Class 6: Literacy DBL

I is for India

I is for India,
Our land to the East
Where everyone goes
To shoot tigers, and feast

Common Core offers an incentive for teachers to use historic documents to build literacy skills in a content area while empowering students to be the historian in the classroom. But a document-based lesson (DBL) in this context requires four key elements to be successful:

  1. The right documents.
  2. Knowing how to look at them.
  3. Letting students discover their own patterns, then asking students to describe, compare and defend what they found. These historical thinking skills correlate with edTPA’s language functions.
  4. Basing the task on enduring questions, the kind that students might actually want to answer.

Class 6 offers strategies for assisting students to more closely read a document (in all their multimedia formats) by answering three Common Core questions.

  1. What did it say?
  2. How did it say it? See: SHEG – Sourcing, Contextualizing
  3. What’s it mean to me? See: SHEG – Corroborating

Here’s a handout of my slide deck 3.2MB pdf


Students will design their own literacy DBL. Assignment (note – various due dates)

For source material, I’ve collected some great websites that include many of the major archives from around the world.

Best Sites for Primary Documents in World History

Best Sites for Primary Documents in US History

Here’s some some sample DBLs that I have designed:

Page from: “An A B C, for baby patriots”
Creator: Ames, Mary Frances
Publisher: Dean & Son
Place of Publication: London (160a Fleet Street E.C.)
Publication Date: [1899]
Archive: University of Florida UF00086056:00001

Literacy DBL Design Project

An A B C, for baby patriotsWorking as individuals or in 2 person teams, students will design a document-based lesson (DBL) question suitable for inclusion in our iBook (available at iTunes).

See Class  6 for recommendations for DBLs and Teaching with Documents. Your DBL will include:

  1. Introduction of the DBL with brief historic context as needed.
  2. Generative / essential question
  3. About 5 – 8 related documents (image, text, video, audio) that will assist the students in answering the generative question
  4. Clear statement of what students will be asked to do
  5. Close reading scaffolding question for each document to assist the student in examining the document

A good example of a DBL is Progress and Poverty in Industrial America  This is a pdf version of one of my iBooks. (note: you will not have full function of all the gallery and video widgets). It uses 11 documents, which is a bit more than I expect for your DBL.

The DBL Design Assignment will be accomplished in steps:

Step 1: Develop a proposal which will be submitted for peer review. You should be prepared to deliver a 2 min pitch to class. (not a written assignment to be turned in)
Due date:  10/12.

We’ll do a bit of “speed dating” of our ideas for the DBL Assignment. Students will form two lines and have 2 minutes to pitch their DBL design idea to each other and share some feedback. Then one line will shift and we repeated the pitch exchange. In all students will pitch their idea three times.

The goal of this phase is to gather feedback from peers regarding the following:

  1. You have an interesting generative / essential question worth answering.
  2. Your initial appraisal indicates there are suitable documents available.
  3. You have an idea for how students will be asked interpret your documents.

Step 2: Submit a preliminary idea for your DBL design project for Peter’s feedback by 10/19. It should be posted to a shared Google folder.

Here’s a short video on using shared Google folder

It can be in the form of a Google doc that addresses:

  1. Where will you use it?  Grade, course, etc
  2. An interesting generative / essential question worth answering.
  3. 3 -5 suitable documents (include links).
  4. A brief explanation of “what are the kids going to do?”

Note: This is not intended to be a fully developed lesson. Just an idea of where you intend to go.

Step 3: Prepare content for iBooks Author lab session on 11/23

Workflow? See this guide Getting Ready for iBooks Author 57KB pdf

Step 4: iBooks Author design session 11/23

Step 5: Peer review of draft iBook 11/30

Step 6: Write a reflection on your DBL design process and post to our blog (your final post). It will also be added to your iBook chapter – due 12/6.

Step 7: Final design session in Digital lab 12/7

Title: “An A B C, for baby patriots”
Creator: Ames, Mary Frances
Publisher: Dean & Son
Place of Publication: London (160a Fleet Street E.C.)
Publication Date: [1899]
Archive: University of Florida UF00086056:00001

Incarceration and the Bill of Rights


I’ve always enjoyed creating lessons. While they are difficult at times, there are few other feelings akin to creating something with the express purpose of educating others. While this lesson is no different, and I am excited to have it be used in classrooms, I still have some reservations. The chances of me seeing any other educator using this lesson is incredibly close to zero, and while this is not a major hang up I feel as the creator of this lesson that I should observe each of its uses in order to modify it.

This lesson is created for high school classes. While this lesson can be used in its own solo lesson, it would be much more effective if this lesson was part of a larger unit on either World War II or a unit that focuses on the Bill of Rights.

Note: While it is possible to do this as a stand-alone lesson, it would be much more efficient if paired with another lesson educating about Japanese Incarceration. As another note: the times given for note taking etc. are not hard set, change them to best fit your classroom.

Grade Level: High School

Overview: Students will focus on the Japanese incarceration and its constitutionality in terms of the United States of America’s Bill of Rights.

Goals: Students should be able to think critically as well as discuss and support a chosen point of view.

Standard: Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

Objectives: To better understand Japanese incarceration and the Bill of Rights.

Resources: Suitcase, writing utensils, Bill of Rights handout, blank paper.


  • Ask students if they have prior knowledge on the Japanese incarceration during World War II, if students have no knowledge of this event quickly go over the basics of what happened.
  • Pass out Bill of Rights worksheet and have students read through the sheet.
  • As students are reading the Bill of Rights, number them between one and three. Students numbered one will be debating that the Japanese incarceration WAS constitutional while the students numbered two will be arguing that it was NOT constitutional. Students numbered three will be the judges.
  • Give students ten minutes to construct an argument that defends their assigned side. Judges should be monitoring other two students making sure they are on task and creating arguments. Students should be writing down their notes and arguments on a blank sheet of paper.
  • Break the students into groups of three, making sure to have one student of each number in the group. Students will then, in five-minute turns, argue their viewpoint. In the next five-minute turn students will both defend their argument while attempting to undermine their opponents’ argument. At this time the teacher should be walking around taking notes on students’ activities.
  • Judges should be taking careful notes as to both of the debater’s arguments. At the end of the assigned time the judge should write down which debater they believe had a stronger argument and why they believe this person was right.

Formative Assessment: Students will turn in their completed notes on the Bill of Rights

Summative Assessment: Students will be required to write a short essay on the unit test arguing for one viewpoint or the other.

Bill of Rights photo from:

Bringing Primary Sources to the Classroom: Nikkei Center Suitcase Lesson

           ImageFor the EdMethods class a few peers and I have created a set of lessons for the Nikkei Legacy Center (a museum located in Portland, OR) to pair with the museum’s suitcases. Educators can check out the suitcases, which contain numerous primary sources about Japanese Americans in Portland and their time spent in incarceration camps. The lessons we created range from elementary, middle to high school level.

Creating lessons is always a bit of a challenge but it is even more of a challenge when making them for someone else. The suitcase project has been a great way to practice my lesson making skills by making sure the lessons are thorough in explanations, complete in resources but still flexible so teachers can adapt them to their classrooms.

My lesson is for a middle school social studies classroom. The lesson (that can be broken up into two days) focuses on the incarceration of Japanese Americans from a cultural perspective. The lesson will show students the daily life of internees. The lesson uses readings, videos, and primary source documents with individual and group activities. The lesson would be best used in a class that has already covered World War II.

Here is the procedure of the lesson. For a PDF of the whole lesson click here Suitcase Lesson. (138KB pdf)

Overview: Today’s lesson will focus on the incarceration of Japanese Americans from a cultural perspective. This lesson would fit in after learning about WWII.

Goals: To understand the experience of Japanese Americans being incarcerated during the WWII.

Objective(s): Students will be able to identify the key aspects of life for Japanese Americans in incarceration camps during WWII.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

Resources: suitcase, pencil/pen, paper, projector, internet access, printed documents included in lesson plan


  • Ask students if they know the following terms: interned, incarceration, Japanese-American, Nisei and Issei. If not, go over as a class making the definition together using previous knowledge.
  • Read them Scenario A. Have them write a short paragraph on how they would feel, what would they do. Then share with a partner. Have a few students share with the class aloud. [Attached to lesson plan. Called “SCENARIO A”]
  • Have students read brief background on why the Japanese Americans were incarcerated. Either read aloud, popcorn style or at teacher discretion. [Attached to lesson plan. Called “HISTORICAL CONTEXT”]. Answer follow up questions.
  • Have students watch a short interview with George Takei about leaving behind his life to go to an incarceration camp. Answer follow up questions [Attached to lesson plan. Called “Video Questions.”]
  • Have students read about life in the incarceration camps. Split up students into different groups based on the sections. Then have them create a poster depicting their section. Share with class. Have class answer as a whole the follow up questions. [Attached to lesson plan. Called Behind the Fence: Life in the Incareration Camp]
  • Show pictures of incarceration camps. Have students draw connections between what they read and what they see in the pictures. Have class discussion. [Pictures in suitcase. Choose from the following images: G3, G2, I6, I5, D2, I3, I4, H2, F2, G1]
  • For the remainder of class and homework, have students write a letter home to a friend pretending to be an incarcerated Japanese American. Have them use material that they learned about from the day. Have them express their feelings of being interned, and have them tell their friend if they still feel like an American after this experience.

Formative Assessment: Students will answer follow up questions to readings, and the class will go over them as a whole.

Summative Assessment: Students will write a letter pretending to be an incarcerated Japanese American.

Photo Credit: A Japanese Child in an incarceration Camp from