While it’s true that DBQ (Document-Based Question) essays appear on the NY State Regents and AP History Exams, teachers—esp. history teachers—of EVERY grade should see them as a tremendous tool for teaching both content and critical thinking skills.
The "DBQ Approach" is as follows: Give students multiple documents (including various sources such as letters, paintings, political cartoons, articles, and texts of speeches, among others) to interpret and use in response to a question. Students must then build an ARGUMENT using the documents as EVIDENCE. Sound familiar?
Indeed, DBQ essays require many of the skills involved in writing a research paper: close reading and analysis, inference, summarizing, and synthesizing ideas. But in this case, the teacher provides the research and the driving question. So DBQ essays are like research papers with training wheels, or "add-water-and-stir" research papers. And teachers of ANY grade can take the DBQ approach. Because you control the question and the documents, you determine the difficulty of the assignment. And as always, it’s good practice to model what you’re looking for before you ask students to tackle it independently.
Here are a few sample questions from “DBQs Main Page,” an AP History Website that offers more than 70 student- and teacher-created DBQs, along with general Websites for DBQ research:
“World War II was more important than the Great Depression in fundamentally transforming American society. Assess the validity of this statement based on your knowledge of American society between 1930 and 1945 and the documents below.” (by Mr. Steven Mercado, Chaffey H. S., CA) (Found at: http://www.historyteacher.net/2001DBQsMainPage.htm)
“One of the ironies of World War I was that in a war 'to make the world safe for democracy,' the government attacked the civil liberties that make democracy possible. Assess the validity of this statement.” (Found at: http://www.historyteacher.net/2000DBQsMainPage.htm)
Here are a few more resources to check out:
***This blog by Jack Milgram lists 75 useful Websites: https://custom-writing.org/blog/history-websites
- Smithsonian Learning Lab: "Discover more than a million resources, create personal collections and educational experiences, and share your work."
- Sample 8th grade Social Studies DBQ Test from NY Regents (2007).
- NY Regents DBQs for 8th grade Social Studies OVERVIEW PAGE.
- The Upstate History Alliance gives overview information on DBQs and links to other useful sites.
- This Regents Prep Website provides a model for how to respond to DBQ questions.
- DocsTeach provides more than 3,000 primary sources selected from the National Archives, plus activities! (Thanks to Brent Maddin for this lead!)
- http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ - straightforward and comprehensive, it holds transcripts of every major document pertaining to American history from early English documents to the present day. (Thanks to Bob Donnelly for this link and the one that follows!)
- http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/ - constantly updated, lots of lesson ideas, news clips, sound bites, original docs, a complete curriculum of US History. Bob Donnelly notes: "One of my favorites is the entrance exam to get into Jersey City's public high school from the late 19th century."
- Fordham University's Internet Modern History Sourcebook contains thousands of sources.
- http://www.historyteacher.net/ contains links to many other helpful history-related sites. (Thanks to Kaity Korda for this lead!)
- http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/: a multimedia web-book about art and art history.
- Documents in World History offers hundreds of pages of documents to support the teaching of world history. (Thanks to Michael Mackenna for this lead!)
- http://teachersites.schoolworld.com/webpages/TBurke1/files/R3%20Primary%20Source%20Handbook.pdf provides an array of primary source documents, esp. for world history teachers (Thanks again to Michael Mackenna!)
- This MiddleWeb post by Frank Baker shares info about how to teach students to analyze propaganda, and MindOverMedia is a great resource!
- US History Curriculum from New Visions for Public Schools has a ton of great resources. (Thanks to Daquan Mickens for this lead!)
- Global History Curriculum from New Visions for Public Schools, ditto!
- PBS Learning Media provides "access to 100k+ standards-aligned digital resources, productivity tools that can help you integrate content into your instruction, and professional development opportunities that will strengthen your teaching skills."
Here are some additional helpful research-oriented Websites, which in turn contain links to other useful sites (Many thanks to Mitch Brenner for these leads!):
- American History 102 (designed by Professor Stanley K. Schultz of UW-Madison)
- The Authentic History Center
- HarpWeek-Explore History
The keys to success on DBQ essays are the same keys as on any other essay: you have to 1) build an ARGUMENT and 2) support it with EVIDENCE. And of course, in order to do that, you have to COMPREHEND the texts that you’ve read. Check out Argument vs. Evidence for guidance on Steps 1-6 of Argument vs. Evidence. Check out Writing 101 for more on fundamentals of writing instruction, Comprehension 101 for more on how we comprehend, and Research Paper Guide if you want to move in that direction.
For support on how to teach students to build "quote sandwiches" (context, evidence, and explanation), check out these TLC Blog posts on quote sandwiches.
***RELATED WORK: If you're interested in MOCK TRIALS, here's a link to a Mini-Mock Trial Manual. (Thanks to George Mankbadi for this link!)