AP World History Teacher

2015 AP Summer Institute Day 2

images-1Today was primarily about the Document Based Question, or DBQ. Because this is a skill based essay, students can learn to do well on it even if their recollection of historical facts isn’t strong. It’s the essay that asks a question and gives the information necessary to answer it.

(The College Board description of this essay and rubric begins on page 109 of the handbook you received at the workshop.)

As mentioned in the Day 1 blog, students need to practice reading and analyzing historical evidence as soon as possible. Here is the activity we did in class to model this task and condition students to analyze historical evidence in preparation for the DBQ. It works great as a class discussion or as small group discussions. Borrowed and adapted from Larry Treadwell, this activity is great for similtaneously teaching content and practicing skills. In small groups, students read and analyze archeological evidence from the Indus River Valley Civilization (Harappa) and hypothesize what this civilization was like. Their inferences must be linked to the 5 Themes of AP World History and must be supported by the evidence. Then they construct a narrative describing what happened to this civilization, again based on evidence.


When you have class discussions about the evidence in this activity I think it’s best to have students recognize how different pieces of evidence converge to make certain hypotheses stronger or weaker. The most astute students will build a case that the Indus Civilization had large surpluses of agriculture, was engaged in long distance trade with Mesopotamia, and was threatened by outside forces and natural disasters such as floods. Note how all these fit into the Key Concepts and Themes of the Curriculum Framework. A good lesson should develop thinking skills and teach content. This one prepares them for DBQ skills and constitutes my entire teaching on the Indus River Valley Civilization.

Something else I do to drive home the importance of POV is the Documents on Justinian activity. I usually give half the class the top document and the other half the bottom, just as we did at the workshop. Students get confused by the enormous discrepancy between these opinions of the emperor, especially when I reveal that both were written by the same person. The documents lend themselves to rich POV potential. Here are some possible POV statements on these two documents.

The ever-popular Football DBQ is useful for teaching POV as well. I made it into a PowerPoint presentation with names from my school. The point of this activity is to figure out what the last play of the football game was like based on evidence. On the advice of another consultant with much more experience than me, I made another version with the text initially deleted from all but the first and last slide. Students can anticipate what the evidence is based on the source.

Perhaps the most illuminating and real-world practice of POVing for my students is the connections my class makes with other places in the world via skype.

On to the DBQ. I highly recommend practicing and honing the component skills of the DBQ as illustrated in the above examples before showing students a full essay. My students see their first DBQ (Responses to the Spread of Buddhism) in the Bucket List DBQ activity we did in class. This initially focuses on analyzing the documents and placing them into groups but concludes with each student writing the full essay and peer evaluations of their attempt. In my years of teaching the DBQ nothing has been as effective in getting students to learn the skill of grouping than this lesson. It’s also great for differentiating instruction as the group activities include visual, auditory, and tactile tasks. You can find the complete Bucket List DBQ lesson plan here.

After writing and peer evaluating this essay I pass out copies of a typed response to this DBQ and have students grade and annotate it. Then I let them see an annotated version to compare with theirs. Both are combined in a single document here.

Here is the Anatomy of a DBQ PowerPoint we saw today at the workshop. I use this to review the basic structure of the essay before students write their first timed summative DBQ. NOTE: You will have to download and run this ppt in order for the dynamic features to work properly.

And finally, in regards to the DBQ, if you need a quick and effective lesson plan requiring virtually no prep time, print one of the DBQs from previous years and have students analyze, group, and POV the documents in a Socratic Seminar/Harkness style discussion. I like to use the 2003 DBQ as its documents are so rich in variety. Here is a list of sample POVs on most of the documents from that DBQ. This could be your entire lesson on indentured servitude, again, building skills and teaching content simultaneously.

Period 2 600 BCE to 600 CE

As with all units in AP World History, design Perio1d 2 strictly by the Curriculum Framework and not your textbook chapters. Here is the file for this content with abbreviated Key Concepts, Mashup of the concepts, and a list of previous essays drawn from this content. (This file includes Period 1 as well).

This Period consists of three Key Concepts which can be found in the College Board handbook on pages 135-143. Here they are on AP Worldipedia:

Classical Civilizations are perfect workbenches for getting students to organize content according to the 5 historical themes. I use this assignment for South Asia and this one for East Asia. Both require students to organized content according to theme and locate the important events in time and geography. Here’s another assignment on Key Concept 2.2 involving the skills of comparison and change and continuity along with Themes 3 and 5. It presupposes you have taught the difference between centralized and decentralized states and how they operate.


Key Concept 2.3 is all about trade. It makes a great connection with Key Concept 3.1 and 4.1 for practicing CCOT skills once you get to period 4. Here is a graphic organizer based on 2.3 that emphasizes the skill of causation in regard to changes on the Silk Roads. If you go to my Google drive you will find a key of possible answers for this activity.

Religion is involved in all three of the Key Concepts in Period 2. You must teach the development of classical religious traditions (2.1), how religion was used by empires (2.2), and finally the effect trade had on the diffusion and transformation of religions (2.3). I have written at length about the latter on my website. However, I highly recommend the book called Religions of the Silk Roads. Not only is this a fascinating look at the syncretic beliefs and practices that emerged as faiths collided, but there is much about the general nature of the Silk Roads as well.