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Essential Questions in Thematic Units

Hey y'all,

This topic has come up quite a bit lately, and one that I touch on in my workshops, the idea of igniting a sense of inquiry within the students that will allow them to be in the driver's seat of their own learning. A shortcoming of a CI-style classroom is that it can often position the teacher as the giver of input and the students as the empty receptacles of information.

One way that I've found that combats that issue is to open thematic units with an essential question that genuinely taps into their schema and gets them thinking about things in a much deeper way.

Here is a short clip of one of my classes that is starting a unit on La Cuisine. Firstly, it's a conscious decision of mine to make this sort of unit more like a sociological study of food/meals/etc as cultural artifacts, and less like a "let's make crepes!" type of thing.

Secondly, starting with an essential question like the one in this video ("to what extent does food define a cultural identity?") really frames our approach as one that is analytical, and that that analysis relies on their wealth of prior knowledge and personal experiences.

It's always important to me to allow these opening discussions in particular to be as linguistically messy as they need to be. This is a class of 10th graders who have been amazing all year in just fearlessly diving into using the language and communicating to the best of their ability. I like to think that not policing their languaging has helped us be able to confidently discuss things like this with whatever language we have.

This video is short, but the discussion lasted the entire period. I'd say it was 70/30 French/English split, but we talked about everything from stereotypes related to food, to "hustle culture" that would lead to phenomena like people eating hamburgers in their cars at stop lights and teenagers with caffeine addictions. It was AMAZING.

Lastly, it's the momentum from this introduction and the inquiry within it that will let us dive into exploring food as a cultural artifact at home, then in the other selected places in the francophone world. I'm super excited about this unit.

Keep in touch, as I'll definitely be sharing updates as we move along!



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Meg Volz
Meg Volz
Feb 16, 2023

EQs are something I tussle with. My favorite is Winnetka D36's "Do you understand the message and can you show me?" Do you think Ss should be able to answer the EQ in TL? This is something I think about a lot.

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