A spring day in fifth grade would have been just like any other, except my book report was due. I had read about and researched Lucille Ball, and was ready to dress the part while I presented information to the class. I borrowed my mom’s polka dot dress and bright red lipstick. Two strategically-placed balloons not only made me appear older, they garnered the laughs that only Lucille could. I remember that day, and my research project, more than any other book report I did in elementary school. I want those memories for my students as well.
One skill we focus on in first grade is distinguishing between fiction and nonfiction writing. Students have to apply what they know about fantasy and reality to fiction and nonfiction texts, and learn that realistic fiction is not quite the same as fantasy. To drive home the differences, and explore the idea of character, students complete two book reports during the year.
Early in the year students review fantasy and are introduced to realistic fiction. Book buddy reports are created by selecting a fantasy character and writing about that character's traits. Models completed in class focus on important details and distinguishing features rather than a character being described as simply “nice,” for instance. On the day reports are presented, students can come to class in costume, which is fun and energizing for all. They read their reports to the class, and tell about their book. Often, students prompt their classmates to read the presented book.
Later in the year, students are introduced to biographies. Students read several biographies in class and learn about favorite authors and illustrators. Then, students select a person to focus on and create a biography poster about their person. In class, students complete independent research and develop a digital project. My students made a digital “poster” with the help of Discovery Education board builder. Just like the fantasy reports, students are encouraged to know details about their person. They can dress like their character on the day of presentations.
Fellow blogger Alycia Zimmerman has a multi-part post on completing meaningful biography reports, "Get Inspired With Biography Research," Part 1 and Part 2. I adapted some of her ideas to fit my younger students, but kept the stamp-creation idea. Students make postage stamps of their selected person and then write opinion papers to the postal service telling why their person’s stamp should be featured.
Celebrating Reading and Learning
Book reports, whether done in class or at home, are an engrossing way to understand character development, research facts, and learn the difference between fantasy and reality. Paired reports, such as our fantasy characters and real biographies, are powerful ways to learn about different genres. Adding fun elements like puppetry and dress up make simple assignments into memorable events.