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DBQ's, Driving Questions and Essential Questions

A DBQ, document based question, is a question that focuses around one or more documents. The documents can be a graph, cartoon, short excerpt, picture, etc, basically anything that a child can glean information from.
In New York State, beginning in fifth grade, the state tests in Social Studies have a DBQ Essay. The children look at 2 to 7 documents (depending on the grade), answer 4 questions, then write an essay using their answers to those questions.
Students have to analyze the documents and write an essay around the designated theme that incorporates information from the documents. 

Breaking Down DBQ's
These are some tasks that students could be asked to do in a DBQ:
Analyze: Break a topic down into separate parts and discuss each one.
Criticize: Make judgments. Evaluate comparative worth.
Define: Explain the exact meaning, specific to the course or subject.
Describe: Give a detailed account, listing characteristics, qualities and parts.
Discuss: Argue the pros and cons of an issue.
Evaluate: Give an opinion or cite the opinion of an expert.
Illustrate: Give concrete examples.
Summarize: Give a brief, condensed account, including conclusions.

An essential, or driving, question is a question that gives a reason for the student to study the subject or unit. To find these questions look for unifying themes in units as well as ways to connect these units to kids' lives. Aim for questions to get at the root of what is being taught: Why is this historical event or time period important? Why do we need to know about it? How does/did it affect our lives today? How much time do I spend on it?

Benefits of using essential questions
They make the learning have purpose. The students are trying to reach the goalof answering the essential question. They connect the huge amount of factual information kids need to learn. The essential questions also help students learn to connect and interpret facts in order to answer questions and define themes and eras. History, for example, becomes for them not a memorizing of facts but rather a quest for meaning.
By posting the essential questions teachers and students stay on 'track.' They can be used as guides to keep classroom discussion on topic, as writing assignments following a unit of study, as a way to integrate between disciplines and also as a way to communicate with parents.

Ideas for using essential questions:
You can use a driving, or essential, question with every unit. To begin a unit, open with the essential question(s) (EQ's). You might give each student a syllabus with the EQ's at the top, a list of vocabulary terms for the whole unit (broken up by subtopics within the unit) as well as focus questions for the whole unit. These syllabi are used as a place to take notes on and then as a study guide for the eventual test.
At the start of each daily lesson review the essential question for the unit and at the close of daily and/or weekly lessons have the students write in their journals how what they learned that day/week relates to the essential question. They can also reflect on additional questions that have come to them or try to relate what they learned in other units.
Another way to use essential questions is for students to make a list of all different types of questions at the beginning of a unit. The teacher then classifies them in some way and students designate one of the essential questions as a personal goal. Throughout the chapter students mark questions they felt they can now answer. The final assessment then could be research paper or project based on their personal learning quest.
The essential question might be a question that will be explored for the whole school year. For instance: Year Long Question-How does geography affect the development of culture? Sub-question: How did geography affect the development of the Ancient Egyptian Culture? The "final exam" for every class would then be to answer the year long question, using two examples studied during the year and one example not studied. Students can answer the question via an essay, a presentation, a play - whatever!

by Alisa Berger

Links to Resources and Examples of Essential Questions
Creating Essential Questions:
Evaluating Internet-based Information: A Goals-based Approach:

Examples of Essential Questions
How has a desire for land, freedom, power, and wealth shaped history?
What does a culture need to survive and how does it evolve?
How is the present a reflection of the past, and an influence on the future?
What's the deadliest snake/shark/animal on earth?
If I had unlimited money, which of these outrageously expensive cars would I buy and why?
How would I survive on my own in the wilderness? Would I measure up?
Why is dog-fighting illegal in the United States?
To what extent is poetry a form of self expression?
How can we use our writing skills to help others understand more about why friendship is important?
What would you dream house look like and cost to build?
What patterns are found in nature?
Why are patterns are copied by people in art and architecture?
How do patterns help us describe and understand our world?
What is the American Dream?
How has the American Dream changed over time?
How do diverse cultures view the American Dream?
How have significant historical events effected the Dream?
How will new opportunities of the 21st century challenge the American Dream?
What makes your area of interest (eg. photography) an effective medium for sharing the American Dream?
What is your American Dream?
How has a desire for land, freedom, power, and wealth shaped history?
What dowes a culture need to survives and how does it evolve?
How is the present a reflection of the past, amd an influence on the future?

Examples of Essential Questions for Professional Development
Three questions which need to be answered in any complete process:
So What?
Now What?
Create 3-column agendas where only what is being done is writen under the "what" column. It is then left to the participants to fill in the So What... as they are they learning, understanding, questioning, and the "now what" column - ways they can use/adapt these activities and ideas at their site.
The essential question then overarches the entire seminar and the daily focus questions.

EQ: "How can I construct a meaningful school environment that ensures success for students and the rest of the school community?"
Day 1
"What is a meaningful school environment?"
"How do you define school community?"
Day 2
"What makes learning meaningful?"
"What does power look like in our schools?"
Day 3
"What's the role of collaboration in the creation and sustenance of a learning community?'
"What's the relationship between authentic choice and meaningful learning?"
Day 4
"What, so what, now what?"
" How will you translate your new learning into a meaningful experience for students and the rest of your community back at your school?"
from Deborah Bambino

This site began in March 1998 and was created by Janet Luch.  This page was last updated on August 23, 2011 .
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