Question History with Adobe Acrobat

Students define, interpret, and question the past by annotating primary source documents in Acrobat
1 teacher likes this strategy

About This Strategy

Voltaire is quoted as saying “Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers.” This 45- to 60-minute strategy helps spark student curiosity as they explore and practice techniques for developing their own higher order questions of historical events using Adobe Acrobat Reader. This strategy can stand on its own or as part of broader units on historiography, research, or creating habits of mind and a culture of inquiry. 

Because Adobe Acrobat enables students to view, create, and manipulate PDF documents, this strategy empowers students to develop inquiry and practice historical thinking in a deep and meaningful way.

Supporting Tools and Resources

  • Student Sample
  • Adobe Acrobat 

  • Editable Resource Bundle

  • PDF Resource Bundle

Outline for Teachers

60 minutes


Students answer questions and engage in a discussion to consider how they might think and question the world like historians. (5 minutes)


Students evaluate the importance of asking complex and open-end questions rather than focusing on singular solutions or binary answers as they are introduced to thinking like a historian using these steps to guide them. (10 minutes)


Students annotate a historical document using the literacy strategy “It Says, I Say, and So” in Adobe Acrobat. Upon completion, students will generate 3-5 higher order questions to practice historical thinking skills and to promote inquiry. (30 minutes)

Students can examine an example here and read a tutorial here

*Potential extension: Check out this strategy to extend your unit of study.


Students share their work in Adobe Acrobat Pro as directed by their teacher.(5 minutes)

Steps for Students

History is more than an accumulation of facts,  but an exciting academic field that is continuously evolving as new questions and interpretations of historical events arise based on evidence. Engage in the authentic work of professional historians by considering your own perspectives and insights as you define, interpret, and question the past by exploring primary source documents in Adobe Acrobat Reader.  

Because Adobe Acrobat Reader is a user-friendly tool that allows you to view, create, and manipulate PDF documents, this strategy empowers you to question and interpret historical events in a deep and meaningful way.


1. Watch this video on historical thinking (2:03). When you are done viewing the video clip, answer the following question on a separate sheet of paper and then share your answers with a partner. (15 minutes)

  • What kinds of questions do you think we could, and should, ask of history when we read or hear it? Why?

  • What questioning techniques do you think historians use to interpret historical events?  Why? 

  • Why is creating a strong question sometimes harder than finding an answer?

2. Read and annotate a historical document in Adobe Acrobat Pro using the strategy “It Says, I Say, and So.” You can find directions and a supplemental graphic organizer on this strategy here. When you are done, engage in thinking like a historian and create 3-5 open-ended questions based on your reading and add them to your annotated source. (30 minutes)

  • Consider some of the guidance from the video clip by creating some questions that address the notion “So What?” regarding context, change, continuity, causality, etc.

  • Two optional resources that you might explore for ideas to support your process of generating stronger questions are Costa’s Levels of Questioning  or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Consider what makes a stronger or weaker question by comparing and contrasting differences in how  using these terms changes the complexity of questions between  each level as you move higher or lower within the framework. Rather than creating questions that ask for singular answers or the recall of factual information, you should strive to create questions that are thought-provoking and open-ended by considering ways to incorporate ideas from the highest levels of these models.

Check out this student sample for inspiration and guidance.  If you would like a  quick tutorial on how to use Adobe Acrobat, go here.

3. Share your work in Adobe Acrobat as directed by your teacher. (5 minutes)

Rubric for Successful Analysis

Consult the attached rubric in order to evaluate students' work.