Introducing Document-based Questions in Class

Michelle Bouchillon is a teacher in Conroe ISD (Texas). Step into her Pre-AP World Geography classroom to see how she introduces the concept of DBQs to her students. Michelle understands the importance of vertical alignment among Pre-AP and AP classes. She feels it is her responsibility to help prepare her students for the DBQs they’ll face on future AP tests. DBQs challenge students to analyze, categorize, and synthesize information from various primary sources.

You’ll notice in the video clip that Michelle’s students universally respond that they’ve “never heard of a DBQ.” So to introduce the concept of a DBQ to her class, Michelle uses a strategy based on Bruner’s idea of spiral curriculum and Gardner’s work with multiple intelligences. Instead of throwing a stack of documents at the students, she starts at the ground level and builds up!

1. Students complete a Preview in which they look for similarities (both obvious and subtle) between various images.

2. In groups, students attempt to sort and categorize magazine pictures, few of which are obviously related to each other.

3. Groups write 3-4 sentences justifying their categories, and then share their answers.

Her students are now ready to try this same process using the documents in a sample DBQ, and hopefully their comfort level with this unique question type will slowly continue to increase.

What other strategies have you used to introduce students to DBQs?