Tips and Tricks for DBQs in ELA and Social Studies

April 10, 2019
Kristina Janeway

Working across the curriculum content areas has been all the buzz the last several years. In the Literature-Based DBQ series, the idea was to use great literary works from different periods to foster these connections across the curriculum as well as to provide students with the ability to practice skills needed on various AP®, IB®, and SAT® exams. The idea behind this series is to teach smarter, not harder, by aligning curriculum and multiple tests, as well as crossing the curriculum.

Each of the Literature-Based DBQs has five or six thematically linked DBQs that feature a poem, a short story, a non-fiction selection (articles as well as some primary sources), and a graphic that all support a central, unit question. These materials are meant to support and extend the literary analysis through the use of the central themes in the selections.  

When integrating these DBQs into your existing novel unit, think about starting and stopping. What I mean is really look at the themes of the selection and think about the points that pique the interests of the kids. Those are the points in the novel where you want to place the DBQ. It will extend their understanding of the theme across various selections as well as content areas and create a bit of suspense in wanting to get back to the content of the novel.

The first time my students completed a DBQ, it felt like it took forever because I wanted to lay a strong foundation through modeling, instructing, and guiding analysis, annotation, organization, and composition.

Basic Strategy:

Read—The first page of the DBQ provides context for the theme in relationship to the framing selection.

  • Make sure that the quote on the first page has been covered in order to make student analysis of the relationship between the DBQ selections and the framing text stronger.
  • Make notes about the relationship between the quote and the theme for the DBQ as well as having the students mark the section of the selection with a sticky note so that it is quickly available for the essay component.
  • Read the Unit Question. Underline the keywords and write them at the top of each of the selections in the DBQ.
  • Read and annotate each selection for ONLY the Unit Question and the thematic relationship to the framing selection. You want to annotate for the basics of each genre or for the Guiding Questions with each selection for additional practice.

Think—Think about all the text-to-text relationships. These are the notes that will provide the analysis and textual evidence for the final timed essay.

  • What is the relationship between the Unit Question and the selection from the DBQ?
  • What is the relationship between the theme and the selection from the DBQ?
  • What is the relationship between the DBQ selection and the framing selection?
  • How does this selection prove your answer(s) to the Unit Question? Why?

Write—Keep things simple. Several years ago, I field-tested various graphic organizers versus the traditional outline in order to assist students in preparing evidence and thoughts for composition. Hands down, every single student selected the outline because of the simplicity of the structure, predictable patterns, and ease of use. So, I’ve kicked organization old-school and outlined with the kids ever since.

  • The hook of the introduction needs to incorporate the theme of the DBQ.
  • The thesis is a combination of the keywords from the Unit Question and the brainstorming of the possible answers by the students.
  • The number of paragraphs needed is completely dictated by the task in the Unit Question as well as the amount of physical space to compose. Sometimes I have the kids do a final copy on notebook paper, other times we use Google Docs—either way, there is always a rough draft.
  • Use the grading rubric as a peer revising and editing tool.

Sample Foundational Lesson Plans:

Day 1:

  • Discuss the theme of the selection and the DBQ.
  • Analyze the first page of the DBQ using Read-Think-Write and set up the DBQ.
  • Begin the analysis of the selections.
    • Be deliberate in the selection of the order in annotating the selections. You do not have to go sequentially. In fact, I rarely did when using these in class. Think about things like level of difficulty, length, interest, publication chronology, weakest genre for students, etc.
    • Once the kids are stronger at the analysis of the DBQs, consider different groupings such as Clock Partners (a different partner for each selection), dividing the class into four large groups and then Jigsaw the selections in groups of four, I do-We do-You do modeling by you or a series of different students, Gallery Walks, rotating through stations, and so on. Change things up so that the kids don’t get bored, and lessons don’t become mundane.

Day 2:

  • Continue the analysis of the selections.

Day 3:

  • Continue the analysis of the selections.

Day 4:

  • Continue the analysis of the selections.

Day 5:

  • Brainstorm possible answers to the Unit Question. Have the students do this individually for a couple of minutes, then continue the brainstorming process as a whole class activity.
  • Model the next steps for the students BEFORE having them do it themselves.
  • Have the students select the answer(s) they want to use in their composition.
  • Note which selection(s) work best with which answer(s).

Day 6:

  • Practice writing thematic statements using the central DBQ theme for the hook.
  • Review the parts of an essay and how to construct them using the outline.
  • Begin composing an outline. Model, then have the students work either individually or with a partner to compose the outline.

Day 7:

  • Peer revise outline.
  • Compose rough draft.

Day 8:

  • Peer revise and edit the rough draft. Use different partners than with the peer revising of the outline. New eyes are always important.
  • Self-revise and edit the rough draft.
  • Compose final copy using the medium of your choice.

As the students become used to the structure and more adept at the concepts, the length of time will shorten considerably. I’ve had a full DBQ take three days by the end of the year with eighth-grade middle school students. Another thing to consider is using the DBQs as outside reading for the week, bell-ringers for the week, or as blog or other technology platform assignments for the week (Edmoto, Moodle, Google Docs Blog).

No matter how these DBQs are integrated into the existing curriculum, the spiraling effect of analysis, composition, and text-to-text relationships are well worth the time.

Related Resources:

Kristina Janeway | Teacher & Author

Kristina Janeway is a Pre-AP, GT, and PSAT/Pre-AP English teacher in Lubbock, Texas. She has designed ELA to Social Studies curriculum for 15 years.

For more from Kristen Janeway visit her website here.

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