Wednesday, July 9, 2014

EASY Document-Based Opening

Want to learn a quick & easy way to inject document-based learning into your classroom every day?  Then keep reading!

This idea goes really well with collaborative learning teams (you can read more about that here & here) but can be done in any classroom where kids are encouraged to work together.

Step 1: Find a document (political cartoon, reading passage, newspaper article, picture, graph, chart, etc.) and either project it onto the board or give students printed copies.

Step 2: Tell students to ANALYZE.  They'll know what that means.... PSYCH!  They probably won't.  So, you'll have to teach them.
Here's how I did it:
The first day you do this, write the word ANALYZE on the board & ask students to tell you what they think it means.  As they throw out their ideas, write them on the board.  If it's a lower level class, let them talk about it amongst themselves before you ask in the whole group setting.  After they have given you their answers & you have adequately explained what it means, tell them your expectation for analyzing the documents you give them.  What is my expectation?  I want them to be able to answer:
WHO-Who is the author of this document (or at least who do you think it could be-this can be general, such as what country could they have been from)?
WHAT-What is this document?
WHY-Why was this document created?
WHEN-When was this document created?
WHERE-Where was this document created?
HOW-How does/could this relate to you (your country, your life, your world, your family, etc.)

*This year, I plan on giving all students a handout with my expectations & asking them to keep it in their binder all-year for easy access.

Step 3: Set a timer for student discussion.  I usually do 5 minutes, but some documents might take a little more/less time.  Adjust as needed.

Step 4: Walk around while the students are discussing. This will accomplish three things: 1) You can "encourage" them to discuss if they are off-task.  2) You can ask questions to create deeper understanding. 3) You can help guide students who are veering off-track content-wise.

Step 5: Once timer goes off, grab your stick cup (it's a cup with all the student's names on popsicle sticks) & pick a kid to explain their analysis.  After that kid is done, pick a few other eager students (or use the stick cup again & again & again) to explain OR you could ask some open-ended questions to discuss a little longer.  Try to keep it under 10 minutes, unless the discussion gets really good.

Step 6: After doing this for a few days, you will not need to remind students what ANALYZE means. They will see the word ANALYZE on the board & they'll know just what to do!

Step 7: Pick a random document (that you went over) & include it on a future test or quiz.  You'll be reinforcing what they learned & also making the original analysis more meaningful.

That's it!  Happy document-based questioning!!


  1. After taking a year off from teaching to focus on my two little ones and get my health on track, I decided to come back to teaching. I vowed to not settle. I spent 3 hrs a day commuting and it was getting the best of me. The very first day I applied I got an interview at the school districted for my home and was hired the same day (talk about divine intervention) I began the frantic rebuilding of my teacher toolbox. I got rid of EVERYTHING because I thought I would be staying home for several years. While researching some best practices, I came upon this blog and love it! Now, here's where things get creepy: I just found out I will be teaching 6th grade ELA/SS a few doors down from you! I can't wait to meet you in a couple of weeks. We have tons in common from what I can see and am excited to know a fabulous teacher is right down the hall!

    1. Oh my goodness, that's so awesome Malorie! I'm super pumped myself! You know I've heard before that "It's a small, small world!" Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out in such a fun and thoughtful way.