Focus on Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr (Day 1 of 5)

25 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT summarize a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. after clarifying information using the five W’s and H question stems.

Big Idea

Our National Holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr provides a fabulous reason to explore genre of “life writing” – biography.

Get Ready

10 minutes

I meet with my students on the rug for almost all my mini lessons. Proximity is a wonderful classroom management technique, and I can monitor their understanding, instead of needing to assess whether they are engaged!

This is the introductory lesson (Day 1 of 5) to begin an exploration of biography and authors’ purpose. The purpose of this lesson is to explore the characteristics of biography and to practice asking and answering who, what, when, why, where and how questions to find out the author's purpose.

I begin by reading David Adler’s Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. This book is about a 3.8 GE difficulty, so it would be beyond many of my students’ independent reading level if they read it on their own without my support. I read the story twice to foster understanding of the rigorous text. I often read stories more than once – rereading is encouraged for comprehension throughout the CCSS – and I try hard to model the comprehension techniques I encourage my students to use. Besides, I don’t want chatter to get between the author and his “listener-readers.” The author/reader connection is powerful, and I think we sometimes overwork literature, snuffing that connection!

So on the first read, I ask my students to just listen. I also don’t give them any note taking materials, because seven year olds will often be distracted by anything in their hands. So they just listen.

After the first reading, I spend a small amount of time allowing discussion about the concepts presented and asking if they need clarification of any unknown words. If there are questions about vocab, I answer the question with a simple definition.




Get Set

25 minutes

The next step is modeling the “close reading” of the text and we start to think more about figuring out the author's purpose through questioning the text. To do this I have the children fetch a chalkboard and chalk from the storage area in the room. This provides built in movement which helps young bodies be able to refocus on the task at hand. (Brain break!) After the students settle down with their supplies I explain their new task. 

I tell the students when authors write books, they have a purpose - what they want their readers to know. One author might want their readers to think more about how MLK grew up, and how that helped him be the important man he was, and another author might want readers to know more about exactly what MLK did as a grown up to change the world. Our job as readers is to pay attention to what questions the writer is answering for us.  This activity is designed to encourage the habit of reading text closely, formulating text based questions, which will deepen reader comprehension.  The CCSS is all about basing comprehension of text on reading the text closely.  

  •  I read each page of the book. I place the book under the doc camera, alongside a notebook paper.
  • I ask students to write a question each page answers. We do the first page together. I read the opening paragraph and ask what is the author telling us here? (Who the book is about and what he did.) So the question the author is answering is “Who is Martin Luther King, Jr?” I model writing on the question on a chalkboard AND I teach the students the initials of MLK so we don’t spend laborious time writing out his name!
  •  I continue through the book helping the students craft one “5 W’s and H” question for each page or two page spread with the same prompts … what is the author telling us here? What question is the author answering for the readers? Are there any hard or important words? What does the author want me to understand?
  •  As we continue the process I jot down on my notebook paper what the students tell me the author wants us to know in each section. I also keep a running list or tally of what question words the students are using to frame their questions.



Go to Work

30 minutes

When we have completed the entire book, I tell the students that they have really delved deeply into the author’s work, and that asking and answering the question “What does the author want us to know?” is a powerful reading strategy that will work with any reading.  By asking questions like that, we develop our relationship with the author. And we learn.  

  • Our next step is to summarize.  I tell the student summarizing is a way to pack the learning into a small space. We can unpack all the information at any time, but we want to remember the gist of what the book was about without every detail.  So they have a job now of writing a summary of the book.
  • I project the page of notes I took while the students delved into the book.  I ask them to decide if some of the sentences go together – if they are somewhat alike.  (Family, childhood, unfairness, what he did to protest, how did some people act towards him…)

I group my students into teams heterogeneously. The teams consist of usually 4 students who are above, at and below grade level readers.  I appoint a team leader whose job is to solicit input from each member. We practice having the leader say, “What do you think, ____?” to each member. We also practice active listening skills and consensus for group share out.  Today their task is to write a summary of the book.  I ask that they write 4 to 6 sentences that describe the book, and I write the summary stem for the students to copy as a starting point: “A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler, is …."

  • The guidelines for the task are that the leader of the team is in charge of passing the pencil and soliciting all members for ideas about what each sentence must say. Each team member must write at least one sentence in the summary.  Each sentence should explain one of the big ideas in the book (the grouped sentences.) The team should come to consensus about a sentence for each subtopic.   I dismiss the teams to tables to work together. After 20 minutes, I ask the students to return to the carpet. 



25 minutes


With the class gathered on the rug, I collect the teams’ summaries. We read each one and ask for “glows and grows.” The glows are comments about what the class noticed was well done, in the summary, and the grows are suggestions for improvement. I limit the glows to two per summary and the grows to one per summary.  After we review the summaries, I give each child a colorsheet of MLK with space to copy the team summary. They may choose to edit to incorporate suggestions or not.  I send the summaries home with an attached note explaining the purpose of the lesson.