Language Arts & the Essential Question

Dear Families,

I’m happy to introduce the concept of the Essential Question as it is used in our 6-8 Language Arts program. The Essential Question or EQ comes from the Teaching Tolerance work I’ve been piloting with Kim Lenz these past 3 years. The EQ is a specific, weekly question that ties into one of the four domains (and key components) of the Teaching Tolerance Framework. The four domains are: Identity, Diversity, Justice & Action. With each domain comes a set of thought-provoking questions that ask students to put their critical thinking skills to work. Oftentimes I tie the EQ into themes from the novels our students are reading. Below are some examples of EQ’s I’ve used this year and how they correlate with our multicultural literature selections. The differentiation comes from age-appropriate texts and developmentally appropriate classroom discussions, to name a few areas of difference.

Essential Questions and Novel Themes: 6th Grade

Essential Question: How do I know if I am part of a group?

In 6th grade we examined this question through themes from the novel, The Giver. Some examples of The Giver themes are: Identity, Belonging and “Sameness”, which is a word the book uses to describe how all people in the novel are the same. The critical piece of this novel is examining what happens when we don’t have differences amongst us and how a seemingly utopian outlook can turn dystopian when everyone is the same. With the EQ, students reflected on their own groups they feel apart of and how the groups we belong to help shape our identities.

Essential Questions and Novel Themes 7th Grade

Essential Question: What are the differences between how I live and others live?

In 7th grade we examined this question through themes from the novel, See You in the Cosmos. Some examples of this novel’s themes are: Mental Health, Family and Loss. We analyzed the main character’s experiences in the novel to help us understand the differences in how he lives compared to our own lived experiences. From there we broadened the topic to include people and places world wide.

Essential Questions and Novel Themes 8th Grade

Essential Question: How can I express that I like who I am and what does it mean to feel good about myself?

In 8th grade we examined this question through themes from the novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. Some examples of this novel’s themes are: Identity, Belonging, Coming of Age and Hope. The main character, Junior, is struggling to come to terms with his appearance, his self-beliefs and his dreams for his future. He is also teetering between the two worlds of Native American and White culture. The novel provided a terrific exploration and tie in to the EQ, where students found unique ways to express how they feel good about themselves.

Please feel free to continue the discussions of the EQ’s at home and email me with any feedback or suggestions.

Happy Holidays to all,