Activity Types: DBQ


Getting "Handy" in the classroom with technology integration

What are Document Based Questions?

DBQ, or document based questions, is a structured form of writing. Students read, analyze, and summarize documents (usually historical but not always) by answering questions about provided documents. Students then an essay based upon information a specific task. Peter Pappas, in his Web article entitled Teaching with Documents, describes the completed DBQ as:

The DBQ will consist of two parts. In the first part, students will be required to answer a key question on each document. This generally involves interpreting the main idea or point of view expressed in the document. This section will be "scaffolded" to the second part in which the student will write an essay using the documents to respond to a specific question. In this second part, students are asked to utilize all the sources, plus their understanding of history to respond to a question. This second part will require them to move beyond simply quoting all the documents. They will need to use the documents as evidence in support of a thesis that responds to the assigned (part two) question. The student will be required to use all documents and incorporate outside information. The student will have no choice on the DBQ.

Advantages for use in the classroom:

  • Working with primary source documents tends to bring the subject matter alive

  • Students are "guided" through exploration of documents and using documents to construct a written essay

  • Promotes higher-order thinking skills and multiple perspectives

Disadvantages for use in the classroom:

  • Structure of writing is very specific--student interest and choice not considered

  • Teacher must locate documents to be utilized; preparation time


Copyright 2002-2011 Handy4Class Project

Candace Figg, PhD
Brock University
Faculty of Education, Teacher Education Department
500 Glenridge, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada L2S 3A1
(905.688.5550, x5347)

Jenny Burson, EdD
University of Texas at Austin (retired)
Education Department, Curriculum and Instruction