Benefits of Teaching Students to Respond to Document Based Questions in the First Two Weeks of School


When I first started teaching, there were quite a few lessons and activities that I found to be just plain overwhelming. At first I was nervous to try new things. I was afraid to fail. I was afraid to “look bad” in front of my 10th graders. Can you relate?

Trying out a new lesson can be intimidating because there is just so much that can go wrong; as a new teacher you have to be able to think on your feet to solve classroom issues (be it lesson related or behavior related) as they arise. Sometimes, you don’t have the tools at your disposal and that is OK! Teaching is a fluid process and I believe that the best teachers go back and forth between the role of teacher and learner throughout the day, EVERY day!

Teaching students how to respond to document based questions (DBQ’s) was one of those lessons that I avoided like the plague during my first year of teaching. I knew how to write a DBQ myself, but teaching someone else how to do that was easier said than done. Teaching the writing process is an art in and of itself. Writing is a personal and instinctual (if you will) process in and of itself  and it can be hard to articulate how you came up with a specific sentence structure or why you organized your response just so. Responding to a document based question requires students to be able to comprehend, analyze, and synthesize information in a coherent and organized way. WOAH, is that a big task for a newby teacher to take on or what?

During the summer between my first and second years of teaching I attended a workshop on teaching DBQ’s in the Social Studies classroom. After this workshop I felt that I had the tools to tackle the DBQ assignment with my students. Every year since I have started off the first two weeks of school by teaching my students how to properly respond to a document based question. I have found that starting the year off this way allows me to:

  • set high expectations for my students right away
  • show my students that I will break up difficlut assignments into attainable chunks so that they can be successful
  • introduce the difference between primary and secondary sources
  • introduce partner work and the expectations for partner work
  • introduce collaborative learning and peer grading
  • obtain multiple writing samples
  • teach students how to properly cite sources
  • teach students reading strategies (such as WAVES and SOAPSTone) that we will use to analyze documents throughout the school year.

In the coming weeks I will be doing a series on document based questions to walk you through two weeks of my lesson plans that teach students social students content content and how to respond to DBQ’s simultaneously. Writing is integral to the Social Studies classroom and it should be taught as such. I hope you will stay tuned and joined me on this journey.

Happy teaching!