Introducing Biographies-Getting to Know You
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
Teach students how to get the most out of their reading while introducing them to this nonfiction genre. You will expose your students to a wide variety of biographies while guiding them toward choosing one person of interest they will research further.
- Understand that biographies give an account of a person's life and achievements.
- Explore several different types of biographies to help determine their area of interest.
- Choose one notable person they would like to learn more about.
- Complete an online tutorial on biographies.
- Use written and Internet resources to research one person.
- Fill out a biography graphic organizer.
- Large collection of biographies
- Research Notebook
- Biography Book Report Graphic Organizer (PDF) from 10 Ready-to-Go Book Report Projects
- Computers and printer
- Chart paper and markers
- Paper and pencils
Set Up and Prepare
- Gather a large number of biographies for students to use. Use books from your own collection along with those from the school and/or public library. To generate the greatest interest among your students, make sure your assortment includes biographical books about people who have made notable contributions in the following categories: athletics, business, literature and the arts, public service, science, and exploration. Up until this point, students may only have limited exposure with a few well known figures so a wide variety of books can really spark an interest in this genre. Tip: I separate these books into baskets labeled with each category so students can quickly find books that meet their interests.
- Preview the Online Activity Writing with Writers: Biography that you will use with your students during this lesson.
- Print and make enough copies for each student of the Research Notebook from Scholastic Online Activity Writing with Writers: Biography
- Print and make enough copies for each student of Biography Book Report Graphic Organizer.
PART I: One Day
Introducing the genre
Step 1: Introduce the genre by telling your students that biographies are the one genre that can open their eyes and hearts to people who have made a difference in the world. They can learn about lives and eras of both the past and present. Read the following to your students to pique interest:
Ingenuity, creativity and curiosity: These traits define the world's greatest inventors. This person, one of history's most productive inventors, possessed all three qualities in great quantities. Some of his better known inventions include the odometer, bifocals and a more convenient way to heat homes. He also was responsible for the very first lending library, the first volunteer fire department and daylight savings time.
Ask students if they can guess who this great American was. The answer of course is Benjamin Franklin, but most students do not know him as a prolific inventor. If you like, may choose to read more about Benjamin Franklin from any biographical resource you may have. Ask questions along the way to stimulate students' thinking.
Step 2: Tell students they have the opportunity to learn many interesting facts they do not know about people when they explore biographies. Discuss with students any notable people they may already know a great deal of information about, and who they may like to learn more about. Generate a list of possible names and or categories of people on the board.
Step 3: At this time, allow students to explore your collection of biographies. I prefer to do this by setting up centers with baskets of biographies that are labeled. Allow at least 30 minutes for students to browse through the many biographies you have provided.
Step 4: I normally wait approximately three days before moving onto Part II. During this interim, time is provided for students to read the biography collection daily. By the time I move into Part II, most students have found a person of interest and they are eager to begin learning more. If possible at this point, take your students to the school library where they make checkout biographies of people they would like to read more about.
PART II: 9 days
Writing a Biographical Sketch
Step 1: Using your school computer lab or through computer centers you have established, guide students through the online tutorial, Writing with Writers: Biography. Divide students into same-level reading groups to read the steps online. If you have limited computer access, print out a copy of the steps for individual students to read. Students should be able to get through the Step-by-Step Writing Process in 2 days. Depending upon the age and experience of your students, you may want to allocate more or less time.
Step 2: (3-4 Days)
As each group of students complete the steps, hand each a copy of the Biography Book Report Graphic Organizer to gather information on their subjects. Encourage students to brainstorm among themselves as they fill in their organizers separately. Allow students time to go over the steps and add to their graphic organizers. Provide computer time so students can gather additional information via the Internet. You may want to collect the completed graphic organizers to review and make suggestions before returning to the students. During this time, students are also reading books and other resources they have gathered.
Step 3: Inform students they will soon be writing a biographical sketch of their own. To get them started, provide them with a thumbnail outline that you generate together as a class. Write this outline on chart paper so it can be posted and students can refer to it while writing. The outline should include the following with each bullet representing the main idea of a paragraph.
- Personal History: Who, when, and where are answered here, along with why this person has become well known.
- Experiences that made this person important
- Characteristics this person embodied
- Important Contributions
- Things you admire about this person
Before students begin writing on their own, model a brief sketch using the points of the outline above.
Step 4: (2-3 days) Using computers, direct students to write their own biographical sketch. Give them time to write and also remind them to review any appropriate editing steps so they can re-write. This process should be done in a word processing document that can be saved. You may wish to show students how to use the Internet to import images they can use to illustrate their report.
Step 5: Have students save and print their report to share with the class during Lesson Two.
Supporting All Learners
When using the online tutorial, it is wise to group students according to similar reading levels. You will then know which groups need your attention most, based on ability. When you group heterogeneously for an activity like this, I have discovered the stronger readers most often lead the activity at their pace, while their partner just goes along for the ride, getting little meaning out of the activity.
Appeal to many intelligences and learning styles by showing students how to use the Internet to find images, listen to recordings of speeches and songs, watch video clips and more. An auditory learner will most likely glean more from a speech they hear than one they read.
Have students record their biographies onto cassette tapes that can be played for the class during the culminating event, Meet Your Hero Day. Students may also wish to publish their completed reports online at Writing with Writers: Biography to share with the world.
Inform your parents in a note or through your class newsletter whenever you begin a new genre in language arts. Encourage parents to visit the library with the students to find biography resources of interest. Also, provide parents with updates on how their students are using the computer and what their writing goals are. You may also be interested in inviting parents to come in to help students while they are doing the online tutorial or gathering information on the Internet. I always like to have as many eyes and ears available as possible whenever students are doing independent Internet research.
- Students will complete an online tutorial.
- Students will use various resources to conduct research and complete a Biography Book Report Graphic Organizer.
- Students will write a biographic.
- Did you have a wide enough variety of books for student interests?
- Are there any titles you would like to add to your collection for next year?
- Did you provide adequate time for the online tutorial?
- Did you model the writing of the paragraph often enough?
- Were students able to write, revise, and edit using the word processor or would paper and pencil work better for first drafts?
- Were students of all abilities able to complete this lesson successfully?
- Did students explore a variety of biographies before finding one of interest?
- Did students seem to be interested in the person they chose?
- How well did students work together on the tutorial? Were they collaborating?
- Did students complete the graphic organizer correctly?
- Use a writing rubric to evaluate the completed written report. You can find many at the Writing with Writers: Assessment and Evaluation section of Scholastic's Online Activities. How did students score on the rubric?