Struggles of a DBL


For my DBL I designed a lesson that addresses the disaster that happened in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Since I am not placed in a history class at the moment I wanted to design my lesson to flow with any history or social studies class that would be studying ancient civilizations or natural disasters. I wanted an interesting lesson that offered a wide range of documents that would allow students to engage fully into the lesson regardless of needs.

Designing a Document Based Lesson, or DBL, has been a great experience. I learned the importance of creating a generative question that serves as a guide for student learning. The hard part was finding documents that best fit this question. I wanted to show the students how devastating the event was and how important it is to look at a variety of sources that are out there. This also puts students into the place of the researcher as they see the evidence that modern historians were faced with in their attempt to understand the catastrophic event.

I struggled with what sources I should attach to this DBL. I wanted a first hand experience of the events along with some “modern” photographs. The hard part for me was finding what photographs I would provide the students for the DBL. There are a lot of photographs out there on Pompeii, of many different artifacts as well as the location itself. I wanted to pick photographs that best capture the event in a student friendly fashion. It was important to include the bread loaf that was fossilized by the ash because it is so relate-able to their lives. I could of simply front loaded a bunch of photographs of fossilized victims of Pompeii; however, I felt that this would just distract the students rather then help them understand the event. This could also have felt very de-contextualized.

If I had to do the DLB again I would like to find a few more documents of related to the event. I am happy with the photographs and video I have. That said, I feel that the for the lesson to be truly complete I would like a few more textual sources for students to go over and maybe contextualize between. I will continue to strive to build lesson that scaffold students knowledge and experience.

Caleb Wilson.

Lancevortex. (2000) Garden of the Fugitives. (Image). Web Accessed November 11, 2015. Retrieved source

Affronts, Indignities, and Dangers: Slavery in the Roman Empire

Statue of Pliny the Younger on the façade of the Cathedral of St. Maria Maggiore in Como.
Statue of Pliny the Younger on the façade of the Cathedral of St. Maria Maggiore in Como.

By: Heidi Kershner

Target Students: 6th grade

Historical Thinking Skills: Contextualization, Close Reading, Sourcing

Essential Question: What was the nature of slavery in the Roman Empire?

Rationale: The scaffolding questions listed below ask students to first locate the document within time and space. Having done this, students are then asked to engage both with the provided document and other secondary sources in order to further understand the institution of slavery in a Roman context. Finally, students are called upon to determine what might be unsaid in the document. To answer this, students will need to use what they already know about Roman history and society in order to fill in the blanks of Pliny the Younger’s letter.

Primary Source:

XXXIII To ACILIUS THE atrocious treatment that Largius Macedo, a man of praetorian rank, lately received at the hands of his slaves is so extremely tragical that it deserves a place rather in public history than in a private letter; though it must at the same time be acknowledged there was a haughtiness and severity in his behaviour towards them which shewed that he little remembered, indeed almost entirely forgot, the fact that his own father had once been in that station of life. He was bathing at his Formian Villa, when he found himself suddenly surrounded by his slaves; one seizes him by the throat, another strikes him on the mouth, whilst others trampled upon his breast, stomach, and even other parts which I need not mention. When they thought the breath must be quite out of his body, they threw him down upon the heated pavement of the bath, to try whether he were still alive, where he lay outstretched and motionless, either really insensible or only feigning to be so, upon which they concluded him to be actually dead. In this condition they brought him out, pretending that he had got suffocated by the heat of the bath. Some of his more trusty servants received him, and his mistresses came about him shrieking and lamenting. The noise of their cries and the fresh air, together, brought him a little to himself; he opened

"The Gladiator Mosaic" at the Galleria Borghese
“The Gladiator Mosaic” at the Galleria Borghese

 his eyes, moved his body, and shewed them (as he now safely might) that he was not quite dead. The murderers immediately made their escape; but most of them have been caught again, and they are after the rest. He was with great difficulty kept alive for a few days, and then expired, having however the satisfaction of finding himself as amply revenged in his lifetime as he would have been after his death. Thus you see to what affronts, indignities, and dangers we are exposed. Lenity and kind treatment are no safeguard; for it is malice and not reflection that arms such ruffians against their masters…I can tell you one further circumstance relating to Macedo, which now occurs to me. As he was in a public bath once, at Rome, a remarkable, and (judging from the manner of his death) an ominous, accident happened to him. A slave of his, in order to make way for his master, laid his hand gently upon a Roman knight, who, turning suddenly round, struck, not the slave who had touched him, but Macedo, so violent a blow with his open palm that he almost knocked him down. Thus the bath by a kind of gradation proved fatal to him; being first the scene of an indignity he suffered, afterwards the scene of his death. Farewell.”

Pliny, the Younger (2011-03-30). The Letters of Pliny the Younger (Kindle Locations 798-810).  . Kindle Edition.

Secondary Sources:

1. Frey, W., J. Bergez, A. Joseph, & Teachers’ Curriculum Institute (2004). History Alive! The Ancient World. Palo Alto, CA: Teachers’ Curriuclum Institute.

2. “The Roman Empire in the First Century.” Retrieved from: PBS 

Scaffolding Questions:

  1. Who wrote this letter? Around when and where was this letter written? Use your textbook and/or this PBS site to answer these questions.
  1. Given what the author tells you about Largius Macedo, what can you infer about slavery in the Roman Empire?

3.  What hasn’t the author told us in this letter–what has been left out?

Summary & Reflection

During this mini-lesson students will be asked to engage with the primary source (Pliny the Younger’s letter) itself as well as use secondary sources (the PBS website and their textbook) in order to discover more information about the primary source. This lesson should occur during a larger unit about ancient Rome so that students will have some background information about ancient Roman society and its stratification. This lesson will serve as a jumping off point to talk about slavery in the ancient Roman Empire and how it compared to manifestations of slavery in other time periods and regions of the world. Once students have answered the above scaffolding questions they will then be called upon to create a 4-5 panel comic strip displaying the events described in the letter from the perspective of Largius Macedo’s slaves. This exercise will call upon students to critically engage with the primary source, especially in terms of “reading the silences”–deciding what has not been said.

I found the design process for a lesson using the SHEG model to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated. It is a very thorough and thoughtful process that I look forward to using again in the future. This particular lesson I think would be a great starting point for a larger lesson about slavery and its various manifestations and/or social class in general.

Image Credits:

“Como – Dom – Fassade – Plinius der Jüngere” by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – Link

“Borghese gladiator 1 mosaic dn r2 c2”  Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – Link

All Roads Lead to Rome

The following commentary addresses an 80-minute lesson designed for a 7th grade social studies class. The lesson is the first in a series of five concerning the Roman Empire and its decline.

Content –

This lesson seeks to build students’ knowledge of the Roman Empire while further developing their ability to write, speak publicly, and analyze information represented symbolically (maps). Relevant standards addressed include Oregon SS7.1 (historical knowledge of Roman Empire), SS7.8 (use of maps), and SS7.9 (analyze data to make geographic inferences).

Process –

Over the course of this lesson, students will be asked to participate in a teacher-led, slideshow-driven class discussion before applying knowledge acquired in that discussion to a small-group activity.

The main activity included in this lesson requires students to work together in small groups to interpret a detailed topographical map of the Roman Empire. Consequently, the lesson requires a map, assigned points of destination and origin for each group of students, colored pencils, and notebook paper for responses. The entirety of this lesson will take place during the block period.

Product –

Students will be assigned one of four roles within their group and what they produce will depend upon their assignment. One student, the group’s Artist, will plot the group’s route between cities on a map. The group’s Response will produce a one-paragraph written justification or explanation of the group’s route. The group’s Speaker will deliver a one-minute speech to the class explaining the choices the group made and the group’s Administrator is tasked with both assigning roles to her or his group members and writing a paragraph describing how the group worked together to come to agreements.

Evaluation –

Student learning will be assessed by the teacher according to their assigned responsibilities using rubrics customized for the unique responsibilities of each. Each rubric directs the rater to look for clear evidence that the student successfully interpreted symbols on the map, distinguished between potential paths to completing the assignment, and can describe the reasons the group had for selecting the route it settled on.

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

Students have significant autonomy with regard to which of the four roles they adopt for the activity, although for groups of four students, final say over role assignment is granted to the group’s administrator.

Reflection: Having had the opportunity to discuss this lesson with my peers, it seems that this lesson has the potential to achieve its goals. Conversely, while the lesson is serviceable and nicely connected to students’ prior work in the class, it isn’t especially exciting. Any feedback that could help add some energy to this lesson is welcome.


DBQ: An Epic Journey

Uncle Sam "I Want Out"The DBQ assignment turned out to be much more difficult than I had originally intended. I initially wanted to combine the assignment with my fall work sample on the Roman Empire. I set out on a determined path to create a DBQ assignment based on Roman architecture, frescoes, and speeches. It became apparent quite early that this would be difficult. The point of the DBQ assignment is to use a primary source that will help students to answer broad questions about the historical time period in which it is set. These primary sources contain enough information that they alone can be used to answer the questions. This was the most difficult aspect of the project for me. Most of the images I had chosen were great sources about the rise and fall of Rome. However, they all required a lot of background knowledge to answer the questions about them. For instance, a fresco that depicted a Roman trireme manned by foot soldiers was supposed to show the students how the Roman army was used even for naval battles. However, while this was obvious to someone who already knew that fact, it was less clear to someone completely new to the topic. This meant that a student would not be able to answer the questions using just the fresco. I was actually able to use the Roman DBQ assignment for my work sample, in fact it tied really well into my lessons. It was not a true DBQ though, so I created a new one about the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war.

The new DBQ does a much better job of using the documents and songs to generate questions that the students can answer using only the given sources. Despite this, I had trouble coming up with overall questions about the unit. I kept refining the topic until I had a good theme to work with. I was already using some music as evidence, and I added a couple songs to make the music of the time central to the DBQ. This also changed the main idea of the DBQ, which shifted from a focus on the civil rights movement to the general anti-war movement (although civil rights were still very important to the DBQ).

Overall, I learned a lot from this assignment, especially about using documents that are most conducive to the student’s knowledge level. Using a famous or popular document doesn’t really help the student to begin answering questions on their own. It is much more important to use a document that allows the student to be the historian and reach logical conclusions about the time period. I am excited to continue to use DBQ’s to teach students to examine, analyze, and interpret the documents in ways that will engage their critical thinking skills, and let the students do the work of a historian when trying to establish facts and conclusions about the time period.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes

Sam Kelley

Image credit: The Committee to Help Unsell the War