Thoughts on Creating Document-Based Lessons

Vietnam War Protestors at the March on the Pentagon in 1967

For the past three weeks, we have been working on designing our own Document Based Lessons (DBLs) to be published on iBooks Author. This experience was interesting . This was my first time working on a project like this. I found that the process was a bit long and required having good knowledge about the topic. This is why I chose to cover anti-Vietnam War images in my DBL. I know a lot about the anti-war movement and it was a topic I felt would be interesting for high school students to examine.

When working on designing this DBL, I had first thought that I wanted to cover ’60s pop culture in relation to the counterculture movement. I then had a difficult time finding sources that were not copyrighted or would have such problems arise. This moved me to find images related to the anti-war movement. I found many images, including the one featured above,  that related to looking at anti-war protests and what those who were against the war were arguing.

Once I had these images, I arranged them around an essential question: How can images/language usage help us understand the goals of a movement or group? I chose to base my DBL around this question because it helps students to build skills around historical thinking skill such as Sourcing and Close Reading. Each of the images in my DBL  features the essential question as a reminder of what to be thinking about, and each image includes 4 questions specific to the image. This helps the student to make deeper connections to the images and what they are conveying.

When creating this DBL in iBooks Author, I found the experience to be interesting, and a little scary. It was interesting because I was able to get creative when designing the layout for my image set. I used various colored shapes to help my essential question and each additional question stand out. I also used a couple of widgets that allow students to magnify the image, and another that allows you to click the image and receive additional info about it, almost like a caption box. I feel like these additions helped to make my DBL feel less dull.

If I were to get the chance to, I would definitely like to do another project like this. It makes you think about what questions are worth asking, and what you want students to look at as historians.

Image Source:

Views of Vietnam


By Felicia Teba

Target Students: 8th grade US History

Skills: Sourcing and Contextualization

Topic: The Vietnam War

Essential Question: How did the various  aspects of the war in Vietnam impact opinions on the war?

Description: The questions in this set of documents help students to understand that war doesn’t just impact a nation, but that it impacts individuals, and the Vietnam War was one of the most contentious.

Source 1: A Letter Home

August 27, 1967

Dear all,

Surprise! Charlton Heston visited our company for a few minutes, and I shook hands with him! He looked like an old farmer the way he was dressed in old drab green jungle fatigues. He said “almost everybody is backing us over here” and “I’d like a beer.”

Can’t think of anything else to say. The new library opened up– air conditioned and quiet.

Well, cheerio


Source: Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, edited by Bernard Edelman, p.158.


  1. Why do you think Rick wrote this letter?
  2. Who is Charlton Heston, and why was he visiting Rick’s company?
  3. Who do you think Rick was writing to in this letter?
  4. What do you think the war was like at this point in 1967?
  5. Did Rick write his letter before or after the Tet offensive? Would that have impacted what he wrote about?

Source 2 & 3: Different Views of Support

Protestors carrying an American flag at a rally on the University of Washington campus May 7 1970


Richard M. Nixon shaking hands with armed forces in Vietnam 1969
Richard M. Nixon shaking hands with armed forces in Vietnam 1969

Protestors carrying an American flag at a rally on the University of Washington campus, May 7, 1970  Source
Richard M. Nixon shaking hands with armed forces in Vietnam 1969 Source


  1. Who is in this picture?
  2. What is going on?
  3. Digging Deeper Questions
  4. Why would it be important to take a picture like this?
  5. What audience would like this picture? Which audience would dislike this picture?
  6. On the picture on the right, why is the American flag upside down?

Source 4: “A Day in Vietnam”


  1. Who do you think made this video?
  2. Who is the audience?
  3. Why was this video made?
  4. What reason could there be for a video like this?
  5. If you were an American civilian at this time, how might this video impact your opinion of the war?

Reflections: In this assignment, I think I could have done better at providing a context for when I would teach these particular unit. To use this lesson, I would add a lecture that gives background to each of the sources, so that students are not left confuse about what I am asking them to look for. With this lesson, I think it would also be good to stick with just one type of source, like just soldiers letters, so that my set of sources is not too broad.


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

Reflecting on the DBQ Assignment


The goal of my DBQ project was for students to gain an appreciation for how one’s perceptions of an event can be manipulated through media. The idea was for students to examine a variety of items, identify the techniques employed in conveying the message, and evaluate whether or not the techniques were effective. After investigating the media content within the lesson, students would apply what they learned by curating a series of media items that depict a certain perspective in a contemporary conflict.

Reading my original proposal for the project, I feel the final product achieves the goals I initially set forth. The lesson contains a variety of media types (print, posters, photos) and each example is accompanied by a set of questions that challenge students to do more than just identify what they see. I’m pleased with what I created because it approaches the study of history through a different lens. I can see this being more enjoyable than reading a history text or listening to lecture on a more traditional topic.

Though I am pleased with what I created, reservations do exist. This product has yet to be used. I don’t know how students or educators will react. Will they learn or appreciate the material I put forth? Will they find it engaging? It’s hard to say; especially since this was the first DBQ project I created. Teachers must always reflect and adapt. The project I created feels like a solid first step, but I want it to be used so I know how to make it better.

Once I decided upon a topic, the process was straightforward. However, I did run into one hurdle: curating the media. Selecting relevant pieces was challenging and time consuming. There is so much iconic media from the Vietnam era, but not all it was applicable to my objective. Using the wrong piece could lead to confusion and undermine what students are supposed to take away from the lesson.

A link to the final product on Learnist: Media & War

Image Credit: Louisiana State University Library 

LSU student Luana Henderson participated in a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War held in 1970 on the LSU campus. The poster behind her refers to the killing of four students by National Guardsmen during a protest that turned violent at Kent State University in Ohio. University Archives, LSU Public Relations.

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