Skip to content

History Nerdfest 2016 Day One: DBQs and elementary kids

Yeah. I get it. #NCSS16 and #NSSSA16 have the words “social studies” in their titles. But Social Studies Nerdfest just doesn’t sound as cool as History Nerdfest. It just isn’t.

So . . . try to ignore it if it bugs you. Either way, I’ve got two and half days left in the annual National Social Studies Supervisors / National Council for the Social Studies conference – thousands of social studies teachers getting together to chat / learn / argue about all sorts of cool, fun, and new social studies stuffs. This year, we’re all together in Washington DC. How cool is that?

Just a bunch of history nerds getting together to get smarter. And every year I try as best that I can to document the nerdy goodness I run across. The first session of this year’s Nerdfest was actually a session I did at the NSSSA –  quick review of Virtual Reality in the Social Studies. It went well . . . right up until the Internet stopped connecting all of our devices in the Google Expeditions app.

Yeah. We faked it for a few minutes and eventually got a few people into the VR world. But still some great conversation about possibilities of VR in the SS.

The first session that I attended was titled Teaching and Assessing DBQs in the K-2 Grades. And you’re probably thinking what I was thinking. Seriously? I talk about having elementary kids use primary sources but the title was very intriguing. I was not disappointed.

Regina Wallace and Tashika Clanton of Clayton County Public Schools near Atlanta shared how their district is scaffolding the DBQ skills of five, six and seven year old kids. Yup. Pretty awesome. I tried to keep up and have pasted some of what they shared below.

Biggest takeaway?

I am now convinced that all grades, from kindergarten to seniors, can and should be using primary sources to respond to historical thinking prompts.

Regina and Tashika started by sharing some of the challenges they faced as they implemented the elementary DBQ process.

Misconceptions and Obstacles

  • Literacy rates. 50% of their kids are not reading at grade level
  • Lack of background knowledge
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Teacher buy-in / received a lot of push back especially in K-2
  • Traditional teaching styles / Too much lecture and textbook Q & A
  • Student ability
  • Relevance

Teaching with DBQs

It’s not about just the end product – teachers need to focus on the process. So concentrate on these three things:

  • Dissect the writing prompt
  • Analyze documents
  • Respond to the writing promptclayton-matrix

It’s all about the balance between content and skills. Stay focused on the end in mind – what can a kid do by the end of second grade. To do this, they developed and used a progression Chart and a Social Studies Skills Matrix. They also did a lot of research to ensure that these skills are grade level appropriate.

It’s all about laying the foundation for future work and making sure kids understand that it’s about the process, not necessarily about perfection.

To make this happen, teachers must:

  • Deconstruct the standard
  • Set learning learning goals and targets
  • Think about DBQs and other assessments types
  • Develop background knowledge such as vocabulary including making sure students understand words like “analyze” and “cite.”
  • Make the process student friendly

Best practices at K-2. Things to do and use:

  • Picture Walk –  guide and model students through looking at images and simple documents. Teachers need to literally show kids what they should be looking for and at in the primary sources.
  • Think Alouds – Models the thinking process when addressing the guiding question of the DBQ.
  • Graphic organizers – Foldables, Vocabulary Flipbooks. T- Charts with documents on each side with evidence, Word Splash, Venn Diagrams to compare and contrast evidence.
  • Writing support – when students need teachers the most. Teachers use the idea sentence framing quite a bit – provide a portion of the sentence for the kid and students then fill in the blanks.
  • Do lots of formative assessment through the process.
  • Don’t water the language down – use the historical thinking terms (citation, analysis, document-based question). Kids want to use this sort of language!
  • Create a DBQ notebook with step by step instructions and rubric that allows students to go back and review.
  • Work together with ELA department to enfuse historical / social studies content with ELA skills and process. Reading complex and informational text is all about social studies – connect the two contents.
  • Collect video of good teaching examples as well as students working with documents. Use the video to help other teachers see what it can look like.


This second grade DBQ asks students to use two different images of shelter types with the following prompt:

Using evidence from the following images and your knowledge of the content, compare and contrast the information in the images. Be sure to include in your explanation one of the following:

  • Natural resources
  • Shelter


Want a student response?


Need some more? Cause their kids are doing all sorts of high level thinking and writing at the early elementary level:

img_5553-1 img_5554-1 img_5555 img_5556

Basically, no excuses. If early elementary kids in Clayton County are able to do this, we should be finding ways for this to happen at all grades.

Want more info on how cool this is? Both Regina and Tashika would love to talk with you.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: