Read, Take Notes, Study, Assess, Repeat.
If you’re bored with your Social Studies lessons, why not spice it up with Primary Source Document Based Queries (DBQs).
What is a Primary Source DBQ?
A DBQ is any Primary Source document, artifact, photo, artwork, speech, or recording from the period or subject you’re studying. Best of all, this first hand history discovery is sure to engage your students.
Here’s what your text might say about Hammurabi’s Code:
The Hammurabi Code of Laws was a collection of 282 rules which established standards and punishments for commercial and social interactions. Hammurabi’s Code was carved onto a 7-foot tall black stone stele, or pillar. BORING!!!
Now let’s see what Hammurabi really had to say:
If a man brings an accusation against another man, charging him with murder, but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.
If a man has stolen goods from a temple, or house, he shall be put to death, and he that has received the stolen property from him shall be put to death.
If a son strikes his father, they shall cut off his hand.
If a man destroys the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.
If he breaks another man’s bone, they shall break his bone.
You can’t believe the horror and engagement that unfolds on student faces as they read through an assortment of Hammurabi’s laws only to discover the harsh punishments. It leads to some wonderful discussion about the purpose of laws.
How to use DBQs in your Class
I love making DBQs fun and informal discoveries. Lot’s of observing and talking. Less formal writing. Super engaging and enriching.
- Project a photo of artwork or an artifact as anticipatory set bell work for the day’s lesson. Here’s the Hindu deity Ganesh. Have students list anything they observe in the piece. Review as a whole group. Repeat as an exit ticket to demonstrate added knowledge.
- Got 5-10 minutes left at the end of class? Project a photo of artwork or an artifact and take student volunteers for Differentiated Observations. Use large high resolution .jpeg or .png files to project or details will be fuzzy. Start your collection of photos today.
- Assemble a collection of museum replica artifacts. Students loved using my replica cylinder seals on their clay cuneiform projects. Other artifact ideas: Egyptian cubit, Tibetan prayer flags, linen and silk remnants, replica statues and vases, coins, Buddha statue from the garden center, Chinese dragons, and Hell Money (stores in your local Asia Town are amazing for East Asian artifacts).
- Extra Credit on Tests. Include a picture or artifact that you’ve previously examined, like this Egyptian Weighing of the Heart Ceremony. Students earn 1/4 – 1/2 point of extra credit for each correctly labeled item. This totally replaces the need for extra credit projects.
- Have students compare and contrast two renditions of the same scene.
- Mix it up with a stations-type activity. When comparing the philosophies of Confucius and Lao Tzu, I wrote 5 quotes from each philosopher on large “bamboo” popsicle sticks. Students worked in small groups to sort them by philosopher and justify their choices.
- Looking to fill a day before a weekend or break? Work in a more formal analysis, particularly with text-based Primary Source Documents. I love the simplicity and flexibility of the National Archives Educator Resources Document Analysis Forms.
Getting Started With Primary Source
Here’s a basic list of suggested Primary Sources to include in your curriculum. Follow the Links to preview Primary Source DBQs I’ve created for my students.
- Mesopotamia – Hammurabi’s Code, Farmer’s Letter to his Son, Map of Babylon, Gilgamesh, Standard of Ur, Cuneiform tablets, Cylinder Seal impressions, Lamassu statues.
- Egypt – Cubit, Principals of Ma’at, Tomb Art, Book of the Dead, Hymn to the Nile, Sarcophagus
- India – Hindu and Buddhist temple art, Mandalas, Ramayana and Mahabharata epics for middle schoolers.
- China – Woks and Chinese Food, Folktales, Hell Money, Asian dragons, Asia for Educators Resources.
- Greece – Vases, Temples and Statuary, Quotes from Greek Philosophers.
- Rome – 12 Tables, Vases, Temples, Pompeii and Herculaneum photos, Gargoyles.
- Stanford University’s History Education Group (SHEG) has a wonderful database of FREE Primary Source Document Lessons.
Have fun mixing up your curriculum with Primary Sources. Check out timesaving Primary Source DBQ resources in my Looking to the Past Store.
If you’re just starting out on your Ancient History Teaching journey, check out my Teach Characteristics of Ancient Civilizations with GRAPES Blog Post.
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