Students begin creating personal narratives from the time they're able to construct sentences, and are familiar with the idea of writing about themselves. (It's All About Me!) Using this background knowledge to begin the initial discussion, we review the concept of an autobiography. Inevitably, there are students who misidentify it with the definition of a biography instead. This leads to good discussion about the difference between the two.
My students know me well, and one thinks she has the day's lesson figured out saying, "I bet we're comparing autobiographies and biographies today." Comparing Autobiographies with Biographies of the same person is a wonderful idea, and I give her credit for coming up with a fabulous future idea, but our focus with this lesson is comparing the autobiographies of well known figures to one another. RI.5.5 is utilized as they examine the similarities and differences between the events and ideas in each person's life as well as RL.5.6 where they describe how the narrator's point of view influences how they tell their life story.
I also ask them if they've ever written their own autobiography, and the kinds of things they included.
In most basal textbooks, there is a section on Autobiographies. The Houghton Mifflin 5th grade reader includes four examples of Autobiographies. Out of the four, I tell the students to read two autobiographies of their choice carefully. Ahead of time, certain students are challenged with the task of reading three of the autobiographies. Everyone's always given the opportunity to do this, but my higher level readers are aware that it's required of them. Additionally, when students finish the two initial autobiographies in record time, they take on another, as well. My reasoning here is to send a message. I don't want anyone speeding through- just to be finished. When they're aware that there will be extra to do if they rush, it dissuades skimming the material and hopefully leads to careful reading. I don't hand out the worksheet on demand...not until at least twenty minutes have passed, due to experience with the kids who are more eager to look at the questions first, and then read to find the answers.
After reading the autobiographies, they write down an experience that was important to each of the authors (Writing experience information). The worksheet is set up in a table format so they're essentially filling in boxes. After they write down the author information, they include themselves in the bottom box with an experience from their own life that's been significant (Autobiographical info).
As a group, we discuss each of the autobiography subjects and I ask volunteers to write the important events of each on the Smart Board. The students put the information about the autobiographies they didn't read into their chart as we go over each (Chart example). After a vote, we pick two of the autobiography personalities and do a quick Venn Diagram of their information on the board.
The first part of the objective, to compare autobiographies, is complete, and it's time to move on to the second part which is the kids' autobiographies.
Using information the student wrote as their significant experience from the last section, they create a Book Jacket This illustration is one they'd like to use as the cover, if they could publish their own autobiography (Book Jackets). They give the book jacket a catchy title (Designing Autobiography Titles), and write its name and author (themselves) on the spine. They write a mini autobiography inside the jacket though there isn't a lot of room to go into detail. (Having said that, it's amazing how much some of the kids can fit in that space!) (Mini autobiography inside jacket II).
Writing a full autobiography is an activity for another time, but writing a bit about themselves and some fun experiences is necessary for the final activity. This is when they move around the room and find classmates to read their mini-autobiography (Reading the Reviews!) Once a student reads another classmate's autobiography they write a creative review onto that student's back cover.