DBQs for Students and You

By Kristi Grubaugh, Contributing Teacher –

I still remember the first time I showed a class a copy of the Declaration of Independence. The wonder and awe of my fifth graders was genuine because they believed I had in my possession the actual, original Declaration of Independence. The excitement spread so fast that when second period arrived, they all wanted to see the document. “Is it real?” and “Can I touch it?” were repeated over and over.

The opportunity to see and touch primary source materials is a huge enticement for students. The famous documents, first-person letters, diaries, drawings and images make history more personal. But we need to remember that just a quick look at an image in a book or one reading of a document really don’t allow students to question the choices people made and analyze the events and their results.

Document Based Questioning (DBQ) activities take advantage of the students’ innate interest in primary sources. The time to study, question and analyze is built into the lesson structure. Students can compare the images and music from the inaugurations of George Washington and Andrew Jackson to gain a better understanding how the stature and perception of the presidency had changed over time. Reading the letters written to and from the home front during the Civil War allow the students a look into the private suffering and fears of the soldiers and their families. Examining the intent and purpose of propaganda posters give students insight into how war is marketed. Contrasting the words and rhythms of the songs from the beginning of a war to the songs at the end provide students a chance to analyze how the emotion about a war changed.

If you never have tackled creating your own DBQ activity, Writing Your Own DBQ (Dec. 28, 2015) will break down the process for you into seven easy to follow steps.

An excellent example of a DBQ lesson found at the same site is Was the American Revolution Justified? Pre AP Version A Document Based Question Activity.  In this well-paced lesson includes a hook activity to a closure/assessment product. The students have the opportunity to be members of different groups as they research and discuss the information in one group and become the expert on a topic in another group.

This DBQ requires students to analyze the causes of the American Revolution.

The Lesson Plan provided makes planning for time, grouping and grading very clear. Also included are the masters for the Anticipation Guide, the Principles of a Just War reading materials, the Brace Map, the matrix and cards for the Timeline of the Events Leading to the American Revolution and primary source Documents A, B and C.

This activity requires students to analyze the events leading to the American Revolution to decide for themselves, Was the American Revolution Justified?

In addition to several group work sections, students are involved in class discussions, debate, debriefing and independent writing.

DBQ is a rich opportunity to engage your students in historical events and an important tool in the instruction of history. How do you use DBQ and primary sources in your classroom? Where are your sources of documents, music and images?


Kristi Grubaugh has 32 years of teaching experience in both self-contained and departmentalized classrooms. She taught ELA and Life Skills for five years at 6th and 7th grades in Kilmarnock, Virginia. In Weatherford, Texas, she taught 14 years at 4th grade and 12 years at 5th grade, focusing on U.S. history and science. The one year at 1st grade still gives her bad flashbacks.

Kristi graduated from Sleepy Hollow High School, home of the Headless Horsemen, in Tarrytown, New York, a long time ago. She earned her B.S. in Education at Madison College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Kristi lives in Fort Worth, Texas, where she was born, a very long time ago.

Kristi has been a national trainer for TCI, maker of History Alive! and Social Studies Alive! since 2001. She also writes and trains for Accelerated Learning Inc., maker of STEMscopes, since 2012.

Kristi currently has three cats and red hair, reads mystery books and binges on Netflix and uses water aerobics as an excuse to get off the couch.

Kristi has started posting her science lab activities and Texas history products at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Eureka-You-Found-It


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