Writing Essay Questions
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Writing Essay Questions
A few pointers
Pointer #1: A good essay prompt asks a question that can be answered in a meaningful way, and that asks students to back up their analyses with evidence from class instruction
What is jazz music?
Based on notes and class discussion, how would you describe the difference between jazz and classical music?
(A Better Question?)
Based on your notes and class discussions, what are three characteristics of music that is called “jazz?” How are these characteristics different from and similar to other forms of music in the 20th and 21st Centuries, such as pop, rock, hip-hop, and classic music?
(An Even Better Question?)
What’s good and bad about exercise? Write 200 words.
Pointer #2: A good essay prompt asks students to process, not simply recall information
Name and define four different four-sided shapes.
(A Bad Question)
Draw four different four-sided shapes, name them using terms from your notes, and describe how they are different.
How would you rewrite this to make it better?
Pointer #3: A good essay prompt provides a structure for answering the question, and directs the writer to the information they’ll need to respond successfully.
Go to the Internet and find some information about global warming and its future effects on farming in Illinois. Use this information to summarize what we learned in class.
What’s wrong with this prompt?How could we improve it?
Here’s an example for PhysicsNewton’s laws provide a useful set of principles for understanding relations among objects in our everyday lives. However, as we learned in class, they are not very useful for describing the behavior of matter at the subatomic level or at very high speeds. Based on your notes and information in Chapters 3-6 of your textbook, consider these three ways that the laws of Newtonian physics are “broken” at subatomic levels and very high speeds:
1. Interstellar travel near the speed of light2. Black holes3. Discovery of subatomic particles
Describe what the problems are with Newton’s laws for each example, and how different theories explain each.
And an example for music historyHere are seven major composers from the mid-eighteenth to the twentieth century: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Ludwig von Beethoven Giuseppe Verdi Maurice Ravel Duke Ellington Leonard Bernstein Phillip Glass
All of these composers have had lasting effects on orchestral music in the Western world. However, based on your notes, your textbook, readings, class discussions, and listening to the works of each of these composers. which three would you argue have had the most effect on music today? Limit your response to the space provided below. There is no “right” answer to this question. Your response will be evaluated on the basis of how well you link the three composers you choose to other composers and styles of music that we have studied.
How would you rewrite this question?
Explain the influence of genetics since the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick in the 1950s.
Now let’s get controversial.
Essay questions are a powerful way to promote “deep thinking” in a content area.
But the most powerful way to use them is NOT the traditional way.
Instead, do this:
Tell the students you’re going to help them “cheat.”
Give the questions in advance of the test and help the students to “study” for them. Help them to get their notes together and their answers organized.
On exam day, allow them to use those notes.
No, it’s not.
The students will write on the day of the exam.
Giving them the questions in advance and allowing them to use them will reduce anxiety and help the students to do their best.
They’ll process the content and learn more than they ever could otherwise.
And, you can ask really complex questions…
The kind of questions that get to the nitty-gritty of your discipline
The kind of questions that really push you and the students to THINK
The kind of questions that make them and you feel, look, and BE really smart.
The kind of assessment that catches students at their best, not their worst.