Create a List

List Name

Rename this List
Save to
Back to the Top Teaching Blog
April 12, 2018

Thumbprint Biographies

By Julie Ballew
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Several years ago, like so many people, I found myself hooked on a new site called Pinterest. I spent hours scrolling through gorgeous images. I created board after board with witty titles. I pinned with abandon. A few months in, however, I realized that none of my ideas on these cleverly named boards — not a single pin — had made it past the idea stage.

    When I set out to change this, I went to my school-themed board and decided I would finally try out the thumbprint biography of which I had seen so many variations. The idea was that you would write about yourself along the lines of your thumbprint. I saw variations with images and with prompted writing as well. I loved the uniqueness of it. I wanted to do my own print, and I hoped I could try it with my students.

    This project, although fun, took more hours than I could count. The Pinterest image that I liked came from a broken link, so I didn’t have directions. I found a couple of generic thumbprint templates, but the appeal to me was making it look like my actual thumbprint. It was an arduous task to take my tiny thumbprint and blow it up big enough to write on the lines. As it turned out, I had to blow it up in increments and trace the lines with a Sharpie to maintain the integrity of the print as it got larger. Take a look at your thumb and imagine tracing every line in it five or six times. Did your eyes cross? Mine too. It was quite a process, to say the least.

    When I finally finished, I had mixed emotions. I really loved how it turned out, and I was certain that I’d have to be a fool to attempt it with 25 fingerprints at once. The sense of accomplishment I found in finally completing a Pinterest-inspired project was tempered by my disappointment that it just wasn’t feasible with a class of students.

    My finished thumbprint biography

    Fast forward to 2018, and I was flipping through my writer’s notebook looking for poems to use as modeled writing with my students. I saw my thumbprint again, and I wondered aloud if it was possible to attempt it with my fifth graders. My teammate took one look and without an ounce of hesitation in her voice said, “Well, we have to do that.” We were working on a poetry unit to kick off National Poetry Month, and we knew the kids would create an anthology of both original and selected published poems that represented who they are. This idea comes from Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard. We thought the thumbprint biography would make a perfect cover to a self-portrait anthology. What’s more unique than your thumbprint?

    After a few frustrating attempts to streamline the process of making the template by enlarging each child's thumbprint, my teammate had a stroke of genius. “Can’t the kids just look at their thumbprint and try to draw it?” she said. Instantly, this seemed more feasible. We could focus on the essence of the thumbprint instead of trying to be so exact. These biographies wouldn't be used in court, after all.

    I created this extremely simple template and had each student stamp his or her thumbprint in the corner of it. (Originally, they stamped their thumbs on little pieces of paper, but this was soon abandoned as the scraps were too easily lost.) Then they studied the print in quadrants and tried to recreate each quadrant. (They’ve used this quadrant technique many times in art class, so this was a logical connection for them.) This wasn’t easy, but it was so much faster than the enlarge-trace-repeat process, and it was more meaningful to them as well.

    My students are just now finishing their templates and starting to put words on them. The content has no guidelines. I just asked them to do what I did and fill it with the things that make them who they are. The results so far are really beautiful, and they are so proud of how they are turning out! I feel like I know my students really well, but I have continued to learn more about them with this activity. I love to see what they value as the most unique things about themselves. My only regret so far is not trying this sooner!

    Have you ever had a project pleasantly surprise you? I’d love to hear about it!

    Several years ago, like so many people, I found myself hooked on a new site called Pinterest. I spent hours scrolling through gorgeous images. I created board after board with witty titles. I pinned with abandon. A few months in, however, I realized that none of my ideas on these cleverly named boards — not a single pin — had made it past the idea stage.

    When I set out to change this, I went to my school-themed board and decided I would finally try out the thumbprint biography of which I had seen so many variations. The idea was that you would write about yourself along the lines of your thumbprint. I saw variations with images and with prompted writing as well. I loved the uniqueness of it. I wanted to do my own print, and I hoped I could try it with my students.

    This project, although fun, took more hours than I could count. The Pinterest image that I liked came from a broken link, so I didn’t have directions. I found a couple of generic thumbprint templates, but the appeal to me was making it look like my actual thumbprint. It was an arduous task to take my tiny thumbprint and blow it up big enough to write on the lines. As it turned out, I had to blow it up in increments and trace the lines with a Sharpie to maintain the integrity of the print as it got larger. Take a look at your thumb and imagine tracing every line in it five or six times. Did your eyes cross? Mine too. It was quite a process, to say the least.

    When I finally finished, I had mixed emotions. I really loved how it turned out, and I was certain that I’d have to be a fool to attempt it with 25 fingerprints at once. The sense of accomplishment I found in finally completing a Pinterest-inspired project was tempered by my disappointment that it just wasn’t feasible with a class of students.

    My finished thumbprint biography

    Fast forward to 2018, and I was flipping through my writer’s notebook looking for poems to use as modeled writing with my students. I saw my thumbprint again, and I wondered aloud if it was possible to attempt it with my fifth graders. My teammate took one look and without an ounce of hesitation in her voice said, “Well, we have to do that.” We were working on a poetry unit to kick off National Poetry Month, and we knew the kids would create an anthology of both original and selected published poems that represented who they are. This idea comes from Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard. We thought the thumbprint biography would make a perfect cover to a self-portrait anthology. What’s more unique than your thumbprint?

    After a few frustrating attempts to streamline the process of making the template by enlarging each child's thumbprint, my teammate had a stroke of genius. “Can’t the kids just look at their thumbprint and try to draw it?” she said. Instantly, this seemed more feasible. We could focus on the essence of the thumbprint instead of trying to be so exact. These biographies wouldn't be used in court, after all.

    I created this extremely simple template and had each student stamp his or her thumbprint in the corner of it. (Originally, they stamped their thumbs on little pieces of paper, but this was soon abandoned as the scraps were too easily lost.) Then they studied the print in quadrants and tried to recreate each quadrant. (They’ve used this quadrant technique many times in art class, so this was a logical connection for them.) This wasn’t easy, but it was so much faster than the enlarge-trace-repeat process, and it was more meaningful to them as well.

    My students are just now finishing their templates and starting to put words on them. The content has no guidelines. I just asked them to do what I did and fill it with the things that make them who they are. The results so far are really beautiful, and they are so proud of how they are turning out! I feel like I know my students really well, but I have continued to learn more about them with this activity. I love to see what they value as the most unique things about themselves. My only regret so far is not trying this sooner!

    Have you ever had a project pleasantly surprise you? I’d love to hear about it!

Comments

Share your ideas about this article

Julie's Most Recent Posts
Blog Post
5 Tips for Building a Set of Anchor Texts
Anchor texts are books that you use as teaching tools over and over again, throughout the year. By reading them early and often, you are setting yourself up for success all year long.
By Julie Ballew
August 21, 2018
Blog Post
How Do You Measure a Year?
Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed with all there is to do in the short time left, it always helps me to step back, take a deep breath, and spend some time reflecting on the year I’ve had. This year, I asked students and teachers to do the same.
By Julie Ballew
May 28, 2013
Blog Post
Real-Life Learning: A Primary Study of Life Cycles
If you were to walk into my school this week, you’d be greeted with two sounds: a chorus of chirping chicks, and at least a hundred first-grade voices excitedly talking about their newly-hatched class pets.
By Julie Ballew
May 13, 2013

Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
About Us