DBQ = Document Based Question

January 18, 2010
Crescent Public Schools Library


The DBQ Project is committed to helping teachers implement rigorous writing and thinking activities with students of all skill levels.
We are guided by these 5 core beliefs:

Note to CHS Faculty:
Writing assignments should be an integral part of an online curriculum supporting authentic teaching and assessment. Teachers can add primary and secondary documents to their online curriculum for student use on the assignment.

The Mini-Q materials from this workshop can serve as a guide for most writing assignments (in all subject areas) in the online curriculum for the 1-to-1 laptop program.

Although classroom assignments may be shorter or longer, student products from a Mini-Q exercise is a 5-paragraph essay. Although writing is the basic skill involved, CHS teachers could certainly have students produce a Podcast or other multi-media product.

The DBQ materials suggest:

  • When you ask students to write, make sure it is an exercise that is thought through and worthwhile.
  • When you ask students to write, provide them with clear models so they know what they're doing. This generally speeds up essay evaluation because the reader has specific things to look for and the writer is more likely to include them.
  • Teachers should set up at least an occasional writing workshop. (see toolkit)


  1. Introductions and Workshop Overview
    • The DBQ Project is dedicated to teaching students to become better analytical thinkers without losing creativity in the process. The target is not the "right" answer, but a thoughtful one.
    • This presents an immediate problem. Thought requires time, and time is the enemy of the teacher who is trying to squeeze the entire story into a single school year. Setting aside two days here and there to do a Mini-Q can trigger the "I'm-falling-behind" jitters.
    • The DBQ Project is sensitive to these concerns. We have two ideas. One, we feel there is enough story-telling content in the Background Essays and the documents so that time is saved elsewhere. Two, we are choosing to give special emphasis to "process". The happy truth is that content learned through process is more likely to stick.
  2. The DBQ Project Philosophy and History
    • The Document Based Question is an effective way to get students engaged in thinking, and thinking about thinking. Again and again students need to define key terms in an analytical question, identify sources and determine if they are primary or secondary, read for general meaning, group documents into analytical categories, support ideas with specific data, and then in an essay, articulate an argument.
    • The DBQ is an effective tool for developing writing skills. For poor writers it provides a framework for learning to write five paragraph essays. For good writers it provides enough substance to spark thoughtful and tightly argued pieces.
    • The DBQ is well suited for group work, especially document analysis and peer editing.
    • The DBQ is an ego booster and a democratizer. Students feel good because they know they are doing an exercise similar to that done in an AP class.
  3. Structure of the Mini-Q Materials/The DBQ Project Method
    Step 1: Engaging the student - The Hook
    • The purpose of the Hook is to get students interested in the assignment and/or to introduce a critical thinking skill.
    • The Hook should take 10 to 15 minutes.
    • All Hook exercises should be done with a partner or group.
    Step 2: Building Context - The Backbround Essay
    • The teacher uses a background essay to provide a context for the assignment and give students the basic information needed to understand the assignment.
    • Read the background essay aloud in class.
    • Don't race through it. If students truly have a sense of time, place, and story they will do a better job on the assignment.
    Step 3: Clarifying the Question - Pre-Bucketing
    The Analytical Question:
    • Understanding the analytical question is one of the most important parts of the assignment.
    • The analytical question will be the title of the student essay.
    • To understand the analytical question, students must be able to restate the question in their own words, without changing the meaning.
    Defining Key Terms:
    • Help students form the habit of identifying key words in the question that need clarifying.
    • Words that seem too simple to bother with sometimes become more problematic upon close inspection.
    Pre-Bucketing (gross analysis):

    • Gross analysis refers to the grouping (bucketing) of documents into analytical categories.
    • With guidance students are often able to predict some of the analytical categories (bucket names) based on three clues: the question, the document titles, and the content of the Backgrounp Essay.
    • Pre-bucketing gives students a visual framework for their document analysis.
    • Students now have a clear purpose for reading through the documents.
    • Because buckets become body paragraphs, an essay framework is already in the making.
    Seven Basic Question Types (The 7 C's):
    • cause − What caused the Civil War?
    • compare and contrast − Classical Greece and China: How great were the differences?
    • consequence − What was the most important consequence of the printing press?
    • cost-benefit − How did colonialism affect Kenya?
    • components − Gandhi, MLK and Mandela: What made non-violence work?
    • casting judgement − How violent was the Old West?
    • change over time − How revolutionary was the American revolution?
    Step 4: Understanding the documents - Close Analysis
    • Close analysis refers to breaking down an individual document into elements like fact, inference, main idea, and point of view.
    • See the document analysis process.
    Step 5: Grouping documents - Bucketing

    • Buckets are the analytical categories in which documents are placed, based on their subject material.
    • After reading through all the documents students have enough information to re-bucket − replace their pre-bucket labels with actual categories drawn from the documents.
    • Students label the buckets and place documents in appropriate buckets.
    • It is possible to put a document in more than one bucket (multi-bucketing).
    • They can change their mind and move a document (re-bucketing).
    • Bucketing helps students organize arguments and set up their paper.
    • A special power of buckets is that they become body paragraphs.

    Step 6: Writing - From thrash-out to essay
    • Before students move to the writing stage of the assignment, there should be some kind of energized discussion (trash-out) where students can verbally argue their opinions on the question.
    • Some exchanges may be heated. Others may be simply clarifying.
    • Through this process, students will gain a clearer idea of what they think. They will take "ownership" of their thesis as they sharpen their understanding in their mind.
  4. Doing a Mini-Q: (workshop group activity)
    "Valley Forge: Would You Have Quit?"
  5. The Scary Transition: From Document Analysis to the Essay
    Organizing the Essay - Tool 1:
    Organizing the Essay - Tool 2:
  6. Writing: Elements of a Good DBQ Essay
    • The Introduction
      • Grabber - get the reader's attention, must be relevent
      • Background - the time, the place, the story (ONLY 2 to 3 sentences)
      • Restatement of the question
      • Definition of Key Terms (if necessary)
      • Thesis - answers the question, what you will prove in the essay
      • Roadmap - reasons, how you will prove the thesis
    • The Body Paragraphs
      • Baby Thesis - the topic sentence - what you will prove in the paragraph
      • Evidence with citations - documents
        • Documenting information in an essay is an important part of the critical thinking process. It develops the habit of backing up claims with evidence.
        • For DBQ essays use simple parenthetical references, such as: "On February 1, 1778, 3,989 of the 8000 soldiers at Valley Forge were sick." (Document A)
        • At the very least, there should be one citation per body paragraph.
      • Argument - why does this evidence prove the baby thesis
    • Conclusion
      • Restatement of Thesis
      • "Although Statement" - acknowledge the other side of the argument
      • Main argument which trumps "although" statement - shows your side of the argument is best
      • Explanation of why the question is important today - why the reader should care
  7. Norming Student Papers
Presented by: Janine Corrin, jcorrin@comcast.net

Attending: J. Askew, S. Booth, E. Carey, J. Cook, D. Ingram, K. Lovett, S, Lyon, J. Mason, D. McCormick, P. Owens, W. Owens, B. Watkins, T. Watkins, J. Wilson, D. Wininger

More DBQ Links: