Expose your students to biographies of inspiring historical figures who have triumphed against difficult odds. This unit is packed with enriching interactive activities.
- Write a letter from a historical figure's point of view using proper letter writing conventions
- Write about at least two props/artifacts that are representative of their subject's life
- Use web resources to gather images to use in their project
- Orally present what they have learned
- Large collection of biographies from Lesson One
- Student completed Biography Book Report Graphic Organizer and printed biographical sketch from Lesson One
- Whiteboard or chart paper and markers
- Notebook paper
- 5" x 7" index cards ruled on one side, one per student
- Colored pencils, crayons, markers, or other drawing and coloring materials
- Photo album from home or collection of photos that show life events such as birthdays, graduations, etc.
- Computers and printer for student use
- 3" x 5" index cards, at least five per student
- 9" x 12" construction paper in various colors, at least two sheets per student
- Glue sticks
- Optional: Glossy photo paper for printing
- Optional: Color printer for photographs
- Prepare a letter or classroom newsletter article to send home explaining that students will need to bring in a small suitcase or bag and will be dressing in costume for the final day of the project (see Part IV). It is best to send this note home at the beginning of the lesson.
- Continue to display the collection of books you gathered for Lesson One. Students will want to revisit these resources as they prepare their artifact cases.
- Decide which notable figure you will use to model the postcard script in Part I. Gather additional facts about this person if necessary.
- Choose a photo album of your own to share in Part II.
- Gather a variety of images or photos with appropriate captions to use for modeling. The images could relate to the person you chose for the postcard example.
- Prepare a small suitcase or tote bag you will use as an example in Parts III and IV. Inside this suitcase, place four or five articles that would give someone information about a notable person. For example, for Benjamin Franklin you could use an old-fashioned tapestry bag to hold a pair of bifocals, a small fire engine, a library book, a key with a string attached to it, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Part I: The Postcard
Step 1: Direct students to review the graphic organizer they completed in Lesson One. Ask students to think about what they believe their person's most important achievement was. Have students share their ideas.
Step 2: Tell students they will now need to "step into the shoes" of their notable person. While putting themselves in the place of their characters, students will write a postcard or letter telling a friend or family member about that great feat he or she has just accomplishment.
Step 3: Using chart paper or a whiteboard, model the writing of this postcard for the class using a well-known figure that no student has actually researched and written about already. For example, if you choose to model the writing using Thomas Edison, write the postcard in first person, in Edison's voice, telling about the triumph he felt when his light bulb worked correctly. Have students help as you write the paragraph. Brainstorm different words and phrases for how Edison might have felt at that point in his life.
Note: It is always very important to have the students actively involved whenever you are modeling a lesson. If students are just asked to sit there and watch you write on the board, they will soon be daydreaming of a far more interesting place.
Step 4: Distribute notebook paper to each student and allow them to draft their postcards using their notes from Lesson One or their print resources as references. Remind students that they may be in a different time period, and the language they choose should reflect that.
Step 5: When students are done with their drafts, have them revise and edit their writing in your typical revision process. While revising and editing, students should review the writing conventions for letters and make sure they have a greeting, body, closing, and signature.
Step 6: When students have finished editing, give each student one 5" x 7" index card. Have students should publish their final copy on the ruled side.
Step 7: After writing is complete, students may decorate the front of their index card with a picture relevant to their topic. They may also want to create a stamp in the upper right hand corner of the card with the correct amount of postage for that time, along with an address.
Part II: The Photo Scrapbook
Step 1: In the second part of this lesson, students will create a photo album documenting a minimum of four important events in their person's life. To introduce this part, gather students around you on the carpet and show them a photo album you have brought to share. Discuss the types of photos that can be found in photo albums and why people take pictures. Explain that photographs serve as a reminder of important events in our lives.
Step 2: Tell students they will now be creating a photo album that could have belonged to the person they studied. This album will contain at least five "photographs" that depict major life events or achievements for the person.
Step 3: Have students use their graphic organizer and any notes they may have from Lesson One to make a list of five or six events they would like to depict in the album.
Step 4: Send students to the computers and guide them to use the web to find images to match the significant events they chose in Step 3. Before students begin searching, discuss the size and type of photo that would be most suitable. Remind students that there will not be photos available for any people who lived before the camera was invented in the 1830s.
Note: Students must be closely supervised whenever searching the web for images. Try to use "kid-friendly" web sites designed specifically for children, like KidRex and Kiddle. When students have found images that are appropriate, have them print the pictures on white paper. If glossy paper is available, you may want to print on that in order to make the photos look more authentic.
Step 5: After students have collected all of their images, they will need to write captions that describe each one. Model the writing of these captions using printed photos you have collected. The caption should describe who is in the photo, when and where it was taken, what event the photo captures and it was significant.
Step 6: Tell students they will need to write one caption for each picture. Provide time for students to draft their captions on writing paper. Have students peer edit. While students are working in peer editing groups, check the captions yourself for accuracy.
Step 7: Distribute enough 3" x 5" index cards for all of students' printed photographs. Have students publish the captions the index cards in neat handwriting or use the computers to type and print the captions, then cut them out and glue them to the index cards.
Step 8: To create the album, students should select two sheets of 9" x 12" construction paper in the color of their choice. Have them fold the two sheets together into a book shape, then staple the sheets together at the crease. This will create a front cover, six interior pages, and a back cover.
Step 9: Have students carefully glue their photos to the pages with glue sticks. One image per page works best. The published captions should be glued under the matching images.
Step 10: To finish the album, have students decorate the cover and give the album a title like Thomas Edison's Favorite Photographs.
Part III: Gathering Artifacts
Step 1: Ask students to describe the first items they think of when they hear the names Thomas Edison (light bulb), George Washington Carver (peanuts), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Amelia Earhart (plane), and so on. Ask students what they think of when they hear the name of the person they studied. Discuss why these items are forever associated with the people responsible for them.
Step 2: Explain how artifacts are human-made objects that can tell social scientists a great deal about a person or group long after the person is gone. Pull out the artifact bag you prepared. Show students each item you have placed in the bag and ask students what they think it tells about Benjamin Franklin and why it was a good choice to put in the artifact bag.
Step 3: Ask students to brainstorm a list of "artifacts" that would best tell the story of the person they researched.
Step 4: Inform students they are going to prepare their own suitcase filled with artifacts. Tell them they will need to bring in a minimum of four artifacts that reflect the life and accomplishment of their person, plus a bag to hold everything. Remind students, however, that no items should ever be removed from their homes without their parent/guardian's permission. For each artifact, students should be able to explain to the class the item's significance and why they chose it.
Note: It is always a good idea to send home written instructions of what you have told students in class. Even when you think they know what is expected, your directions can often be forgotten or lost in translation as the students go home.
Step 5: Allow students two days to return their artifacts to school.
Part IV: Putting It All Together for Meet a Hero Day
Step 1: Explain to students that the most exciting part of any project is when they get to show off all they have learned. They will have the opportunity to do this at a special event called Meet Your Hero Day. On this day, students will dress as their character and share the contents of their bag with the class.
Step 2: The day before your Meet Your Hero Day, have student pack their suitcases or bags with the following items they have created or gathered:
- The postcard
- The photo album
- All four (or more) artifacts
- The report they published in Lesson One
Step 3: Provide class time for students to practice their presentations. You may want to break students into small groups and have them give each other feedback on their presentations.
Step 4: On Meet Your Hero Day, have each student walk to the front of the class with his or her suitcase, open the suitcase, and explain the contents one by one. The report from Lesson One may be read aloud or, if you recorded students reading their reports, students can play their audio recording. At the end of each presentation, students in the audience should raise their hands and give compliments or ask questions.
Supporting All Learners
- These types of hands-on response activities tend to engage students at all levels more than the standard paper and pencil activities. Still, you must be cognizant of those students who may fall behind or feel unsure of themselves during independent work times. To help with this, it is always good to assign students to be peer coaches. Every classroom has a few learners who can spare some of their work time to help others. Designate these people to be your coaches, students who can help out others in a bind.
- You may also notice your shyer students may not seem eager to present their case to the class. It helps to provide a supportive environment by ending each presentation with compliments from the class. From experience, it seems once the more timid students hear the accolades their classmates are receiving they are eager to go in front of the class in order to receive their well-deserved praise.
A fun and creative way to show off all your class has learned is by turning your school into a Biography Wax Museum for one day. The fourth grade teachers in our building do this, and it is a special day for the whole school each year. Using a large space such as your gym or cafeteria, students dress as the person they researched and set up a tri-fold display board filled with all they have learned. Students then stand next to their board as "wax figures," perfectly still and silent, while students and parents stream by them and view the wax museum displays.
- Keep parents informed of what is going on in the classroom at all times through newsletters and notes, especially when there are homework assignments and special events involved.
- Ask parents to come in and help when you are working with students to find images on the computer in Part II.
- Invite parents in for Meet a Hero Day where they can see and hear all the student presentations.
- Students will write and decorate a postcard giving a first person account of a great accomplishment.
- Students will find images and create a photo album documenting important events in their person's life.
- Students will gather at least four props that are representative of something important about their person's life.
- Students will compile all items into one suitcase to present to the class.
- Did you schedule your time properly for this lesson?
- Do you need more or less time for any of the parts or steps?
- Did you choose items that you were able to model effectively?
- Were the students actively engaged as they created the different components that went into their suitcase?
- Were the captions for the photographs well done using peer editing?
- Did students stay on task during the independent work times provided throughout this lesson?
- Are students able to understand the difference between an important artifact and one that does not provide valuable information?
- Was the work completed with quality in mind?
- Were students able to prepare a clear and informative oral presentation for the class?