All about Me and Other People, Using Biographies in Instruction

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The start of the school years is a time to get to know our students. Perennial favorite activities other than “what I did on my summer vacation” essays are “all about me” assignments.

As students take a look at their own lives, this is a perfect time to add biographies to your class lessons. Reading about famous lives fits into just about any content area. Of course, English language arts is a given; but reading about famous people in history, the sciences and technology can be enriching and inspiring at all grade levels.

When I did biography booktalks for my students, I loved to use this analogy to help them remember the difference between a biography and an autobiography. I would remind them of Latin root words. “Bio” equals life and “graphy” means writing, so a biography is a book that someone writes about someone else. An autobiography begins with the root “auto,” meaning self; so an autobiography is a life story one writes about oneself, just like a person drives an “automobile” by oneself. Students still would get bibliography and biography confused, so I shared those Latin roots in their annotated bibliography assignment. (Hint: “biblio” means book.)

Those teachers in states using standards modeled after the Common Core are familiar with students in grades K-5 reading a range of informational text, defined in the standards to include “biographies and autobiographies, books about history, social studies, science, and the arts.” While grades 6-12, “Literary Nonfiction and Historical, Scientific, and Technical texts includes the subgenres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies, memoirs, journalism.”

When students at my school read Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, an English teacher and I co-taught a project to research a person who challenged the system. Fifteen years ago it was cutting edge to look for supporting resources both in print and online and then create a slide presentation that demonstrated what the person believed in and how they fought against the status quo. Teaching PowerPoint seemed innovative, and the kids couldn’t get enough of inserting pictures and playing with formatting. Now, a myriad of tech tools can easily be used to prepare and present multimedia presentations for a similar-type assignment. Here are some resources for using biographies in instruction.

Resources about Biographies

 

Lesson Plans and Activities Using Biographies

  • TeachersFirst has reviewed over sixty different websites and interactive tools on creating presentations that students can use for biography projects to avoid encyclopedia-style reports.
  • ReadWriteThink from the National Council of Teachers of English offers 80 plus lesson plans using biographies, but try these cool interactives that can be used in many different ways in the classroom.

 

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About the author: Paula Deal

Retired high school media specialist, Paula Deal, has been a pioneer in many shifts in the library sciences throughout her career. Paula contributes a monthly column on research, digital citizenship and other ways to find and use media resources in the classroom.


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