
  18. What is the relationship between learning and #17?
  19. Where does your inner drive come from?
  20. Who are your heroes or role models?
  21. Why study (insert your content area here)?
  22. What are you good at that nobody knows?
  23. What do teachers sometimes misunderstand about you as a learner?
  24. What does it mean to study?
  25. How do you respond to complex texts or digital media?
  26. If I get out of your way this year, what will you be able to do?


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