Since the launch of the Common Core State Standards in 2010, high school social studies teachers have placed an ever-increasing number of DBQs, LEQ’s, and SAQ’s before their students.
- The DBQ (document-based-question) is an essay question that calls upon students to develop and support an argument using provided historical source material (aka documents) as evidence. Click here to view a classic DBQ question.
- The LEQ (long-essay-question) is an essay question that calls upon students to develop and support an ‘argument’ without the aid of any provided historical source material as evidence. Click here to view some typical LEQ’s along with some very good responses.
- The SAQ (short-answer-question) calls upon students to answer three questions pertaining to the same topic, with each question to be answered briefly, specifically, and accurately and in far fewer sentences than a DBQ or LEQ. Click here to view ten different SAQ prompts.
As the Common Core Standards rolled out, I too placed an ever-increasing number of DBQ’s, LEQ’s and SAQ's before my students. But I didn’t stop there. I also wanted my students to experience other types of U.S. History class writing assignments. They included:
- The Historical Fiction Letter
- The Historical Figure Twitter Parody Account
- The Student Produced Kahoot
- The Mini-BRIA
See below for a definition of each; samples of student work included. But first, let me explain:
Why I Did This?
I wanted my students to tackle these alternative writing assignments in order to help them:
- Acquire an in-depth understanding of history. I simply believe that a great way for students to do this is to write about it..
- Develop a passion for writing about history. I know few students who developed a passion for writing about history when only called upon to answer the typical DBQ, LAQ and/or SEQ. Those kinds of writing assignments, in fact, seem to cause students to lose interest in history. With my alternative writing assignments, I’m hoping to have the opposite effect.
- Write something original rather than something copied off the internet, which is what typically happens with the DBQ, LEQ, or SAQ as the internet is flooded with answers to these kinds of questions.
- Write about something that might actually have an impact on others, whether that’s someone in the community or a college/university admissions officer.
- Make the learning of history more relevant and engaging.
I also did this because I found support for my alternative writing assignments in the Common Core State Standards. The standards encourage the incorporation of writing assignments that call upon students to (1) write for a range of tasks, purposes, and audience, (2) develop real or imagined experiences or events, (3) make use of technology to produce, publish, and update their writings, and (4) work alone, (individually) and in groups (shared).
The Historical Fiction Letter
For this assignment, students were asked to write a letter to the class describing an important day in American history as told from the perspective of someone who was there to experience it, with the letter-writer assuming that he/she was between the age of 18-25 when the letter was written. Letter-writers also had to keep their letters between the 500-1000 word range. Some examples:
- Dear Class - The Sinking of the USS St. Lo (Patrick M.) For this letter, Patrick assumed that he was a gunner’s mate (anti-aircraft gun operator) aboard the USS St. Lo on the day the St. Lo was sunk as a result of a kamikaze attack during the Battle off Samar (October 28, 1944.) Patrick further assumed that he was writing his letter after having been fished out of the water and while recovering aboard the USS Dennis, en route to San Francisco from Palaus.
- Dear Class - The Tet Offensive (Mansi G.) For this letter, Mansi assumed that she was a US Marine stationed in Saigon at the U.S. Embassy during the winter of 1968. Mansi further assumed that she was writing her letter on February 2, 1968, the day after the start of the Tet Offensive, and while recovering from having taken a shot to the leg during the attack on the embassy.
- Dear Class - The Berlin Airlift (Nick E.) For this letter, Nick assumed that he was a 25-year-old United States Air Force Second Lieutenant at the time of the Berlin Airlift. He further assumed that he was writing his letter on the morning of July 4, 1948, while sitting right seat in a plane that was flying back to Germany’s Rhein-Main Air Base shortly after having dropped off a load of supplies over the city of Berlin.
Many of my students said they liked working on this assignment. “It helped bring history to life,” said one. Regardless, I got some of the most creative--and accurate--writing of the year. And it was a lot more interesting to read than an essay.