Reading Biography unit for primary classrooms. Contains lots of ideas and resources for the biography genre study.
Biography is a genre that can sometimes easily be neglected in classrooms with regards to informational text studies, but it’s one that can be truly engaging for lots of students.
The key to getting students excited about a study of biographies is to have many relevant and appropriately leveled texts for all of your various readers. You might even want to think about having a class discussion (or present an interest inventory) to find out who your students might be interested in learning about. (You may also find you don’t know many of them! :))
Once you know their interests, take some time to visit your school and local libraries & also to perhaps order some biographies online. You will keep interest and engagement high if students are reading about people who are relevant to their interests and lives.
You will find the complete, free download at the bottom of this post. Click on the orange links for both the color and black and white resources.
Immersion – We believe that immersing students in books and letting them develop their own “noticings” is a great way to begin many language art units. Be sure your collection of biographies is extensive enough that you have several books for students to peruse as they are being introduced to this genre. You will also want to be sure that your collection contains as many of the text features as possible that you might find in biographies.
We have included a Biography Noticings Anchor Chart that you can display and discuss with your kids during or after their immersion experience, and/or you might choose to record your students noticings on a blank chart (which we have also provided).
What We Learn From Biographies is another tool you can use to get your students familiar with this genre. It is an anchor chart that contains characteristics that many (if not most) biographies portray within the text.
We have also provided two Find the Biography resources that require students to distinguish between differences in types of texts. Begin by giving small groups two different types of texts. You can give them literature & biographies OR give them biographies & another type of informational text (perhaps All About books or simple one topic books). They will need to flip through the books to determine differences and can write their ideas on the organizers. If you don’t want them to write on these organizers, another thought would be to just have them do a similar activity with Post-It notes.
Yet another resource is our Biography Text Feature Checklist. This would be a good tool to use to facilitate a class discussion as you flip through some biographies together. Check off when you see the specific text features listed within the books. This is also provided in a black & white version with a space for student’s name in case you want to use it as a literacy center activity.
Read Alouds – Another way to get students familiar with the biography genre is to share them during your read aloud time. Choose a few examples that will be of high interest to your students, but that might be above their reading level. As you read the books or chapters aloud during your regular read aloud time, you can touch on the ideas you are teaching during your reading block.
Focus On Author’s Purpose – You might want your students to think more deeply about why specific biographies have been written. Obviously the purpose of a biography is to inform, but thinking about the reasons an author has to write the biography can help students to determine importance. We want them to be able to pull out the important factors and details that contributed to the person being written about in the first place. To help students pull together and share their thoughts we created a half sheet Focus on Author’s Purpose you can use during a mini-lesson or at literacy center. There is also a page of Author’s Purpose Exit Slips you can use as a quick check.
An extension of this could be our Biography Search, which is intended to be used as a literacy center as well. Once students are able to determine why biographies have been written about specific people, then you could have them search through a stack of books to find different categories.
Thinking About Background Knowledge – We always want our students to think about what they already know before learning new information because that forms the basis of what they will learn. Biographies should be no different and in many ways might be a bit easier for students because biographies are typically written about famous people. We have created two Building Background organizers for students to record their background knowledge. Choose the one that you feel best fits your specific students.
Gathering Important Information – Once your students have been immersed and exposed to biographies, thought about their purpose as texts and spent some time pondering background knowledge, it is time for them to begin reading appropriately leveled biographies and gathering information to share. We have come up with a few different ways for your students to begin to pull out important information from the biographies they are reading.
One way for students to begin focusing on important information from biographies is to have them begin to take simple notes. Students need guidance so that they don’t copy complete sentences or paragraphs from books. Biographies: When Will I Take Notes is an anchor chart that will help them begin to figure out what to write when taking notes. If you have other ideas about how and when you want students to take notes, you can use our blank template to write your own ideas on.
Our Life Outline resource is a simple way for students to break down personal information from the biographies they are reading into portions of time in a subject’s life.
We have also included nine different Graphic Organizers that you can introduce to your students as they begin to read. Choose the ones that suit your teaching purposes or the specific needs of your students. These range from helping students to gather general information to more focused events or details. There is also a cause & effect organizer that will get your students thinking about how particular events have affected the lives of the people they are reading about.
If you don’t want your students’ reading flow interrupted (at least initially) by writing down information, you might want to try our set of Important Information Bookmarks. After modeling for your students how to use them, you can copy several sets for your classroom. Students simply insert them into the book at the appropriate places and then go back to them to share information with the class or to fill out one of the organizers.
Influences – Most biographies share the impact that others had on the subjects’ lives. These influences can be either positive or negative, but whichever case is true, we want students to be able to name those people who were crucial to the success or failure of the person and why. This may be difficult for students, so we suggest that you choose a short simple biography to read to the class, discuss the influences in the subject’s life and why they had a positive or negative effect, and then fill out one of our two organizers with the students so that they can understand their use.
Biography Reading Response Prompts – These eight prompts can be cut apart, assigned to specific students (or chosen) and glued into Reading Response notebooks. You will get a glimpse into your students’ thinking about the biographies they are reading and then respond to that thinking on their notebook pages.
Character Traits – While reading biographies you will want to focus on the character traits of the individuals represented in those biographies. Many times it is these character traits that serve as the author’s purpose. For materials to use in focusing on those traits, you can check out our Character Traits post, which can be used with both real and fictional characters.
Sharing Student Learning – You will want your students to be able to share their learning of whoever they are reading about. There are so many different ways they can do this. Below we have shared some of our own resources and ideas.
Biography Brochure – This template can provide your students with an outline to create a brochure about the individuals they are reading about. One template has a bit more guidance than the other, so you can choose which one fits your students’ needs.
Simple Biography Books – Once your students have learned to determine and gather important information from biographies, one idea is to have them read biographies at their level and then create simple books to share with younger students. We have created templates for both female and male subjects and also provided them with handwriting and standard lines. You will find those simple book templates in a separate download here: Simple Biographies – Books
Timelines – Of course biographies lend themselves well to student-created timelines. Students can use their books or one of the graphic organizers to create a timeline of important events for the person they are reading about. Our students always loved using PowerPoint for timelines, but good old-fashioned posters are always great visuals too!
Wax Museums – Another popular way to share student learning for this genre is the Living Wax Museum. Students view pictures and dress up as their characters. They memorize as much as possible about the lives of the people they read about and stand at-the-ready to tell others about their lives. These can be fun presented during the school day to other classes and upper administration or can even be an evening event where parents would have a better opportunity to participate.
Download most of the items described below here: Resources for Biographiess
If you would prefer a black & white version of the resources you will find those here: Resources for Biographies(B & W)
*If you need additional resources for enrichment or differentiation you might want to check out the Biographies – Resources from our 456 site.