From Theory to Practice
While engaging in the processes of researching, writing, and evaluating short biographical sketches, students can master essential writing skills and enhance their content area learning. In this lesson, fourth grade students discuss standard elements in a biography and examine the characteristics of the genre in a workshop setting. After selecting and researching a contemporary or historical figure using online databases, students practice writing short biographies. They then offer feedback on others' compositions and publish final drafts for reading aloud and displaying in class.
back to top
Bio-Cube: Students can use this tool to create a 3-D representation of the biographical information they find.
back to top
FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
Knipper, K.J., & Duggan, T.J. (2006). Writing to learn across the curriculum: Tools for comprehension in content area classes. The Reading Teacher, 59(5), 462470.
- Content mastery is demonstrated through reading and writing, and integrating the two enhances comprehension.
- Checklists can have a significant effect on students' performance while "writing to learn." Checklists help take the mystery out of writing by providing students with concrete writing goals and identifying the desired characteristics of the finished work.
McLaughlin, M., & Allen, M.B. (2009). Guided comprehension in grades 3-8 . Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
back to top
Write a Biography
How to pick a subject, research, and write a profile for class.
PART I: BRAINSTORM
Biography means "writing about life." The key to writing a good biography is picking a good subject who has lead an interesting life. While it may be tempting to write about your favorite celebrity, you are strongly encouraged to select someone who has lived an important life and made a lasting contribution to the world.
People you are familiar with are also good subjects for profiles. They are easily accessible for interviews. Also, you can easily interview others about them.
Step 1: Make a list of 10 possible subjects for your biography. Think about all the people in the world who fascinate you. Examples:
- Bill Clinton (former President)
- William Shakespeare (famous writer)
- Serena Williams (famous athlete)
- Your principal
- Queen Elizabeth (famous queen)
- Albert Einstein (famous scientist)
- One of your teachers
- Frida Kahlo (famous painter)
- A relative
- A mentor
Step 2: Choose three people from your list who seem like the best candidates for a biography.
Step 3: Run a quick search on the Internet to see how much information you can easily find about your three candidates.
Note: For people in your communitysuch as your principal or teacherthe Internet will not be a helpful research tool. You will have to talk to the person directly to see how much info you can quickly find out.
Step 4: Answer the following questions for each of your three candidates (yes or no).
- Is the person's life worth writing about?
- Do you feel strongly about the person?
- Has the person made a difference in the world?
- Does the person fascinate you?
- Does the person's life make a good story?
Step 5: Which person's life stands out as the best story? That's your subject!
PART II: RESEARCH
Now that you've selected a subject, the real fun begins! Biographical research is like detective work. Your assignment: Uncover fun facts about your subject!
To help you get started, we've provided you with a list of Research Resources.
Step 1: Visit the library to gather information about your subject. No detail is too small, no story too great! Take good notes! Investigate! You should browse:
- The Internet (See Research Resources)
- Newspaper articles
- Magazine articles and interviews
- History books
If your subject is a community member, dig up details through interviews.
- Interview your subject.
- Interview people who know your subject.
- Interview people who have an opinion about your subject.
Step 2: Track down basic facts about your subject, such as:
- Date of birth/death
- Place of origin
- Educational background
- Favorite books, music, art
Step 3: Find out which events shaped your subject's life, such as:
- Greatest accomplishments
- Worst failure
- Biggest obstacles overcome
- Lasting contribution to the world
Step 4: Find out which people influenced your subject's life:
- Most influential teacher
- Worst enemies
- Best friend(s)
- Heroes and role models
- Favorite family member
Step 5: Gather three quotations by and three quotations about your subject. Be accurate!
PART III: WRITE
Now that you've gathered enough facts and quotes, it's time to write!
Step 1: To help organize your biography, draw a time line of important events in your subject's life. Keep this handy when you begin to write. Include things like:
What is the most interesting thing you learned about your subject. That's where your story should begin. Work in the rest of the details as the story unfolds. Follow this basic outline for storytelling:
- Quote from or about your subject that backs up your lead.
- A paragraph that gives the who, what, where, why of your subject. This paragraph tells your readers what the story is about and why they should read it.
- Another quote from or about your subject.
- Several paragraphs that tell your storycan include more quotes.
- A conclusion that takes your readers back to the information in the first paragraph.
Not all biographies follow this format. This format is most often used by journalists writing news stories.
Step 2: Write a first draft of your biography.
- Be honest. Tell the truth about your subject, good and bad.
- Be accurate. Check facts by cross-referencing in other sources.
- Be clear. Always keep your readers in mind.
Step 3: Read your biography out loud. Answer the following questions:
- What new information have I learned about my subject?
- Is my story always clear? If not, where does it break down?
- What more would I like to know about my subject?
- Do the transitions between paragraphs make sense? Does the story flow from paragraph to paragraph without confusing the reader?
Step 4: Based on your answers, revise your biography.
- Check spelling and grammar.
- Check quotations for accuracy.
- Double check all facts.
Congratulations on finishing your biography!