What Is 4QM? (Skip to Video)

The Four Question Method (4QM) is a way of planning and teaching history courses that makes them engaging, meaningful, and fun. Teachers who use the 4QM plan units and lessons around Four Questions that are at the heart of our discipline. Students who learn the 4QM are able to think clearly and well about history and social studies. They can more easily remember key information, because every event, person, or idea that they learn is related to the story of the unit they're studying, and to their own judgment of history. Our ultimate goal is to graduate Philosopher-Citizens.

The Four Questions

  • What Happened? (Narration)

    History starts with a story, and so the foundational skill of our discipline is narration. Question One highlights the skill of identifying something new and notable in the world, and telling a coherent story about how it came to be.

  • What Were They Thinking? (Interpretation)

    People make history. Question Two requires us to dive into the thinking of some of the major participants in our story. This skill involves interpreting primary sources and other evidence to understand the people who made history on their own terms. We call this understanding “historical empathy.”

  • Why Then And There? (Explanation)

    The people in our story are acting in a particular context. Question Three asks us to consider what underlying factors contributed to the story happening when and where it did. This skill involves making comparisons and identifying patterns, using common social science categories like “economic” or “political.” We learn to “explain a change with a change and a difference with a difference.”

  • What Do We Think About That? (Judgment)

    Once we have answered the first Three Questions, we are ready to make a responsible judgment about participants in the story and the story itself. What about this story do we think is admirable? What do we think is shameful? What lessons does the story offer for us today? How does it help us to identify and articulate our own principles and values?

The Four Question Method Explained

In this video, watch Jon and Gary explain how to use the 4QM to plan engaging, meaningful, and fun units.

This is a most impressive scheme. I love its elegance, efficiency, and communicability.

Professor Peter Seixas, Director of The Historical Thinking Project