Thought starters

  1. What makes an effective question?
  2. Why is it important to gather evidence for both sides?
  3. How is asking a focus question different from stating a lesson objective?
Focus questions spur thinking, set up debate and stir up the class, while lesson objectives are boring sentences acting like titles. I liked the way this video set ended, with the inclusion of all instructors.
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I have been using this strategy quite a bit this year in my US History class. For one, it helps me due to the fact that my background knowledge is not as strong as it is in other content areas. This allows for the students and myself to be investigating together, and to have rich discussions. I have seen growth in my students abilities to read primary source documents and pull meaning from them, and to think more critically about the information that they are reading.
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Wonderful idea- I can see how this will drive a student to want to learn more, giving that mystery/detective feel to students to create a larger interest in the topic.
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My favorite line that stuck out to me through this short video that packed a punch for me was when Valerie Ziegler stated, "we're going to solve a mystery", when referring to the attention grabbing focus question that draws the students in to get them ready for the information they are about to learn. Instead of standing up in front of the class, lecturing the students about the topic, this idea of "thinking like a Historian" allows students to get excited about the information they are about to obtain and want to learn it through the sources they can use to solve the question.
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previously answered
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  • Reading Like A Historian: Strategy – The Historical Question
    Program Transcript

    Shilpa Duvoor (Interview):
    So I think a really effective approach

    Reading Like A Historian: Strategy – The Historical Question
    Program Transcript

    Shilpa Duvoor (Interview):
    So I think a really effective approach is to, like, pose a controversial question, or a question that really can have different answers.

    Valerie Ziegler (Interview):
    And so, when you pose that question to the class, that’s, sort of, the grabber: this is why we’re here today.

    And the question is: “Was the U.S. planning to go to war with Vietnam before the Gulf of Tonkin?”

    Shilpa Duvoor (Interview):
    You first need to start with an inquiry question that is—that has a rich amount of answers, and then you would give out the primary source documents that they would use to, like, gather evidence for both sides.

    Our question that we are focusing on is “What is the true story of the March on Washington,” trying to have a complete picture of it.

    Will Colglazier (Interview):
    So the question hooks the students so that they have a purpose to the class. By having this focus question, they know the direction of what they have to do, and they understand that the answer’s not going to come from me, but it’s going to come from documents, it’s going to come from the history itself.

    Now, again, our focus is going to be, “Was President Johnson going to go to war anyways? Was it really this event, the Gulf of Tonkin, or had he already planned to go to war?”

    Valerie Ziegler (Interview):
    And I would say that I’ve seen a change in their interest level in history, that instead of it being these facts that we memorize, it’s this, “Wow, we’re gonna solve a mystery,” or “We’re gonna answer some sort of question.” And so, usually when I put up the question, you know, they’ll be, like, “Oh, look at the question today,” and that drives that excitement.


School Details

Lincoln (Abraham) High School
2162 24th Avenue
San Francisco CA 94116
Population: 2027

Data Provided By:



Valerie Ziegler
William Colglazier
Shilpa Duvoor


Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Collaboration

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Planning

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Engagement

Lesson Idea

Grades 9-12 / ELA / Tch DIY