By grade 4, students are expected to be able to conduct some research, organize ideas and use their knowledge to create various pieces of writing. What better way to facilitate these practices then by conducting a biography unit? Biographies offer students many benefits, some of which are gaining a new perspective on their own life, while being inspired by the works of others. Below are some biography unit ideas for primary grades.
Before beginning this unit it is a good idea to have a discussion about fictions vs. non-fiction texts. As well as, discussing how to write an engaging story/biography. For reference, you can look into a story writing unit and learn more about nonfiction lesson ideas.
How to start:
Start your unit off by introducing the concept of a biography. I typically remind my students about the characteristics of non-fiction texts (ex. factual information, headings, table of contents, real pictures, etc). Then, we define what a biography is. If you’re planning this unit for younger students, then you can skip talking about the features and simply discuss the purpose of a biography. Here are some anchor chart ideas to go through with your students:
Begin With Examples:
Once you’ve introduced the concept and features of a biography, it’s time to start reading biographies as a class. Be sure to draw attention back to your anchor charts/discussions (it works nicely to also read a biography before discussing features so that students can refer back to the text). I’ve included some child friendly biographies at the end of this post. For now, here are some tips to try during/after reading as a class:
Practice Makes Perfect:
Now it’s time to practice reading & writing biographies, so that the concepts and structure becomes engrained in students’ minds. This can be done in a variety of ways. Here are just some ideas:
- create a ballot box for students to submit the names of famous people they would like to learn more about, and find a biography on the name that gets submitted the most often (student’s will be more interested if they have a say in what they learn).
- incorporate biographies in language center activities.
- have students interview a family member, and write their biography.
- have students choose their favorite character from a story or movie, and create a biography about them.
Here are some graphic organizers to help you and your students along the way:
Thinking of going cross-curricular? Have your students create portraits of famous biography subjects inspired by these:
Conducting assessments throughout your unit is the most surefire way to gage your students’ learning, provide them with feedback and guide the remainder of your unit. Here are some assessment ideas.
Some Great Biographies for Students: