Donna Albaugh, M.Ed., M.S.A.

Professional Development Consultant...........


Jody Cleven, Ph.D.

Professional Development Consultant............


Heather Stewart, M.A.

Professional Development Consultant..........




Purpose: Written in terms of the topic...

Essential Question
How can the use of essential questions and clear learning targets enhance instruction?

Clear Learning Targets
I can explain the difference between an essential question and clear learning target in my own words.
I can write a clear learning target based on the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

Norms: Can we agree?
  • To be actively involved
  • Value differences
  • Have fun
  • Others?

Activity #1: Pre-Assessment (5 minutes)
Take a few moments to share what you already know about Essential Questions and Clear Learning Targets by clicking here.

Covey quote.png

Viewing Guide (10 minutes)

Choose one of the questions below to discuss with your partner after viewing.

1. What do the boxes represent in this video?

2. What is significant about the questions posed in this video?

3. What is the central message of this video in 2-3 sentences?

4. Based on this video, what do you think is the definition of Essential Question?

Understanding Big Ideas (20 minutes)

Activity #2: Determining the Big Ideas

As you view the Big Ideas Overview Video, work with your content area to determine what the "big ideas" are in your curriculum. Add those ideas to the Answer Garden below.

North Carolina Standards

What are some of the "Big Ideas" n your curriculum?... at

"The Big Idea is really a signal to the teacher, more so than the student, about what we should keep coming back to. The Big Idea can be thought of as the linchpin. It's a concept, or a theme, or an approach, or a strategy that demands repetition, iteration. We keep coming back to it. It permits us to have a focus, a coherence. It's not just about little bits of stuff you have to learn, but it is all meant to help you develop this big idea and appreciate this big idea. So, we would expect to see the big idea recur across lessons, across units, across courses, across years."

Activity #3: Reviewing Big Ideas

Take a few moments to review the "big ideas" shared from other departments/grade levels on the Answer Garden. What "a-ha" moments do you have as you review the big ideas from all departments/grade levels? Share those ideas on this Lino.

Robeson: "A-Ha" Lino

EQ graphic.png

Activity #4: How Big Ideas Lead to Essential Questions

  • With a partner/small group share your thoughts, clarify ideas, and/or discuss your personal reactions to the ideas presented in the article

  • Each group shares - create a poster or use table whiteboards

In Wiggins' Own Words

Let's listen as Grant Wiggins shares his thoughts about what defines an Essential Question.

eq criteria.png

Activity #5: Essential Questions and the 21st Century Framework

Take a few moments to review these examples of Essential Questions.

Think-Pair-Share: How do these questions align with the gold and red sections of the 21st Century Framework?

Learning and Innovation Skills - 4Cs

  • Creativity and Innovation

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

  • Communication and Collaboration

Life and Career Skills

  • Flexibility and Adaptability

  • Initiative and Self-Direction

  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills

  • Productivity and Accountability

  • Leadership and Responsibility


Activity #6: Making Questions Essential

Review these non-essential questions and follow the directions on the form below.Google Form

After practicing on the Google form, share with your neighbor your results.Work with your partner to write ' Essential Questions' on sticky notes for the 3 posters hanging in the room.Share one Essential Question that you wrote from your content area. Write it on a sticky note for the 4th poster.

Why Essential Questions?

The deliberate exploration of high-quality, overarching essential questions provides students with multiple enriching learning opportunities.
In terms of the North Carolina Educator Evaluation Rubric, using essential questions to guide instruction supports both
Standard 3b and Standard 4e (see below).
Standard 3b.png


Break (10 minutes)

Get a Stopwatch like this or make your own! At: Online Stopwatch

Understanding Clear Learning Targets (20 minutes)

To what extent do students understand what they are supposed to learn in your class? How do you know?

These questions provide food for thought as to how we share our knowledge with our students. Often times, we make assumptions that students know what we want them to learn. Clear Learning Targets provide one method that we can use to ensure students know our expectation.

Activity #7: Sharing Expectations with Students (5 minutes)


Review of Learning Targets

As you recall from the NC FALCON module, Clear Learning Targets are the first of three components of the formative assessment process.

Clear Learning Targets are derived by reviewing the standards to be taught, prioritizing the information to scaffold learning, and writing targets to help students understand where they are going.

Clear Learning Targets should be:

  • a measurable achievement expectation of what students should know and be able to do

  • taught in 1-2 lessons

  • written in student-friendly language

falcon fa model.png

Clear vs. Unclear Learning Targets (5 minutes)

Take a look at the learning targets below. Two of the targets are unclear targets.


Criteria for Success

Not only should a learning target provide what students should know and be able to do, but it should also inherently address or suggest the criteria for success.

Note that in the two non-examples at left, no clear criteria for success is indicated.

Target #2 is far too broad to be explored in 1-2 class periods. Furthermore, the target is not specific to the concepts or the culture to be studied.

In Target #5, no measurable criteria has been established for students to demonstrate their understanding.

Types of Clear Learning Targets (5 minutes)

Activity #8: Writing Learning Targets (8 minutes)

Why Clear Learning Targets?

Clear Learning Targets are an example of short-term formative assessment that teachers and students can use to monitor students' individual performances.
In terms of the North Carolina Educator Evaluation Rubric, providing clear learning targets to guide instruction supports both
Standard 4b and Standard 4h (see below).



Personalizing Learning Targets - Resources from 'Align, Assess, Achieve'

Revisit Essential Question

How can the use of essential questions and clear learning targets enhance my instruction?

Revisit Clear Learning Targets

I can explain the difference between an essential question and a clear learning target in my own words.

I can write a clear learning target based on the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

Activity #9: Reflection (5 minutes)

Click here to share your biggest take-away from today. You can review all responses below. Responses will populate in real-time.

Friday Institute Survey (5 minutes)

Please take a few moments to complete this survey:

Other Resources

Creating Essential Questions
Examples and Information about Essential Questions

A Webquest for TeachersTeacher Organization Example #1Teacher Organization Example #2Planning Templates Salt Lake City