The idea behind content literacy is that literacy is more complicated than being able to decode and say words. Literacy is really several things: listening, speaking, thinking, reading, and writing. Furthermore, within the context of content-specific classrooms, literacy levels can change. In other words, some people might be more literate in science than history. If a student can talk about what he understands but cannot write about it, he is, from a content literacy perspective, only partially fluent in that subject. The goal of content literacy strategies is to build student literacy in various content areas whether they are listening, speaking, thinking, reading or writing.
One way in which the DBQ Project is particularly strong in developing content literacy in history is that we unapologetically promote writing. So many content literacy strategies stop short of asking students to use the information they are learning as they read. Insofar as writing is one of five modes of literacy we believe writing is essential for developing content literacy in history. Our program supports literacy instruction from pre-reading through writing an evidence-based, five paragraph analytical essay. Doing a DBQ Project DBQ or Mini-Q offers students the opportunity to practice all five content literacy skills: listening, speaking, thinking, reading or writing.
The 6-Step DBQ Project Method and Content Literacy Strategies
1. The Hook:
Engages Students in the Question or Key Concepts useful for answering the question.
Pre-reading to gain context in history.
Clarification of vocabulary and key terms specific to history
Speaking and discussion about events/ideas related to the historical question.
2. The Background Essay:
Development of key vocabulary—pre-teaching and/or teaching in a historical context.
Reading for a purpose: Answer a broad question about a historical topic
Listening: We encourage the teacher to read the essay aloud as students follow along; discussion and activities that promote understanding follow.
3. Clarifying the Question and Pre-bucketing
Students rewrite the documents based question in their own words.
Students clarify key terms in the question.
Students use a graphic organizer, our buckets, to map out their prediction of a basic answer to the question.
4. Close Analysis of Documents—
• Vocabulary intervention in scaffolding questions helps students build vocabulary in historical context. We have written basic level questions as well as questions that require comparison and contrast and inferential observations.
• Use of Document Analysis graphic organizer helps students identify facts, inferences, main idea, and point of view as well as the way in which a document could be used to answer the historical question.
• Different sources offer students opportunities to analyze cartoons, photographs, charts, graphs, letters, legal documents, paintings and other sources that historians typically use to construct narratives and arguments.
• Students discuss various documents in pairs or small groups. This allows for oral question and answer time.
• Students present their analysis verbally and in writing.
• Students listen as their peers analyze documents.
• Students question presenters to clarify their understanding of documents.
5. Post-Bucketing and Getting Ready to Write
• Comparison and Contrast of documents help students find themes and patterns.
• Students discuss and write about how documents address similar themes and topics.
• Students use our bucket organizer to encourage formal identification of categories that become body paragraphs in an essay.
• Students use the Chickenfoot graphic organizer to guide writing for thesis and roadmap.
• Writing the thesis and the roadmap as a complete sentence before beginning the writing process prepares students to write their introductory paragraph.
6. The Analytical Essay: From Thrash Out to Essay
• Before writing, students “thrash out” their ideas verbally. Students collaborate with a team to articulate their position on the documents based question. This occurs either in a debate or discussion.
• Students transfer their notes from their Chickenfoot and Buckets to the essay outline. This requires them to restate their ideas in writing.
• Students explain in writing how the evidence they have collected in their “buckets” proves their Baby Thesis or topic sentence.
• Students construct an introduction and conclusion with guidance from our graphic organizer, outline model.
• Students document their sources using simple MLA format, an important protocol in history.