Writing A Life Story

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SWBAT write a rough draft biography using information learned in the interview process.

Big Idea

Using notes to write text is a complex task. Scaffolding the task makes the job doable.

Get Ready

15 minutes

This is the whole point of the unit – actually writing a biography. All along we’ve worked collaboratively doing research, recording answers, asking and answering questions. The CCSS asks that we teach children to dig, and then to produce work that they have done with peers.  I have scaffolded the actual writing task so that even my challenged learners can be successful. I’ve also left off a ceiling, so my able students can write to their ability.

I gather the students to the carpet for a demonstration lesson. This time my students will be mostly observing with some whole group participation in a "shared writing" experience.  

Boys and girls, we have done a lot of research and question asking getting ready to write the life stories of people in our school. Yesterday we sent emails to clarify some information. We wanted to clear up any confusion before we actually started writing those life stories. I have your email responses and I will give those out to you shortly.

Today is the day! We are moving on from being researchers to being authors. Today we begin writing life stories. I think you are ready! You learned a lot about the people you interviewed. So here’s how we go from answers to stories….

I show the interview form we filled out about me.  I tell them I typed the questions and answers in a powerpoint document so we could practice writing together. I display the power point.

The first two slides I have filled in completely, showing the notes side by side with the text I wrote.  I tell them I didn’t write anything we didn’t discuss, or I didn’t tell them, but I remembered things that were said when I looked at my notes.

It is okay to add details! Just be sure you remember that your subject really told you what you are writing.

For the next two slides I created a “fill in the blank” text side. I demonstrate how I can fill in the information from my interview form into the text frame.  Together we use my interview form information and complete the “Life Now” slide. I solicit student input and model my thought process.

I show using the grayed out model by tracing over it, or by ignoring it and writing something slightly different being sure to refer back to the interview information. The whole time I am working through the slides, adding in text, I am modeling my thinking about conventions, word choice, organization.

On the final slides I have “grayed out” more and more of the frame model. It is there if the students need it for support, but they can write their own text using their notes.  I don’t fill out every slide, but I do show every slide to the students. I explain that we will use copies of the slides to create our biographies about the people we interviewed.

Get Set

5 minutes

Students, I’d like you to work in your team, but pair up with a team partner so two of you are working together. This first job you will work with one person on your team, and the next job you will work with someone else on your team. I will give you your interview notes and a blank slide. Use your notes to fill out the first blank slide.

I am careful to dole out the writing task one page at a time. I go slow, so that I am sure each student understands the process of taking information from the interview notes their team wrote and turning them into informational paragraphs in each section.  

You will write two paragraphs on this slide about your subject. One paragraph will be about when and where the person was born, the other paragraph will be about their family. Both paragraphs belong on the Vital Statistics page. Remember Vital Statistics means "Life Facts," things like birth dates, marriage, number of children.

I will monitor as the students write the first paragraphs of their biographies, helping them craft sentences like, "Mrs. Whosis was born in 1959 in Ilwaco, Washington. She is married and has two grown sons."

I don't want my students to get confused by the left part of the slides. I put the interview questions there simply to help guide the students to finding the answers on the completed interview forms. I will spend some time reiterating that as I monitor students writing in the Go to Work Section. 

Go To Work

25 minutes

I hand out the interview notes and one blank “Vital Statistics” slide for each partner set. I send them off to write their first page.  I tell them they will have 10 minutes to write their first two paragraphs. I monitor as the children work. I watch out for anyone writing answers to the questions on the left. It would be a complete waste of their time!

At the end of the time I stop the class to listen to the next directions. My plan is that the teams stay pretty close to in production, but I want to allow independent pacing as well. So I announce…

Teams, when both sets of partners in your team have written two paragraphs, bring me your page, and I will give you the next page – Childhood.

Switch partners to write about the childhood of your subject. When both sets of partners in your subject team complete the Childhood page, I will give you “Things to Remember.” I want you to switch partners again – so you’ve worked with each person in your group.

This is a lot of writing. I don’t expect the students to complete all 11 pages in one go. The production part of the lesson can stop and start until completion.  After all teams have completed the first three frames, (or when my class time runs out) I signal the children to return to the carpet. Some teams may have gotten further along.  I ask the team leaders to collect the materials and place them on the reading table. I clip all work together with the team name index card.



10 minutes

I debrief with the students.

Is it easy to turn notes into sentences? Are you remembering to start with capitals and end with punctuation? Do you think our visitors will like reading about all these people? Turn to a neighbor and tell them your favorite section you’ve written so far.

I don’t want to forget the email replies to the students clarifying questions.

Before I dismiss the class to their next activity, I project my email screen up and display the replies to the clarifying questions. We all read all of them. I print two copies of each reply, so both partner sets in each team will have a copy to refer to. I will attach any replies to their team paperwork stack.

We will continue to work on the pages as part of our daily writing time until all pages are completed for each team.  Each team should end up with two complete “rough draft biography” about their subjects.