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In this final blog of the series “Keys to Writing Success in AP® History,” our focus will be on Synthesis.  As mentioned in the previous blog, two of the most confusing parts of the Documents Based Question Rubric, for both students and teachers, is Contextualization and Synthesis.  In that blog, we focused on Contextualization and why it belongs in the introduction of the DBQ.  In this blog, we will examine Synthesis as a skill and why it belongs in the conclusion of the DBQ.  


As we did in the previous blog on Contextualization, let us begin by taking a look at the “recipe” for writing a DBQ from the first blog in this series (Follow the Recipe...Keys to AP Writing).  The model for writing a DBQ teaches students to Contextualize in the introduction and to Synthesize in the conclusion.  Note that in both cases, students must write 2-4 sentences to show these skills.  So it is always best to teach students that Contextualization and Synthesis should be full paragraphs. 

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AP® Essay Model for the DBQ


As you can see from this model, Contextualization and Synthesis (synTHESIS) come in different parts of the essay.  While there is no requirement from the College Board that these skills be placed in a certain part of a student’s essay, students are more successful when they have a clear plan for where to include these skills.  So, the next question becomes why should students ALWAYS include Contextualization in the introduction and Synthesis in the conclusion. The answer is two-fold. First, incorporating these skills into the essay in this way allows us to use the AP® rubric to teach students to be effective writers.  Second, the placement of Contextualization in the introduction and Synthesis in the conclusion reminds students of the purpose of each of these skills and how to differentiate them from each other.

AP® Essay Model for the Long Essay Question (LEQ)Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 9.22.03 PM.png


You will notice that on the DBQ and LEQ model, Synthesis is written this way: synTHESIS.  I emphasize the “thesis” part of the word Synthesis because students are expected to extend part of their thesis to another time period, geographic setting, era, or theme of history not included in the prompt to show mastery of this Historical Thinking Skill.  As you can tell from reviewing the AP® rubric for a DBQ and for an LEQ, Synthesis can be achieved in a number of ways.  However, for my students, I have had more success by teaching them to approach thesis by applying their thesis to a different HISTORICAL PERIOD.  Because the AP® curriculum for US History and AP® European History are divided into historical periods by dates, it is easiest to teach students in these classes to write synthesis by looking for evidence that shows their thesis can be applied to other historical eras.  In looking at the AP® World History curriculum where units of study are thematic, approaching Synthesis by looking at a historical theme not covered in the prompt is the most straight-forward way to approach synthesis.  As with teaching students to always put Contextualization in the introduction and Synthesis in the conclusion, helping students master this complicated Historical Thinking Skill by focusing their efforts on one type of Synthesis can help them be more successful. 


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Difference between Contextualization and Synthesis


Synthesis is the Historical Thinking Skill designed to evaluate the degree to which students can articulate patterns in history through thesis-based arguments.  The idea that students  can see how “history repeats itself” across time, groups of people, nations, and geography.  The application of this skill looks at a student’s ability to generalize an argument in different ways.  To focus on Synthesis, let’s look again at the the skill required of students for this point on the DBQ rubric for the 2016 AP® US HIstory Exam.


Explain the causes of the rise of a women’s rights movement in the period 1940 - 1975.


To effectively illustrate the Historical Thinking Skill of Synthesis on this prompt, students must show how their thesis explaining the rise of women’s rights in this period can also be applied to another time period.  Students could also achieve the Synthesis point on this essay by extending their thesis on the rise of women’s rights to movement to show how similar causes led to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, Gay Rights Movement, etc.  One important thing to remember is that students can successfully show Synthesis by extending ONE part of their thesis.  In the “recipe,” I teach students to write a two part thesis.  When they work on Synthesis, they apply one part of the thesis to another time period, era, situation, or geography. 


In the previous blog on Contextualization, we looked at a timeline activity (see below).  To apply this idea in the classroom, have your group of students work with this prompt to create a timeline on the board (see illustration below) and have them use documents and historical evidence to fill in the timeline:

Timeline illustrating events that could be used to CONTEXTUALIZE the 2016 DBQ Prompt


Now, as a class activity to teach synthesis, extend this timeline in each direction (for this prompt, students would focus on periods before 1940, but for other types of DBQ prompts, synthesis could come from before OR after time period in prompt):

In the model above, the yellow timeline indicates application of synthesis.  By utilizing visual evidence in the form of a timeline, students can see that some of the same causes for the rise of the women’s rights movement after 1940 were also influencing women in the eras preceding 1940.  For example, students may have argued that the involvement of women in nontraditional roles in World War II was a cause for the rise of the women’s rights movement.  Looking at the yellow timeline above, students may synthesize that part of their thesis by showing that women in nontraditional roles in the late 19th century in the Settlement House Movement or the early 19th century Second Great Awakening gave rise to calls for women’s rights in the 19th century. 


However you decide to teach the Synthesis as a Historical Thinking Skill, make sure students understand that Synthesis is NOT comparison… It is very tempting for students to simply write how the topic of the question is similar to another topic related to the prompt, but Synthesis is not comparison - these are different skills.  Instead, make sure students understand that Synthesis is about their THESIS… how the argument they make in response to a Document Based Question or Long Essay Question can be applied in a different place, time, or era.

As students make final preparations for success on their AP® exams in history, encourage them to look for patterns across time periods as a way to see synthesis and then apply it in their writing. 

Arguably two of the most confusing parts of the Documents Based Question Rubric, for both students and teachers, is Contextualization and Synthesis.  Because these two parts of essay writing can be frustrating, the final two parts of this blog series will focus on these skills.  This installment will focus on Contextualization, while Synthesis will be the subject of the final blog next week.


The first thing to consider when teaching students to effectively address the skills of Contextualization and Synthesis in the DBQ essay is that students must be able to distinguish these skills from each other!  To begin thinking about teaching students the difference in Contextualization and Synthesis, let’s take a look at the “recipe” for writing a DBQ from the first blog in this series (Follow the Recipe...Keys to AP* Writing):

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AP® Essay Model for the DBQ


As you can see from this model, Contextualization and Synthesis (synTHESIS) come in different parts of the essay.  While there is no requirement from the College Board that these skills be placed in a certain part of a student’s essay, students are more successful when they have a clear plan for where to include these skills.  So, the next question becomes why should students ALWAYS include Contextualization in the introduction and Synthesis in the conclusion. The answer is two-fold. First, incorporating these skills into the essay in this way allows us to use the AP® rubric to teach students to be effective writers.  Second, the placement of Contextualization in the introduction and Synthesis in the conclusion reminds students of the purpose of each of these skills and how to differentiate them from each other.


Understanding the difference between Contextualization and Synthesis is key.  Contextualization asks students to show that the understand the “Big Picture” of a period of study.  The “Big Picture” reflects understanding that the TOPIC or development that is the focus of a DBQ prompt do not happen in isolation in a given time period.  For illustration, let us consider the 2016 DBQ Prompt: “Explain the causes of the rise of a women’s rights movement in the period 1940 - 1975.”  The TOPIC of this prompt is “the rise of a women’s rights movement.”  However, illustrating the skill of Contextualization would require an understanding of the way in which other movements, developments, and events influenced women in this time period.  To differentiate this from Synthesis, students need to understand that Synthesis is the ability to see that patterns exist ACROSS time periods, disciplines, and themes in history.  Illustrating mastery of Synthesis for this prompt, then, would require students to show that their thesis - the causes that led to the rise of a women’s rights movement from 1940 - 1975 in the United States - also apply to other periods of history, themes, or geographical locations.  Because they are complex historical thinking skills, the rubric requires both Contextualization and Synthesis to be established through “multiple sentences” which simply means we need to teach our students to write these as effective paragraphs. Because Contextualization is establishing the way in which one specific topic fits into the “Big Picture” of a time period, it belongs in the introduction as a way of “introducing” the student’s thesis. In the same way, Synthesis belongs in the conclusion as a way to allow students to show that they understand the way that the thesis they have (hopefully) supported throughout the DBQ essay illustrates patterns in history beyond the time period of the DBQ prompt.

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Difference between Contextualization and Synthesis


To focus on Contextualization, let’s look at the  the skill required of students for this point on the DBQ rubric for the 2016 AP® US HIstory Exam.


Explain the causes of the rise of a women’s rights movement in the period 1940 - 1975.


To effectively illustrate the historical skill of Contextualization on this prompt, students must show how issues impacting rise of women’s rights in the period was influenced by OTHER developments, movements, and/or events.  To apply this idea in the classroom, have your group of students work with this prompt to create a timeline on the board (see illustration below) and have them use documents and historical evidence to fill in the timeline:

contextualization time line.jpg


After students have added details (SFI - Specific Factual Information) to the timeline about the rise of women’s rights movement in this period, ask them to consider other developments, events, movements, that might have influenced the rise of the women’s rights movements. Add these ideas in a different color to represent Contextualization.  Your timeline might end up looking like this (this illustration is not exhaustive):

In this illustration, you can see that the items written in blue represent Specific Factual Information (SFI) that students can use to draw conclusions about Contextualization. Students can make an argument about the influence of the fight for Civil Rights by African Americans and the rejection of conformity by writers of the Beat Generation on the rise of the women’s rights movement in this same time period.  Students can connect the frustration of women with the lack of rights to the frustration of African Americans with the lack of rights.  Students can connect the founding of organizations for women’s rights like NOW to the founding of organizations including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Congress for Racial Equality.  By having students think in terms of a timeline, they can better understand the idea of Contextualization. 

When students begin to craft their evidence of Contextualization into a paragraph, it is important that they remember that they should connect their Contextualization to their thesis statement.  So if students argue that the experience of women in World War II was a cause of the rise of the women’s movement, they could connect that to the impact of WWII on African Americans and Native Americans.  If they are making an argument that the rejection of conformity among women was a cause of the rise of the women’s rights movement, they could connect that part of their thesis to the Beat Generation and Abstract Expressionists of the period who rejected conformity in the Arts.  Contextualization is immersing the TOPIC of the prompt into the broader picture of history for a given period of time.  The nice thing about approaching Contextualization this way, is that you have the opportunity to use the DBQ rubric to teach students to write effective introductions for any expository essay.  A good introduction will always set a thesis statement into the “Big Picture” of a time period.  This is not a skill exclusive to writing a good AP® essay… it is a skill that can be applied to writing effective essays in any course in high school or college.  

In my previous blogs, I have focused on essay writing, which undoubtedly takes up a great deal of our planning, teaching, and grading time as AP® history teachers.  But, we should not forget the importance of the Short Answer Question to the writing portion of the AP® exam.  The basics of the Short Answer Question often lead us and students to underestimate their importance… I mean, they are not thesis based, they must be answered in just one page… how hard can it be, right? I have found that sometimes I need to refocus my student’s attention on the key points in effectively addressing the “easiest” part of the AP® exam.  After all, the Short Answer portion of the exam accounts for 20% of the exam score (that’s 5% more than the LEQ).


Here is a reminder of the College Board’s explanation of the Short Answer Questions:



So, if we break down this description, students will likely face Short Answer Questions that require them to:


  1. Analyze a primary source AND then answer questions related to it with evidence
  2. Analyze historian’s arguments then explain the argument with evidence
  3. Analyze two historian’s arguments then explain the difference between the arguments with supporting evidence
  4. Analyze sources such as a political cartoon, graph, chart, map and then use related evidence
  5. Consider arguments related to US history and use evidence to address the argument


When we look at this list, it becomes clear that the first two things that are critical to success on the Short Answer Question portion of the exam are analyzing and using evidence.  Students can be taught the acronym A.P.E. to insure they completely answer each question using their analysis and evidence:

A - Answer the question

P - Provide SFI (specific factual information) that supports the answer

E - Explain how the evidence supports the answer to the question


Each SAQ has 3 parts.  APE should be used to answer each part of each SAQ.  I teach students that each letter of APE should be at least one sentence.  In the limited amount of space for answering Short Answer Questions, one to two sentences for each part of APE should be sufficient.  This means that each answer to a Short Answer Question will likely be between 9 - 12 sentences.  Using this acronym helps students avoid the two basic problems I most commonly see in SAQ answers - failing to provide enough explanation for an answer OR writing an answer that summarizes or rambles rather than directly answering each part of the question.


A key element to success on the Short Answer Questions is the use of evidence.  I use the acronym SFI, Specific Factual Information, (yes, I love acronyms) to teach students the importance of evidence.  Students come to understand that SFI is usually something that is capitalized - a name, event, law, battle, policy, document, etc.  To teach students to actively evaluate their use of evidence, you can grab those trusty highlighters (remember, they are magic wands [insert link to highlighter blog here]) and have students use them to specifically highlight the SFI in each part of their SAQ answer.  Here it is important to keep the highlighting to a minimum… not full sentences, just the actual piece of evidence in the answer.  If students can not find something to highlight in each part, they have likely failed to effectively address that part.  If you practice this strategy, students will begin thinking of the highlighting as they write and remember the importance of having something to highlight in each part of each Short Answer Question.


Some of the  Short Answer Questions will require students to analyze sources.  Even though the source will come first in the SAQ, teach students to read the three parts of the SAQ first.  Reading the parts of the question first will help give students a purpose for their reading and analysis of the source.  They can briefly annotate the source, but the emphasis of their writing time should be on getting their answer on the answer sheet.  Sometimes students will spend so much time annotating on the prompt itself, that they end up running out of time to get their answers to all four SAQs on the answer sheet.  An important thing to emphasize to students about the SAQs that have historian’s arguments is that if the question has excerpts from two historians, they will be required to explain the difference in the arguments.  This can not be done by simply restating ideas from the excerpts. Students must explain the difference.  They can typically do this by focusing on whether or not each historian views the event, topic, era or individuals in the question as having a positive or negative impact on the development of the US.  Or, they may want to focus on the difference in evidence the historian’s focus on about the same time period, event, topic, etc.  Or they may want to think how the historian’s differ due to their emphasis on particular views of history - social, political, cultural, intellectual, or economic.  However they choose to go about this type of SAQ, they must focus on the difference between the arguments… not just what each argument is. 


One final consideration for successfully navigating the SAQ portion of the AP® exam.  The description above does not state the additional requirement that kids must keep in mind- they have 50 minutes to write four Short Answer Questions each of which has three parts… that means they are writing 12 answers in 50 minutes.  Therefore, one of the first skills students must practice to be successful on the SAQ portion of the exam is speed.  They must be able to read the question and the source (on probably at least two sources), determine what the question is asking them to do, think of the evidence that addresses the question AND get it written down in a very limited amount of time.  The “element of choice” that at least two of the questions will include is good for allowing students to show what they know, but it is also another decision they have to think about and make in the 50 minute time period.  So, the first strategy to prepare students for the SAQ portion of the exam is to require them to write timed SAQs on a regular basis.  These work well as “bell ringers” or “warm ups” at the beginning of class. 

By implementing these techniques with students, they can master the skills and strategies necessary to make the Short Answer Question portion of the exam both a short and a simple path to success on the AP® exam.

Sometime near the beginning of the school year we all face that dreaded day when we have to teach… the DBQ.  Nothing seems to strike fear in the hearts of students and dread in the hearts of teachers as the torturous process of teaching students to write the Document Based Question essay.  One of the reasons the process is feared and dreaded is because writing a DBQ essay is a complicated process.  In earlier blogs, I discussed the recipe for writing an effective AP® essay and the way to use highlighters as magic wands [insert link to first blogs]… now we will look at the use of specific strategies for helping students to include effective Extended Analysis and Argument Development in their DBQ essays. The strategies also work to insure students get both points for evidence and application of Historical Thinking Skill in the Long Essay Question essay. 


If you are like me, you spend at least one full class period teaching nothing but the DBQ rubric and process for writing a DBQ essay.  For me this lesson comes early in the course because I am convinced that students can not wrap their heads around just one part of the DBQ rubric at at time...that it is important for students to understand how the different points of the DBQ rubric are connected to each other.  Once, while teaching this DBQ lesson, a student asked a very desperate and important question. The student said, “I understand what you are talking about - what Extended Analysis is - but, HOW DO I DO THAT?”  I looked at him a bit perplexed.  I responded in typical teacher fashion by saying, “You analyze the document and think of what influenced it in the time period.”  Now, I thought this was a good answer, but the student immediately shot his hand back into the air.  He said, “I get that, but HOW DO I ACTUALLY DO IT? I mean, how do I write it in my essay?”  At this point, it dawned on me that the problem for this student (and likely many more sitting in front of me) was not understanding what Extended Analysis means in the DBQ rubric, but understanding how to construct effective sentences that include their Extended Analysis.  In other words, if a student can read a document and analyze its meaning and can identify an example of Extended Analysis, they may still need help in how to effectively write it in their essay.  This stimulated my thinking about the “how to” part of teaching students to be effective writers.  As I considered how to teach students this skill, I concluded that not only do students struggle with effectively writing Extended Analysis, but they also struggle with how to establish effective Argument Development as required by the DBQ rubric.  Here it is important for me to make another critical point about my writing instruction… I am determined that teaching students to be effective writers for the AP® exam can also effectively teach them to be good writers in college … in general… in any of their courses.  So, to teach students to effectively integrate Extended Analysis into an essay, I teach them how to use the AMAZING APPOSITIVE.  In a similar way, I teach students the importance of TRANSITIONS for making strong sentences to achieve the point for Argument Development on the DBQ rubric.  In the end, these strategies teach students to be more effective writers in general.


The amazing appositive provides students with a clear and definite strategy for including Extended Analysis for any document in a DBQ.  An appositive is a noun phrase that renames a noun that immediately precedes it.  The appositive is set aside by commas and works much like a parenthetical reference to the preceding noun.  Now, the magic and amazing part of the appositive is that it can ALWAYS be used to establish extended analysis in a DBQ essay. 

For example, let’s say students are working on this DBQ prompt:

Analyze the factors that led to the colonists developing a sense of their own identity and unity as Americans by the eve of the American Revolution? (causation)


And, let’s say that this is one of the documents:




Now, students will likely analyze this document as evidence for the colonists unifying over time as their grievances with the British grew. They will likely argue that the cartoon illustrates the idea in the colonies that they would be stronger as a unified power rather than individual colonies.  Students will hopefully be able to show Extended Analysis in one of the following ways:


Historical Context: cartoon was produced at the start of the French and Indian War to unite colonists against the French and their Native American allies

Intended Audience: Colonial legislatures who Franklin wanted to convince to support the Albany Congress

Purpose: generate stronger colonial defense on the frontier against the French and Native Americans

Point of View: Franklin was a newspaper publisher and an organizer of the Albany Congress trying to unify the colonies


This is where the amazing appositive comes in… Show students how to rename the noun with the extended analysis.  Below are examples of the way in which the Extended Analysis above can be integrated into effective sentences that show document analysis, extended analysis, and support for a historical argument in response to the prompt:


“Join or Die, produced at the start of the French and Indian War to unite colonists against the French, illustrates the view of colonists like Franklin that the colonies had the same threats which helped to unify them even before the American Revolution.”




“ Join or Die, produced for colonial legislatures who often did not see the threat of the French impacting their interests, illustrates the view of colonists like Franklin that the colonies had the same threats which helped to unify them even before the American Revolution.”




“Join or Die, designed to generate greater unity among the colonies in the face of threats from the French, illustrates the view of colonists like Franklin that the colonies had the same threats which helped to unify them even before the American Revolution.”




“Join or Die, written by Franklin who was a leader in the organization of the Albany Congress seeking to unify the colonies in the French and Indian War, illustrates the view of colonists like Franklin that the colonies had the same threats which helped to unify them even before the American Revolution.”


You will notice that the sentences follow the same formula:


Noun (name of doc or author), Extended Analysis (HIPP), document analysis that supports the argument in response to the prompt.


By teaching students this strategy, they will feel more confident in their ability to incorporate Extended Analysis into their DBQ essays.  You will also find that once this obstacle is overcome, students will likely included Extended Analysis for more than the required 4 documents.  When students provide Extended Analysis with good SFI (Specific Factual Information - another favorite acronym) for more than 4 documents, they can then also be awarded the point for Outside Evidence beyond the documents. 


Now, what about those terrific transitions… Another strategy that can improve student’s writing, for DBQs, LEQs, and really any expository essay is the effective use of transitions between sentences.  Students are often used to writing in a simplistic way that results in essays that read like lists of facts.  Many students have never been taught how to use transitions between sentences to establish relationships between ideas in their essay.  From many conversations and class discussions, I have come to the conclusion that many students assume that if they list relevant evidence in a paragraph, the reader will make the connections.  It is imperative for students to understand that it is THEIR JOB to make the connections between relevant evidence in their body paragraphs.  So, spend some time teaching students to use transitions.  In particular, students need strategies for using transitions that illustrate corroboration, qualification, and contradictions important to their historical argument.  Teach students that transitions are the “glue” that holds their ideas together to support a historical argument.

Teaching students to use appositives and transitions can give them the strategies needed to become effective writers for the AP® exam and beyond.

Highlighter Magic

Posted by nicki.griffin Mar 27, 2017

Wouldn’t it be great if you could see inside your student’s minds as they were writing an essay for your AP® course?  How many times have you thought to yourself, “what was she thinking?” or “does he think that is extended analysis?”  as you read a student response to an AP® essay prompt? Wouldn’t it be great if you could have them in front of you as you grade every essay to find out exactly where they are confused about the rubric or the prompt? Well, there just happens to be some magic wands that make all of these scenarios possible … HIGHLIGHTERS. 


In the previous blog post in this series, I emphasized the importance of teaching students the recipe for writing effective essays in AP® history courses.  Teaching students the recipe for writing an effective AP® essay in history can provide students with the tools necessary to be successful on the AP® exam. The recipe is the first key to student success on AP® writing.  Today, I would like to expand this idea by focusing on how the use of highlighters can give your the magic power of seeing what your students are thinking as they try to implement the recipe and effectively write an essay in your AP® class. 


Using highlighters can be effective in working with any essay, but I have found it to be most helpful in teaching students to understand the DBQ rubric and recipe.  The key to the use of highlighters as magic wands is matching the highlighters to the DBQ rubric.  In my classes, I use highlighters that come in a pack of 6.  Each color in the pack corresponds to one point on the rubric.  You can see that I took the cardboard insert with the brand of the highlighters, inverted it, and added the code for the DBQ rubric for each color highlighter.  I have a class set of the highlighters so that each student has a set of highlighters to use after completing every essay in my AP® courses.  File_007.jpeg


So here is how this process works in my AP® history courses.  After students complete a DBQ, they are required to use the highlighters to show their thinking process on the essay.  I teach students to follow this order for highlighting:


  1. Highlight the THESIS STATEMENT first.  Then, use the highlighter color to highlight where they refer back to their thesis statement in the body of the essay.  If students are following the recipe, the last 1-2 sentences of the introduction, the first sentence of each body paragraph, and the first 1-2 sentences of the conclusion should be highlighted.  This is the student’s first self-assessment of how well their essay followed the recipe!
  2. Use the assigned color to highlight CONTEXTUALIZATION.  If students are following the recipe, contextualization should come in the introduction before the thesis statement.  I tell students to highlight only what provides Specific Factual Information (SFI) that is from the SAME TIME PERIOD as the prompt and helps explain OTHER topics, events, developments that are related to the topic of the question. 
  3. Use the assigned colors to highlight DOCUMENT ANALYSIS and EXTENDED ANALYSIS.  I always remind students to be careful here to differentiate these two skills.  Document Analysis will be the use of information available in the document to support their thesis.  While Extended Analysis looks at the historical context of the document, influence of the intended audience or purpose of the document, or the impact of the point of view of the author on the document’s use as evidence.   Extended Analysis must include SFI (Specific Factual Information) that is NOT in the document itself or the source information provided with the document.  I ask students to label which type of Extended Analysis the were going for in the margin - historical context (HC), Intended Audience (IA), Purpose (Pr) or Point of View (POV) (Note: Next week’s blog will focus on exactly how to get kids to include Extended Analysis EVERY TIME)
  4. Use the assigned color to highlight SYNTHESIS.  If students have followed the recipe, synthesis should come in their conclusion AFTER they have restated their thesis statement.  (Restating the thesis is not required by the DBQ rubric (or the LEQ rubric), however, I find that very often students have a stronger, clearer thesis at the end of the essay.)  It helps the students to restate the thesis before attempting Synthesis because their synthesis argument must be tied to their thesis.  I teach my kids to think of Synthesis as synTHESIS… it is a thesis based argument.  In other words, this skill is not simply a comparison of the topic of the prompt to a similar topic in history.  Instead, they can only highlight SynTHESIS if it is an extension of a part of their thesis statement.  Like all parts of the essay, SynTHESIS must include SFI to be highlighted. 
  5. FINALLY… and this must come LAST… students use the final color to highlight OUTSIDE EVIDENCE.  This step must come last because “double dipping” is not allowed on the DBQ Rubric.  I remind students that if information is highlight in ANY OTHER COLOR, it can not count towards the point for OUTSIDE INFORMATION.  In my class, the blue highlighter is for OUTSIDE INFORMATION, so my student know that the blue highlighter is used last and can only be used on essay content that is not already another color.

You can see in this image that the student has highlighted, I have provided feedback (in the margin, in pink) and the student has corrected the error … all by the magic of the highlighters!

While the explanation for this process is quite wordy, it is actually very simple for students to do in class.  And, the results are phenomenal….

When you sit down to grade the highlighted essays, you can literally see what the students thought they were doing in each sentence of their essay.  Based on the highlighting, you can tell when students thought they were contextualizing, providing extended analysis, and using document analysis to support their thesis.  Based on the highlighting, both you and the student can easily see if they followed the recipe for an effective essay.  This particular point has given rise to the acronym “DNFR” in my class (DNFR = Did Not Follow Recipe)  Because you know what the student THOUGHT they were doing, you can now provide very clear and directive feedback based on what the students thought they were writing.  If you choose to allow students to rewrite problem areas in their essays (which I highly recommend), they now have clear feedback that responds to their thinking on the DBQ essay.  If you do not choose to allow students to rewrite, they can use the feedback on one DBQ to inform their writing of the next essay.  I have even had students take out their last DBQ to reference when writing a new one in class.  This feedback allows students to effectively correct errors in their thinking or understanding of the rubric requirements. 


I teach this process early in the year and we use it on every essay.  My students become so accustomed to following this process that if I happen to forget and try to take up unhighlighted essays, they quickly remind me!   However, teaching this process now and allowing students to use it on DBQ practice between now and AP® Exam day (May 5) can have a tremendous impact on their writing skills because FEEDBACK is crucial to improving writing skills.   


We all know that success on the AP® history exams depends on the success of our students’ writing.  Yes, knowledge of history is key… and the ability of students to read sources carefully is important, but if our students are not prepared to express their understanding through effective writing… well, what they know won’t help them!  So, we have to ask ourselves this question: How can we help our students be successful on the essay portions of the AP® exam? I am suggesting that to answer that question… you ask yourself a different one… How do I make pecan pie?


When I was growing up, my grandmother made the best pecan pie in the world!  I looked forward to her pie on every holiday, and, if I was lucky, at family birthday dinners.  When I grew up and became a real grown-up, I decided it was time I learned to make this amazing dish.  My grandmother graciously agreed to teach me to make pecan pie.  Now, my grandmother (and probably yours) could create her pecan pie without much reference to a recipe.  But, she wrote down the recipe with the ingredients and instructions so that I, too, could create a pecan pie.  I used the recipe, I followed the instructions… and, low and behold, I baked a pecan pie… It was not as good as my grandmother’s pie, but it was good! I was proud! After a few successful pies, I got a little cocky and did not pay close attention to the recipe… and when I took the pie out of the oven I discovered that I had made pecan soup! Without careful attention to the recipe, I could not make a good pecan pie…


Now, I know what you are thinking… what does pecan pie have to do with AP® essay writing?  Well, we wouldn’t expect our students to be able to make a pecan pie without a recipe… why should we expect them to be able to write an essay without one.  Here’s the thing… a pecan pie is a complicated concoction with a lot of parts … when it is done well, it is a beautiful thing… but when it is not done well… well, you get pecan soup!  The same is true for an AP® essay.  The AP® essay is a complicated concoction with many parts, but it’s construction can be boiled down to a recipe that students can learn and follow to write beautiful essays.  We can teach students the recipe and use it to help them not only write well-developed essays for the AP® exam, but also to write effective essays in other courses and in college.  Since the rubrics for AP® essays are the same across all three history courses (AP® US History, AP® World History and AP® European History), the recipe can be effectively implemented in each course. 


The AP® Essay Recipe:


1 part - Thesis Statement

1 part - Contextualization

6 parts - Document Analysis

4 parts - Extended Analysis

1 part - Outside Evidence

1 part - Synthesis

1 part - Argument Development



  1. Read the prompt carefully.
  2. Identify the Historical Thinking Skill required in the prompt
  3. Quickly analyze the seven documents
  4. Extend analysis of at least 4 documents by historical context, intended audience, purpose, and point of view of the author
  5. Write a thesis statement that addresses the Historical Thinking Skills and answers the question
  6. Organize at least six documents to support the thesis statement
  7. Contextualize the thesis by explaining the relationship of topics OTHER THAN THE PROMPT TOPIC to the thesis
  8. Choose one or two ways that the documents relate to one another - either by contradiction, corroboration, or qualification
  9. Choose at least one piece of evidence that supports your thesis
  10. Think of at least one way that your thesis could be applied to a different time period, different historical context, or different discipline. You only need to use one part of your thesis statement to do this.


The recipe for an AP® essay can be illustrated with an hourglass model.  The hourglass model illustrates exactly where students can plug in each requirement of the AP® rubrics.  This model can work in teaching students to successfully write a Document Based Question Essay, a Long Essay Question, and even more importantly, a college level essay.  The AP® Essay Model below shows the recipe applied to the DBQ and to the LEQ


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AP® Essay Model for the DBQ


In the recipe for a successful AP® essay, the top part of the model represents the introduction.  I explain to students that the hourglass is a good model for any essay, because essays should always start with the “big picture” that sets the essay’s thesis statement into historical context, which is what is required to show the skill of Contextualization.  However, it is important to emphasize that only the DBQ requires students to write a full introductory paragraph… this is where the skill of contextualization should be shown.  Contextualization in the DBQ is a skill that can be confusing for students, but it works if you explain to students that contextualizing means they are “introducing” their thesis statement.  It is important that students use specific factual information (SFI) in their contextualization to show that they understand how the specific topic of the essay prompt relates to other developments, events, processes that were important in the time period.  Here is a key to the recipe and to the DBQ rubric… Contextualization comes FIRST in the essay as the first  4 - 5 sentences in the introduction with the thesis statement as the last sentence (or two) in the introductory paragraph.  Organizing contextualization into the introduction teaches students to write effective essays, both for the AP exam and in college. 


The narrow, middle sections of the hourglass model represents the body paragraphs of the essay.  As you can see in the model, the recipe for each body paragraph begins with restating a part of the thesis statement. It is important for students to understand that the recipe is designed to convince the reader that they are making a strong argument. The recipe requires students to restate a part of their thesis in each body paragraph.  Then, the recipe directs students to use the sentences in the body paragraphs to illustrate the evidence that supports the historical argument in their thesis statement.  The model shows that each sentence should have a purpose in supporting the thesis and that students should use transitions between sentences to illustrate the way in which different documents or evidence show contradictions in evidence or documents, corroboration between evidence or documents, and/or qualification of evidence or documents.  The recipe also tells students to restate their main argument at the end of the paragraph - making the historical argument clear is key.


The bottom of the hourglass model is an inversion of the top… or an inversion of the introductory paragraph.  Therefore, according to the recipe, the thesis statement comes first in the conclusion.  Restating the thesis is important for making a synthesis argument.  Just as the skill of contextualization should be illustrated in the introduction,  the skill of synthesis can be easily shown in the conclusion.  Now, the AP rubrics do not require that contextualization or synthesis be included in any certain part of the essay… and that is exactly why these skills are confusing to our students.  This recipe clarifies for students where these skills can be effectively shown.  So, in the conclusion, students begin by restating their thesis statement.  Then, the recipe requires that students take at least one part of their thesis statement and apply it in a different time period, different geographical situation, or different discipline.  Synthesis is simply showing understanding of patterns in history.  And… to be completely honest, students can write a very effective DBQ (or LEQ) without the synthesis point… yes… I said that! Tell students to never stress out about the synthesis point. They should definitely try to include the synthesis argument, but it is “gravy”... (sorry for mixing my food metaphors)... but, if a student does a good job at writing the rest of the essay according to the recipe, they will be successful. 

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The LEQ Model follows the DBQ model. The main difference is that the skill of contextualization is not required in the LEQ and the evidence in the body paragraphs is based on evidence students know as opposed to document based evidence.


It's been two weeks since our last Multimedia Monday - and I hope you all had a wonderful Columbus Day weekend!


Today's multimedia Monday is a simple resource that has multiple uses in your history classroom: public domain Greatest Speeches of the 20th Century. You can use these as listening projects and scroll through all of the speeches to find ones pertinent for your classroom. Or, you can ask students to compare and contrast speeches from different time periods to see how they have evolved.


You can find them all here: Greatest Speeches of the 20th Century : Public Domain : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive


How do you use speeches with your history students?

Do you use podcasts with your students, or just listen to them on your commute to school in the morning? Podcasts can be a great way to add some media into your classroom or help students who learn by listening.


The History of England podcast does exactly that -- tells the history of England. But, it does so in a way that's easy to understand, and relatable. The episodes are no longer than 40 minutes long - so while it's not an in-depth look at England's history, it at least gives an overview. Use it to supplement your students understanding of different topics, or assign as extra credit for an absent student.


The History of England Podcast

The History of England


Do you use podcasts with your students? Leave suggestions in the comments!

Chief Readers Report

Posted by suefl Oct 2, 2016

An excellent way to improve classroom instruction and student performance is to review the Chief Readers Report.It can be found on the College Board website where the DBQ's, LEQ's and SAQ's are found. Look for the link Student Questions and Answers.  Extremely informative!

For today's multimedia Monday, we turn to the University of Richmond, which has created a few different projects for teachers to use in their classroom. I want to focus on America Panorama, a US History atlas that provides a few different interactive maps, such as the Forced Migration of Enslaved People from 1810-1860.


You can read more about the Digital Scholarship Lap at the University of Richmond here: People | Digital Scholarship Lab

You can see their full list of projects here: Projects | Digital Scholarship Lab


How do you plan to use these in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

TEDTalks are great ways to incorporate multimedia into your classroom. This TEDTalk, by Eric Sanderson, discusses the topography of Manhattan when it was discovered by Henry Hudson and shows the replotted map as it would have been in 1609. And it discusses exactly why the island of Manhattan came to by the city that it is today.


Link: Eric Sanderson: New York -- before the City | TED Talk |

TEDTalks | Running Length: 16:09

This PBS documentary follows the Medici family of Florence in the 15th century. The Medici family rose to power on the onset of the Renaissance, and this documentary (divided in 4 parts) shows how the family began and their impact on European history and the Renaissance. It looks at the construction of the great dome in Florence, the "Birth of Venus" painting, Michelangelo's "David," Luther's Reformation, and Galileo. The episode list is:

  • Episode 1, The Birth of a Dynasty - starts in Florence in 1400 and outlines the increasing wealth and power of the family, culminating in the dome of Florence being built in 1436.
  • Episode 2, The Magnificent Medici - starts in 1466 and partly examines the Medici relationship with Botticelli.
  • Episode 3, The Medici Popes - starts in 1501 and shows Michelangelo's sculpting of the David, and the election of Giovanni de'Medici as Pope Leo X.
  • Episode 4, Power vs. Truth - concludes the story with Galileo's relationship with the Medici family and the Inquisition in Rome.


Each episode is 55 minutes long, and is available on DVD.


Multimedia Mondays, a series devoted to new media to use with AP® History classes, runs every Monday from September 12 to December 19.

Closeness and History

Posted by robertself Apr 22, 2016

When I teach the Boston Massacre, a subject about which one of my co-authors on America’s History, Eric Hinderaker, will soon publish a remarkable new book, I ask the students to think about space and confinement. As I describe the growing anti-British sentiment among different social classes in Boston, I project paintings, newspaper accounts, and maps on the screen.


A close-up map of the King Street neighborhood in Boston allows the students to see the dense, narrow streets where the British soldiers encountered the young working-class men who would later hurl snowballs and shout curses at the armed representatives of the crown. The map makes the visual and experiential field of colonial Boston—and the close proximity of soldiers, workers, artisans, and residences—vivid for the students. The closeness of the British soldiers and Bostonians can be felt.


It’s important for students to remember that history happens in real spaces. The King Street neighborhood is just one example. Dense neighborhoods, yes, but also other kinds of urban spaces, from churches to city halls, suburban spaces, from tree-lined streets to the private home, rural and wilderness spaces, transportations spaces such as carriages, ships, and conveyances of all sorts. The list goes on. In an age of instant digital communication, it can be critical for students to know that for the vast majority of human history (and, frankly, even today), most of the significant interactions among human beings happened face to face, in close proximity.


I’ve titled this blog post “closeness and history” to emphasize just that: how the history we encounter in textbooks often lacks a spatial dimension, making it easy to forget how close people often were to one another.


Spatial history is not just about nearness, however. There is an undeniably closeness in the narrowed, tangled streets of colonial Boston, or in the cramped Higgins boats ferrying Allied soldiers onto the Normandy beaches on D-Day, or in the tenement houses of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities during the great immigration waves of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


But distance matters too. The quickest route to the California gold fields from New York in 1848 was to sail to Panama and then up the West Coast or to sail around Cape Horn. Distance mattered. For escaped, runaway slaves in the 1850s bound for the North, safety across the border in Canada was anything but close. The route was long, perilous, and often unknown to those who fled. Distance mattered.


If closeness and distance both matter to history, there’s a larger lesson about how space can be taken seriously in the teaching of U.S. history. Attention to space need not take over your curriculum or overwhelm what you already do in the classroom. But through the judicious use of maps, personal accounts such as dairies, journals, or letters, paintings (a terrific primary source before photography was common), photographs (a terrific primary source for periods after the late nineteenth century), and other kinds of both primary sources and graphic tools, conveying the importance of space to students can enrich what teachers already do.


A simple way of conceiving of this is to encourage students to develop an automatic analytical framework: think about not just what happened in history, and why, but also where. The historical habit of mind should always have a spatial dimension.

Over the past several decades I’ve had the rich opportunity to interact with many AP* World History instructors from my vantage point as a college professor and textbook author (Ways of the World). At AP* readings, conferences, workshops, webinars, and school visits, I have come to appreciate their familiarity with current scholarship, their pedagogical creativity, and their enthusiasm about this very challenging enterprise. I have also noticed a hunger for communication with others teaching or writing World History. Bedford’s “Compass” project offers a venue for such interaction, perhaps a clearing house for pedagogical ideas and resources, a place where individual instructors can enlarge their circle of colleagues. I feel sure that many college instructors could benefit greatly from taking part in such a forum.


In a world of scholarly specialization, all of us who dare to undertake the teaching of World History occupy a distinctive niche as “specialists of the whole.” None of us are experts in all the events, process, and cultures we present to our students. Our expertise lies rather in providing the most effective contexts, frameworks, or “big picture” perspectives in which to situate the particulars of our courses. I would hope that “Compass” might provide an arena in which our unique specialization—teaching contextual thinking—will be recognized and enhanced.