How to Use Biographies in Your Reading & Writing Lessons

Biography is an important genre in literature, offering readers the unique opportunity to gain insight into someone else’s life and experiences. They are a great way for students to learn about historically important and inspiring people. But it is not only an interesting and important genre to read. It is an important genre to learn about. Introducing the genre of biographies to students can help them become better readers, more critical thinkers, and more reflective writers. So, today I am going to talk about some effective tools for teaching the genre.

Introduce the Genre

Biography anchor chart comprehension for teaching the genre in elementary reading and writing, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade

First, you will want to introduce the genre to students and explain why it is important. This can be a simple anchor chart where you list the characteristics of the genre. Use the free biography header pieces to create your own!

*Activity Idea For Biography Header- Print two of each letter. Distribute them to your students to color and cut out as early finishers or morning work. The two people who received the same letter can research the person connected to the letter later as a partner project.

biography activity reading comprehension for teaching the genre in elementary reading and writing, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade

Additionally, you can have students read and write about the genre. You can add a printable comprehension passage, fact or research sheet, or a cut-and-paste activity to their morning work or as an independent activity following your mini-lesson!

Provide Examples

Next, you will want students to understand what a biography is by providing examples. When teaching any genre, it is important to introduce the concept in such a way that students understand its significance.

Books and digital biographies can be used for a variety of activities throughout your unit! Make biographies available for students’ independent reading time, add biography-based prompts to students’ morning work or centers, assign biographies as partner reading, etc.

My Recommendations for Biography Book Series:

Digital and Online Biographies

Taking a Closer Look

Biography printable unit with comprehension passages, graphic organizers, writing activities and flip book for teaching the genre in elementary reading and writing, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade

Now, it is time for students to read and analyze biographies. This is an important part of teaching the genre.

Teaching students how to read and analyze biographies helps develop their ability to look beyond the surface. During this time, you will want to work on critical thinking skills, close reading, determining importance, and evaluating source reliability.

Skills that can be incorporated with Biographies:

  • Main Idea & Important Details
  • Inferring & Drawing Conclusions
  • Chronological Order
  • Cause & Effect
  • Problem & Solution
  • Text Features + Images in Nonfiction
  • Research Writing

Connect Other Content

Integrating biographies with other subjects has many benefits. It helps to draw connections between iconic figures of the past, and how they influenced our current society. Biographies teach us more than just the history of an individual: they bridge gaps in our knowledge and appreciation for subjects like social studies and history by introducing us to very real people who have been able to shape both the world and our understanding of it. This can be done with more subjects than social studies, though. You can study biographies of people who have impacted math, science, art, technology, music, etc.

Nonfiction Narrative & Research Writing

Biography autobiography printable worksheets and passages for teaching the genre in elementary reading and writing, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade

Finally, you can include important writing skills in your instruction. Of course, they can work on narrative nonfiction by writing their own autobiographies. Unlike a personal narrative, students will be focused on all of the impactful events in their life thus far. So, I would start by having students create a timeline of the events in their lives. Then, taking their timeline, they can craft paragraphs for each event, connecting them with transitions and details in the next draft.

Autobiographies are great for peer editing and revision. Students will learn from one another as they exchange and edit each other’s autobiographies. Allow for several drafts and revisions with this!

Not only can students develop their narrative nonfiction writing skills by writing their own autobiographies, but they can also practice and improve their research writing skills. Research writing skills are so essential to a student’s writing development.

Some Tips & Tricks for Research Writing:

  • Allow some level of student choice when assigning research writing topics/people
  • Link reliable and safe search engines to your online class dashboard
  • Provide a graphic organizer or note-taking guide for students so that they can collect and organize their research
  • Incorporate multimedia project elements, like PowerPoint, Prezi, Video, Audio, etc. in order to keep students engaged and offer opportunities to use technology skills
  • Provide several exemplars of a variety of presentation types if you are doing an end-of-unit project

No-Prep Biography Resources You May Enjoy:

If you’re looking to teach biographies and don’t want the added prep, I have resources for you! Each bundle contains individual biography units. If you’re interested, you will find them in the links under the bundle. Click the links for a closer look!

Want to read more about teaching with biography?

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