Writing Your Own DBQ

     Most Secondary Social Studies teachers recognize the importance of using Document Based Questions in their classroom – however writing an entire DBQ can be daunting.  My recent DBQ – What was Texas’s greatest contribution to the Civil War? took me over 8 hours to write! But there is no better teacher than experience, so I wanted to share my learning with you. These are the steps I used to create my own DBQ.


1.    Condense your content – What exactly are the learning targets for your students?  In my DBQ, I wanted my students to learn about Texas in the Civil War – including battles, economic contributions and military leadership.
2.  Write a provocative essential question – this took me several attempts.  When I first started, my essential question was one I had used before: What role did Texas play in the Civil War? It didn’t excite me anymore.  As I worked through my content, I realized that I wanted my students to evaluate the content, this led me to my new question – What was Texas’s GREATEST CONTRIBUTION to the Civil War?
3.  Create your categories.This will help you narrow down your search for primary source documents. My categories will lead to my 3 body paragraphs in the DBQ.
4.  Find your primary sources.This step can be difficult, simply because there are so many great primary resources, it is hard to decide which ones to use.  I aimed for a variety of resources for my DBQ – I was able to find three maps, a poem, a diary entry, a congressional award and an epitaph to use for my resources. I combined them together on four separate “Documents” A-D. This will allow my students to reference them in their final DBQ essay.  On each of the documents, I wrote several “Document Analysis” questions.  This is my way of making sure the students focus on the correct content in their primary source.
5.  My next step was to write a background essay.  If you have a good textbook, this step may not be necessary, but mine didn’t go in depth enough to cover my standards.  I will use this background essay to introduce my students to the topic and to cover any content that is not in a primary source.  I also wrote “Stop and Discuss” questions with my background essay.  I want to make sure my students comprehend the content before tackling the documents.
6.  I know writing the essay will be difficult for my students, so I also developed a handout to guide them through this process.
7.  And while it sounds counter-intuitive, my final step was to create a hook – how was I going to introduce my students to the topic?  I LOVE using music in my class, so I pulled “The Bonnie Blue Flag” into my opening assignment.


Now that my DBQ is complete, I am excited about using it with my kids!  If you want to see it – you can find it here. I have also written a DBQ for Immigration in the mid-1800’s “How did immigrants contribute to the growth of the United States?: You can find it here.  

Off to the next adventure in Social Studies!


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