Document Based Questions and Primary Sources

This post comes to us from the Library of Congress Teacher In Residence, Earnestine Sweeting.

Have you been looking for easy access to primary sources to help students think critically and write analytically?

On the Library of Congress’ Teachers page, you’ll find sets of primary sources preselected specifically for classroom use.  Learning activities can be designed from these sets of freely accessible primary sources to help your students analyze and synthesize primary sources. These resources can be a valuable time saver in planning lessons to prepare students from elementary through high school to effectively respond to Document Based Questions, otherwise known as DBQ’s.

The DBQ requires students to analyze common themes, assess varied perspectives on major historical events, and provide historically based evidence and reasoning to support their ideas. These skills, of course, are valuable in completing tasks other than answering a DBQ. Whether your students are presented with DBQ’s or not, you can use the Library’s sets of primary sources on specific topics, together with the Primary Source Analysis Tool, as an instructional resource that provides a range of visual and textual information to increase critical thinking.

Teachers can use:

  • American Memory TimelineThe American Memory Timeline to find primary sources arranged chronologically from a specific time period.  The links to the right will lead you to sets of selected primary sources on a variety of topics in United States History.
  • Primary Source Sets to find primary sources on specific topics. These sets provide an array of items in various formats including maps, cartoons, photographs, and newspapers.

Students can organize and record their thoughts and ideas on the Primary Source Analysis Tool.  Questions selected from the Teacher’s Guide to  Analyzing Primary Sources can prompt further student observation and analysis of the primary sources.

How might you use these sets to structure tasks or assignments that require your students to reconcile conflicting information, evaluate evidence, and analyze common themes?


  1. Joyce
    February 8, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Plan to go over this post with my home schooled high schoolers who are participating in the Chicago Metro History Fair, 2012. I need to increase their usage and appreciation of primary sources along with their abilities to question the same sources whether or not the source is document form. I also intend them to grow as primary sources of documented information which I hope others will find useful as they grow into critical and analytical DBQers.

  2. mossayyeb samanian
    February 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    when you use choronology it is only tools that show many evidence that occcoured in history ,if you want to learning that what is choronology and why it is important between primary reference ,it is better first before the student in use choronology ,they learning about hanbook of coursr special hanbook with history subject and you can give many work about history subjects to student that they available research about this occoured

  3. Bruce
    February 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    This brings up a class that I took in college it was called historyograpy. This class made me awear that not all material is as it appears. It is important to be sure that it isn’t biased or completely false.

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