Expose your students to biographies of inspiring historical figures who have triumphed against difficult odds. This unit is packed with enriching interactive activities.
- 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 print and web resources to research one person
- Fill out a biography graphic organizer
- Large collection of biographies
- Biography Writing With Patricia and Frederick McKissack: A Writing With Writers Activity
- Research Notebook or another graphic organizer to record research questions and sources
- Biography Book Report Graphic Organizer printable from 10 Ready-to-Go Book Report Projects
- Whiteboard or chart paper and markers
- Computers and printer for student use
- Paper and pencils
- Optional: Biographical text about Benjamin Franklin
- 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 Biography Writing With Patricia and Frederick McKissack: A Writing With Writers Activity that you will use with your students during this lesson.
- Make a class set of the Research Notebook from the Biography Writing With Patricia and Frederick McKissack activity or another graphic organizer for students to use to record research questions and sources.
- Make a class set of the Biography Book Report Graphic Organizer printable.
Part I: Introducing the Genre
Step 1: Introduce the biography 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.
Step 2: 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'd like, you 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 3: 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 or categories of people on the board or a piece of chart paper.
Step 4: 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 5: 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, take your students to the school library where they can check out biographies of people they would like to read more about.
Part II: Writing a Biographical Sketch
Step 1: Using your school computer lab or computers in your classroom, guide students through the online tutorial Biography Writing With Patricia and Frederick McKissack: A Writing With Writers Activity. Divide students into same-level reading groups to read through the steps.
Step 2: Students should be able to work through the Step-by-Step Writing Process (explained in Step 3: Write Your Own Biography) in about two days. Depending upon the age and experience of your students, you may want to allocate more or less time.
Note: If you have limited computer access, print out a copy of the steps for individual students to read.
Step 3: As each group of students completes the steps, distribute the Biography Book Report Graphic Organizers for students to use as they 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 4: 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
Step 5: Before students begin writing on their own, model a brief sketch using the points of the outline above.
Step 6: 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 7: 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 web 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 themselves reading their biographies and play the audio for the class during the culminating event, Meet Your Hero Day.
- Inform students' families in a note or through your class newsletter whenever you begin a new genre in language arts. Encourage parents to visit the library with students to find biography resources of interest. 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 web. I always like to have as many eyes and ears available as possible whenever students are doing independent web 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 biography.
- 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.