This classic post was originally published in September 2013. Check our archives for more favorite posts!
Beginning in the second grade, the Common Core State Standards require students to "describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text" (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3: Informational Text). One great way to get students to understand historical events in sequence and to see the connection between the events is to present them with biographies.
Biographies provide a built-in connection between events: the person who is the subject of the biography is the constant thread. Following the trajectory of an interesting person's life through historical events will help students to see the cause-and-effect behind these events.
Biographies also have the added benefit of allowing students to get a peek inside the motivations of a historical or public figure. While mainly a part of the Literature standards—which ask students to be able to describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3: Literature)—these skills cross-pollinate between literature and informational text. If students can practice discerning these qualities of a real-life person, it will become easier for them to transfer that skill to fictional characters in a work of literature.
The grade levels that require these skills in their Standards are grades 2–5; at this level, students are learning how to take newly fluent reading skills and apply them to extract dense information from text. To aid them in the practice of these skills, we have targeted our Biography Series to guided reading levels M–S, generally considered to be grade levels 2–4 (though striving readers up to grade 8 can appreciate the content).
Containing the key features of informational text, such as a table of contents, index, glossary, and captions, these biographies will allow students to improve their use of search-related text features and provide a sense of chronology with the inclusion of timelines (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R).
The personalities featured in the books come from diverse backgrounds, time periods, and topics of interest—from Mother Teresa to Muhammad Ali. Currently, we're working on updating the series to include individual teacher's guides for each book, with suggestions on how to use the text in the classroom and talking points to hit throughout and after the reading. These teacher's guides will be available for free download on our website. If you'd like to be notified when they are ready, click the book cover image below to sign up for notification. To download an information sheet on the series, click the image to the right. To purchase the books, click here for the series web page.