Using Document Based Questions with Struggling Readers


I am a ninth grade teacher in a racially diverse lower income school. My problem is that my students are not great readers but I want to do document-based questions with them. I looked online and the DBQs released from the College Board are WAY too hard for my kids. Should I just try to jazz up our textbook or can you suggest places to look to find documents that my kids can decipher?


Kudos for looking for ways to engage your students with challenging historical tasks. Teaching students how to craft interpretations from multiple sources is central to history but it is hard, and even harder when students struggle with reading.

You may need to raid existing DBQs and tailor documents and tasks for your students. Consider starting small--use two documents that clearly contrast with one another to help students learn how to approach documents and read them closely. For a model of this, see the warm-up activity at See this page for the same documents that have been further modified to make for more accessible reading.

Don't be shy about excerpting documents or using a smaller sample from an existing DBQ. This can help students understand the nature of the task and give them practice with reading, analyzing documents, and crafting arguments.

There are some helpful printed resources out there. Try the They have books of DBQs in both long and short versions.

Another resource to consider is Mindsparks.

Thanks for your question and good luck!

About the Author

The Stanford History Education Group, located at Stanford University's School of Education, engages in projects on how students learn history in high school, middle school, and elementary school classrooms.