Essential Questions - Building Student Engagement in Science (Part 2/2)

23 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT make connections between a unifying idea of science and their life experiences.

Big Idea

Can knowledge help us survive? Students explore the idea of whether "science" can help or hurt our chances of survival on Earth.


This lesson asks students to think about an overarching essential question for the upcoming year. Using essential questions in science can help frame the learning in a broader context that promotes curiosity and exploration of connections between concepts and context. The lesson is split into 2 parts:

  • Part 1 includes the ENGAGE, EXPLORE and EXPLAIN components of the lesson. It takes about one 50-minute lesson. 
  • Part 2 includes the EXTEND and EVALUATE components of the lesson. It takes about 50-minute lessons or an equivalent block period.


50 minutes

The EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation. The novel situation in this case is a survival scenario. In groups, students analyze different scenarios printed from the Essential Question Exploration Presentation and rank a list of survival items in order of importance using the Essential Question Exploration Activity Score Sheet. This activity promotes group discussion, argumentation, consensus-building and analytic thinking.

As students discuss, the inclination to argue during the ranking process is natural. To promote "fair arguing", it is important to remind students of class norms for discussion (such as "one speaker at a time" and using accountable talk sentence stems like, "While I understand what you are saying, but..."). Working the room to listen for arguments gone awry is another helpful strategy that allows you to reset a discussion by making reminders or, if necessary, modeling for students how to argue "fairly".


50 minutes

The EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. Evaluation in this lesson takes two forms:

1) Discussion: Students share their scenario, their top three survival items and defend their choices with the group.

As groups share, record the different groups' responses like this: Survival EQ Student Data for use in discussion using the following prompts:

Why does each group rank their survival items so differently?

Is there a “right” ranking?

What do you have to know about science in order to use these items?

Does knowing things help us survive? Examples?

During the discussion, it is possible to begin evaluation of student thinking. As students defend their choices, listen for connections, such as cause and effect, between scientific knowledge and current events. Cause and effect relationships that are identified can lead to a broader discussion about how events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted and that a major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated (CCC 2: Cause and Effect.

2) Written Response: Individually, students perform a five-minute quick-write on the Essential Question Exploration Activity to answer the question:

 Does “science” help or hurt our chances of survival on Earth?

Students are required to include the following components to build a cohesive argument:

     - Claim: What are you trying to argue is true or correct?

     - Evidence: List specific data you observed/collected or textual evidence that proves your claim.

     - Reasoning: Explain how your evidence supports or proves your claim.

This written response represents an important view into the individual student's thinking. During this lesson, much of the the thinking and reporting are a result of group interaction. This response provides accountability and insight into every student's ideas. For additional resources to support students' ability to construct arguments, visit the lesson Writing Arguments from Evidence.

To close the lesson, I pose three questions for students to think about:

So, how to do you think this activity might relate to the topics of study this year?

What do humans need to survive?

What other interesting questions are related to this essential question?

We use these questions, in addition to the essential question about survival, as we move forward in our study of core disciplinary ideas throughout the year.