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The Amazing Appositive & Terrific Transition

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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.