The new CCSS have a greater emphasis on nonfiction text. This has been a big shift in my teaching. Previously, I had focused mostly on literature. I was not sold on the shift to non-fiction text at first, but I have since learned how fun and engaging they can be for the students.
I have found that biographies are a great way to integrate other subjects. Social studies, art, music, and science, can all be discussed chose to read about. Biographies also provide a great opportunity for writing. They are also a great way to teach students about text features in non-fiction texts. Biographies also introduce the students to the lives of some amazing people who have made great accomplishments during their lifetimes.
To start our lesson (and unit) out, I will ask the students if they know what a biography is? We will discuss what a biography is and also the difference between a biography and an autobiography.
Next, I will introduce the biography chapter book we will be reading together as a class later on in the unit, "Who was Dr. Seuss?" by Janet Pascal and play the following video to get them excited about it.
Finally, I will let them know that we will be going to the library and each of them will be checking out a biography from the library.
Pascal, J. B. (2011). Who Was Dr. Seuss. New York, NY : Grosset & Dunlap.
For this unit, the students will be reading a biography on the person of their choice as homework. Giving students the choice motivates the students to to complete the assignment. Biographies can teach students so much. They are often authentic, genuine character education lessons and motivate students to set goals to achieve great things in their lives like the heroes they have read about. Biographies not only help us meet our reading for informational standards, but they provide great opportunities for writing as well. This is why the students and I enjoy this biography unit so much.
The students will need to check out a biography book from the library to complete a biography report that we will be using for activities in future lessons. I am having the students write this report in first person because this will be helpful for the activities we have planned. We are going to make a life-sized cutout and dress the cut-out up like the person in our biographies. We are also going to make movies where we disguise ourselves as the person from the biography and describe ourselves.
Our principal and librarian are very kind and have this year used library time to allow us a few more minutes of prep time. This time though, I am going with the students to the library to make sure they each check out a biography book and help them if they need help finding a specific book. I know with a few of the kids, unless I stand by the check out line and make sure they have a biography, they will most likely not come back with one. We are lucky to have a large shelf both from and back that is dedicated solely to biographies. It makes it fun for the kids to choose when there is quite a selection to choose from.
This is one of the biggest homework assignments I give the students during the year. This biography unit really helps us focus on not only informational text, but writing as well. Part of that writing is an informational report which the students will write about the person they chose to read a biography on. These informational reports will be written at home as homework, however, we will be expanding upon these reports to create video presentations of the report further on in this unit. I want to give the students as much time as possible to work on their biography reports that we will be using in class, so I will give them instructions today on the requirements for the biography so that they can start on it right away. Next week is our fall break and we only come Monday and Tuesday, so I know many of them will be out of town for the week and may not work on it while they are gone. So I am giving them an extra weekend to work on it before we go to fall break. I have included the biography report outline in the resources and have also included the notes to parents with specific instructions.
I also will let the students know that they can take their library books home tonight to work on the biography report. If they do take them home however, they need to remember to bring them back tomorrow because we will be doing an activity with them.