The DBQ is one of the most complex and challenging portions of the AP exam for many history students. To help students write successfully for this portion of the exam, I begin with small skill builders around the interpretation of a document. I begin building the DBQ reading skills early in the year with contextualization: the AP College board's first skill on their list of Historical Thinking Skills. As the year progresses, I will add more and more layers to the DBQ until students can read eight documents, plan and write an essay in under an hour with a well crafted thesis statement.
One of the first DBQ skill builders I use with my students is just with one document--the painting of the Primavera by Botticelli. I ask students targeted questions about context. I provide brief guidelines for what to write about, then ask them to review their reading and lecture notes about the time period as they construct their answer. Students should complete this exercise as they prepare for their unit exam on the Renaissance as valuable practice at applying their content knowledge in a scaffolded exam DBQ format. This lesson comes with sample student responses and grader analysis of why they received credit, what was good about the answers and what needs improvement.