Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Overcoming Obstacles with Biographies for Kids

By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

Today's blog post is the third part of a series that is written to help kids practice reading and writing strategies while learning about women in history. Keep reading if you're looking for ways to inspire kids to overcome obstacles and help others by reading biographies at levels O and S. Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt are interesting chapter books that I'll highlight in today's blog post, which will help striving readers in upper-elementary grades and middle school.

Helping Students Determine Meanings of Words and Phrases in Amelia Earhart

There are many nonfiction text features in Amelia Earhart: First Lady of the Air that can help kids improve vocabulary and develop meaning. There are also several instances in which figurative, connotative, and technical language will be advantageous for students to explore.

After reading the first chapter, students should notice that the second chapter is titled "Ups and Downs". Struggling readers may not have a full understanding that the metaphor describes moments of victory and sadness that Amelia experienced. You can use the following steps to help kids make inferences about why the metaphor was used:

  • Explain the following to students and then give time for independent reading: The title of the second chapter refers to things that happened in Amelia's life. Read the second chapter to find the happy and sad events of Amelia's life when she was younger.
  • Have students make a two-column chart in their journals to compare and contrast events. One column should be labeled Ups , and the other column should be labeled Downs . When students finish making their columns, encourage them to reread page 9 to find events that they can list under each one.
  • When students are finished, have them discuss in guided reading groups of two or three students how the events they found might have changed Amelia's life.
  • To prompt oral language development, you can ask volunteers to share with the whole group their understanding of this connotative language.

On page 22 in the fifth chapter, students will learn that Amelia compared her experience of being a passenger on a flight to a sack of potatoes. Remind the students that the word like is a clue that tells them the phrase is a simile. Review with students the meaning of similar and explain that the root in simile is connected to the adjective. Be sure to check their understanding of the purpose of a simile.

Making Inferences Through Writing

Have students read the quotation in the box on page 36 in the sixth chapter with you. Then ask, What was Amelia’s wish for her life? Did she know thing would be difficult for her? Do you think she was told she would not be successful?

Ask students to think of something that they dream about doing someday. Have them write their goals in their journals and explain that what they've written is their goals. Encourage them to think about the good and back things they may face as they try to achieve their goals. Then have students think about what they would need to do to overcome the obstacles to achieve their goals.

Remind students that a failure can be a challenge. Ask students to write some pieces of advice that they think Amelia might give to help achieve their dreams. This is a great way to support kids as they think about making their dreams come true while they improve writing skills.

Determining the Central Idea of Eleanor Roosevelt

The text of Eleanor Roosevelt: A Modern First Lady will help students identify key details, such as opinions of other people, to provide a summary of the central idea. Review the table of contents so that students begin to make predictions about why the author has organized the book in the way that's listed among the chapter headings.

After talking about the sequence of chapter headings, remind students to keep their journals handy to answer some questions about significant parts of Eleanor Roosevelt's life. Then have them read the first chapter, and as they read, write on the board:  What is the meaning of First Lady ?

When students are ready, talk to them about why First has multiple meanings by saying: What do you think First means in this question and in the title of this book? Write the question in your journals and then reread the chapter, if needed, to write an answer underneath the question. You can use this process of using questions to improve reading comprehension of each chapter in this guided reading leveled book.

Writing Prompts that Encourage Purposeful Reflection

Writing routines require purposeful questions that prompt reflection among students. The purpose of the writing prompts listed below is to help kids frame their thoughts in writing, as well as practice reading comprehension strategies, about Eleanor Roosevelt after each chapter is read. Have students use a separate page or two in their journals to write each question and leave space between for their answers.

  • Question to ask after reading the second chapter: How did Eleanor serve others after her marriage and before her husband became president?
  • Question to ask after reading the third chapter: How Eleanor help her husband while he was president?
  • Question to ask after reading the fourth chapter: What did Eleanor do that made her a modern First Lady?
  • Question to ask after reading the fifth chapter: What did Eleanor do during World War II?
  • Question to ask after reading the sixth chapter: What did Eleanor do after she was no longer the official First Lady?

In spite of the difficulties Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt faced, these nonfiction books for kids will encourage your students to appreciate these historical women. The examples of service to family members, our nation, and people around the world can deepen the students’ appreciation of the many opportunities and rights that they have. The importance of all domains of language should be recognized and scaffolded when using these leveled books to ensure your students' growth.

As you support vocabulary development, reading comprehension practice, and writing activities, all of your students will become better readers and writers. Be sure to visit our blog soon for more tips you can use in your classroom.

Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog .