Focus on Biography: Compare Two Books About Martin Luther King, Jr (Day 2 of 5)

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SWBAT create a Venn Diagram that identifies the most important points found in two texts; SWBAT note the similarities and differences in key details, including those found in the illustrations.

Big Idea

The story is the same; the presentation of facts varies.

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 lesson 2 (of 5) designed to explore biography. CCSS RI 2.9 asks that we teach students to compare the most important points addressed by two texts on the same topic.  So the purpose of this lesson is to analyze how two texts address and present the story of MLK’s life and compare and contrast the approaches the authors and illustrators take.  Yesterday I read David Adler’s A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.  We did an extensive lesson on summary and clarifying questions.  

I begin by reading Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, by Jean Marzollo.  This book is a 4.2 GE difficulty, so it would be beyond many of my students’ independent reading levels, which is why I support students by reading the text aloud to them.

I tell my students that I am reading another biography about MLK and that as they listen they should think two things to themselves:

1)   What are good questions readers ask themselves as they read?  I point out the mini poster that lists the questions: what is the author telling me here? Are there any hard or important words? What does the author want me to understand? How does the author play with language to add to meaning?  This directly addressed CCSS RI 2.6 - Text purpose and questions answered. 

2)   How is this book the same as David Adler’s biography of MLK?  Did the two authors use many of the same words? Did one book or another tell more about different parts of MLK’s story? What about the pictures? Did the illustrations in the two books match? These questions provoke students to demonstrate CCSS RI 2.7 - How images contribute to and clarify 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. However, for this lesson, in the interest of time, I don’t read this book again.  Instead,  I will do a picture walk/retell of both books as I ask children to complete the task.



Get Set

10 minutes

I show the students the Venn Diagram they will be asked to fill out.  I demonstrate recording one difference I noticed; Jean Marzollo used the repeating phrase, “Once there was a law …”  David Adler did not use repeating phrases. As I fill in the phrase, “used repeating phrases” on the Happy Birthday side, and “no repeating phrases” on the Picture Book side,  I tell the students they will all have their own copy of the Venn Diagram to fill out.  I also record one similarity: both authors mentioned his birthday early in the book.

To probe deeper into these similarities and differences, I made sure to follow up listing these two with a discussion about the repeating words in "Happy Birthday," which show how important the idea that MLK got the LAWS changed is to this author. We had a few minutes of discussion about how making a law would/could change behavior.   I asked the students to turn to their neighbor and tell them why the author used the words, "Once there was a law" so many times.

This discussion is key to driving home the idea that we aren't just noting similarities and differences for the sake of filling out the Venn Diagram; rather, we are making these comparisons to understand the text more deeply.



Go to Work

30 minutes

I send the students to their desks with a Venn Diagram.  As they settle in I place my copy of the diagram under the doc camera so they may copy the words repeating phrase and birthday told in beginning.  That is the last time I explicitly provide ideas to enter on the diagram. I want each student to ask and answer the question, "How do these two books resemble each other, and what are the differences between these two books?"  I review Venn diagrams with the students – things the same in the center, things unique to each book in the outside parts of the circles.

Then I page through each book under the Doc Camera.  I tell the children they may start writing down things they notice that are the same or different as soon as they notice them. I will go through each book once doing a running picture walk commentary – even reading bits, and then through each book again – at the same time. That is, I show the first page of each book, the next two page spread of each book… alternating from one book to the other until I’ve paged through and review all 27 pages. Even though I do not TELL the children what to write, I model my thinking as I page through the book. My commentary is aligned to the “Great questions” poster. This is the last time I explicitly provide ideas to enter on the diagram. 

Here are some samples of the comments I may make during my think aloud:

  • Hmm, David seems to want to teach the important words: "boycott" and "prejudice ..."
  • Oh, my, Jean is really wanting us to know how much things have changed.
  • Wow, the illustrations in David’s book are full of important words … I wonder if we should look those up?... 
  • Oh, both authors wanted the reader to know about the words on MLK’s gravestone.

I also listen to and feature for the class what the students identify, as we work our way through the books. I then put the books out on the chalktray with the guideline that students may come check an idea they have, but must leave the books out for others to come view as well. During the next 15 minutes I visit students at their desks as they fill out the diagram.    




10 minutes


At the end of the session, we gather again on the carpet. I celebrate each student’s work under the doc camera, finding something on each to praise, and highlight.  


High student work

Medium student work

Medium student work

Lower student work