Taking Shape: Thoughts on creating DBQ’s

screenshotAfter spending a few weeks exploring the different avenues available to me for my DBQ, I am finally on a focused track to the finish.  After switching my topic from the more obscure food history topic to the much more document rich Marshall Plan, my issue was not where to find documents, but just the opposite.

There were so many great documents, I found myself following lead after lead on possible directions to take the assignment.  While I learned a tremendous amount about the Marshall Plan, the state of Europe after WWII, and the different opinions throughout U.S. and Europe about the plan, I didn’t feel like I was getting any closer to completing the assignment. But I was finding photos, documents,  and getting more information. Through this research I was able to narrow my focus and choose an angle on which to focus: the differing views on the Marshall Plan from Europe, Russia, and at home in the U.S.. My next challenge was to step away from the history and just look at the documents.  What was I trying to say?  What were the documents telling me?  I finally focused on assembling documents that could tell a story.  Once I had a clear narrative of what I wanted the students to see, the guiding questions practically wrote themselves.

Next up for me is to add the last few pages into iBook Author and begin to fine tune the look and feel.  I will have my classmates review the work to ensure the documents and questions create a clear narrative that will guide the students to address the enduring questions of the unit.

This assignment has been exciting for me on two main levels.  First learning how to write this type of assignment for my students will be something I will continue to work on throughout my career. I am a big believer in having students think like historians.  The other facet is just how much I enjoyed researching the history surrounding the Marshall Plan. Reading all the documents and seeing all the photos was like a DBQ itself.  I will continue to practice, learn, and hopefully inspire my students to do the same.

The Marshall Plan: Altruism or Opportunity?

I have decided to forgo my initial project on tracing the immigration and culture of the American South through food in favor of documenting the Marshall Plan.  While my original topic was rich and personally interesting to me, I was having a difficult time finding the original documents I was looking for (diaries, manifests, recipes).  I think this

Frankfurt 1946
Frankfurt 1946

will be a great project for a later time.  Instead I looked at the assignment in a slightly different way: to follow the documents.  I knew that if I chose a more modern historical event, there would be more documents.  The next step was to find an event that was rich and interesting and could be used to ask over-arching generative questions.  The Marshall Plan meets both criteria perfectly.  In talking with Erik Nelson about his project on the Treaty of Versailles, it became clear to me the the Marshall Plan presented a complete change in post-war policy.  Rather than punish and weaken the losing sides, the Marshall Plan sought to strengthen not just our allies in Europe, but Germany and even Russia as well.  This was a controversial plan and there are entire libraries dedicated to documenting characters who put this plan together.  It could easily be argued that this was the high water mark for U.S. foreign policy.

The Set Up

I will use a mixture of photographs, posters, and speeches to show the many facets and interests involved in this monumental action.  Before Congress could approve the billions of dollars required, both America and Europe needed to come together in a new way.  The United Nations is in it’s infancy and this will be a major test.  While a necessary ally during the war, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union are already showing signs of mistrust and antagonism.

Nottingham Evening Post May 8, 1945
Nottingham Evening Post May 8, 1945

The Questions

The overall purpose of the unit is to have the students use historical thinking to look at the Marshall plan in an authentic way from many perspectives.  They should be able to address the larger questions this event brings up:

  • Are there responsibilities to the victors in war?
  • Is there a quid pro quo for reconstruction/ nation building?
  • How did the Treaty of Versailles influence the making of the Marshall Plan?
  • Why was the United States in a position to help in the first place?
  • How did the United States relationship with Russia help or hinder European reconstruction?

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead...
Looking Ahead…

I am eagerly looking forward to working on this project.  Not only am I getting practice in designing instruction that challenges students, I am learning so much about the subject matter.  At this point these DBQ projects take a tremendous amount of time to assemble.  But I am beginning to see how the process can be streamlined.  The more comfortable I am knowing where to look for documents, what questions to ask, and how to put it all together, the easier this will all become.  In the mean time I am enjoying the self directed project based learning as a student.  I hope my students will come away with some of the same enthusiasm.

American Adobo: The Fight for the Philippines

Lesson design by Samuel Kimerling

Eighth grade students will be asked to evaluate the evidence of historical documents as a means of deepening their understanding of the Philippine War. They will use the historical thinking skills of sourcing, corroboration, and contextualization. 


photos credit: US Dept of State Office of the Historian


Use the document below and your knowledge of history to answer the questions that follow.


An excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt’s introduction to a special report by Secretary of War Howard Taft regarding the accomplishments of the U.S. Army in the Philippines from 1898-1908.

roosevelt zoom

photo credit: Library of Congress

Source text (excerpt):

“It is a subject for just national gratification that such a report as this can be made. No great civilized power has ever managed with such wisdom and disinterestedness the affairs of a people committed by the accident of war to its hands. If we had followed the advice of the misguided persons who wished us to turn the islands loose and let them suffer whatever fate might befall them, they would have already passed through a period of complete and bloody chaos, and would now undoubtedly be the possession of some other power which there is every reason to believe would not have done as we have done; that is, would not have striven to teach them how to govern themselves or to have developed them, as we have developed them, primarily in their own interests.”

Question 1: Explain why a historian might question why Roosevelt’s praise for the military outcome in the Philippines may not be a “subject of just national gratification”?

Students will need to understand that there was major debate over imperialism during this time. Students will use the skills of sourcing and contextualization.

Question 2: Three documents are listed below.  Explain whether each document supports or conflicts with the President’s view on the military success of the Philippine War.

Students will see the various facets of the for and anti-imperialist sentiment. Students will use skills of sourcing and corroboration.

a. 1901 Petition to the Senate and House of Representatives from the Philanthropic Committee of the Religious Society of Friends which advocates for making peace with the Filipino insurgents and granting their independence.

Source text (excerpt): “The Filipino people, we feel, have a right to look to this Republic not only as an example of free government, but for effective aid and support in the establishment and maintenance of institutions of their own, freely chosen by them, and adapted, in their judgement, to their circumstances and conditions. This the American people long ago claimed for themselves, and have never heretofore denied to others.”


photo credit: Society of Friends

b. Mark Twain’s essay, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” delivered to the New York Anti-Imperialist League in 1901.

Source text (excerpt):“True we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn’t it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty…”


Published May 5, 1902 New York Journal “Kill Everyone Over Ten-Criminals Because They Were Born Ten Years Before We Took The Philippines”

c. Republican Senator Albert Beveridge’s “March of the Flag” campaign speech of September 16,1898.

“The Opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people without their consent. I answer, The rule of liberty that all just government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, applies only to those who are capable of self-government. We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent. How do they know that our government would be without their consent? Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this Republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?”


Minneapolis Tribune 1902

photo credit: Philippines 1900

Self Reflection



This project challenged us to design a lesson that encouraged students to think like a historian. Designing a lesson like this proved challenging to me as I am used to simply conveying information in a lesson.  This model relies less on the transfer of information and more on the thought process. It was helpful to have the SHEG resources as a scaffold to help figure out what a good lesson looked like.  I ended up spending a lot of time searching for primary sources and trying to figure out the best way to make them fit together to make a coherent question set.  By the time I was done searching I had discovered and bookmarked some great sources for original documents.  I would definitely give this type of project a try in the classroom, as I think making the student the historian is key to getting them to understand why history is important, and why we study it in school.  Historical thinking is critical thinking which can be applied across disciplines and prove useful in life outside the classroom.  Moving the classroom experience away from the transfer of information, and towards the acquisition of thinking skills, not only engages the student more, but prepares them better for the future.


What’s Up With the Constitution?

We the People

8th Grade Social Studies Lesson Study

Content As we introduce our unit on the United States Constitution, we will examine the intent and underlying philosophies of the framers. The learning goal is to understand the concept of basic rights and the role of government.

Process The students will be split up into groups of 5. Each group will be given a different scenario to analyze. The scenarios will focus on the tension between personal rights vs. the good of the community.

1) You want to build a mountain bike trail in the woods near your house, but in doing so you would be damaging rare bird habitat.

2) Your neighbor wants to turn his back yard into a hog farm, causing strange smells to waft through your window.

3) In an effort to curb obesity, the school no longer allows the drinking of soda or other sugary beverages in school.

4) The school implements a new zero tolerance policy for cell phone use. If a student is found using her phone during school hours, the phone will be confiscated for 1 week.

The groups will be given 10 minutes to discuss the possible outcomes and issues with their given scenario. We will then come back together and a representative from each group will explain their scenario to the group, identifying the central issue that is being argued, who are the main actors, and which side they support. The students will take notes on each other’s scenarios during the presentations. For homework, after reading the chapter in their textbook on the framers of the Constitution and their guiding philosophies, they will write a reflection of the exercise they did in class and how it fits into the issues at play in the crafting the Constitution.

ProductThe students will have briefs of the scenarios from class and a written reflection.

Evaluation The students will be evaluated informally by their participation and engagement in the exercises, and their ability to apply the concepts discussed in class to the history of our Constitution.

What kinds of thinking will students need to do to participate in the lesson?

The students will use strategic thinking such as formulating, assessing and analysis when they discuss the scenarios. For the reflection the students will need to use extended thinking like connecting and applying to make the connection from the classroom exercise to the history.

To what extent do students have options or choices regarding these lesson components?

The students can interpret the scenarios any way they choose. They have the option to align more with individual rights or the collective good, either answer is correct as long as they see that there is tension between the two. For their reflection they can choose what they found meaningful and how it relates to the history.


Personal Reflection

This project proved quite challenging for me because it involved both a lesson planning aspect and a technology aspect.  These are two areas in which I have little experience.  My original lesson was very much like a traditional lesson, there was a lecture, a worksheet, and a little bit of group work for the students.  This is the way I was taught and is my first instinct when it comes to designing a lesson.  However, we have learned repeatedly that students need to have more control of the learning to truly understand concepts.  Through the peer review process I was able to rewrite my lesson to put almost all of the learning in the hands of the students.  As the teacher I simply designed the lesson, but the students came up with all the content.  I even decided to leave out the lecture all together and have the students try to make the connections themselves from the exercise to the homework reading.  I can always fill in the blanks if the reflections reveal a lack of understanding of the concepts.  Going forward I will attempt hold my lessons up to a standard of maximum allowable student interaction.  I will see where I can replace my talking with student activity, discovery, and hopefully, understanding.


we the people photo: Wang

reflection photo: essentialscafe