Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Pulling Facts from Biographies with Alphaboxes—with FREE download!

This is a guest post by Richard Giso, an occasional contributor to our blog.   Click here  to see his earlier posts, and check back here on our Classroom Literacy blog frequently to see if he's got a new post up! You could also check out his blog, called   Mr. Giso's Room to Read , in which he writes about fun classroom activities, behavior management, and classroom management.

Hello there. Rich from   Mr. Giso’s Room to Read    here pleased as ever to continue my contributions to the  Hameray Literacy Blog . I’m very eager to begin my set of six guest posts that will feature practical and fun uses for titles available in the   Hameray Biography Series . Upon their arrival, these books found the perfect home in my classroom. They are so easy to level, since the catalog lists the Fountas and Pinnell level for each title. Don’t they look great in their new home?

Each title features a glossary, a timeline and a “Learn More” page that highlights websites and other books my readers can consult to research each famous individual further. The books are loaded with photographs, captions and additional information boxes. They support all I have been teaching my readers in terms of navigating through a book’s informational text features.

In no time, I set out to get these biographies in my young readers’ hands. You see, I teach in an Innovation School in Salem, Massachusetts. As part of our model, students transition on each trimester to teams of teachers. In my team, we share first and second graders. The   Biography Series    is ideal for my second grade readers—especially for this time of the school year where I need to keep them reading in books that pique their interests. As you can see, my readers were all about diving in to these books right away!

The activity I’m sharing is called the Biography Alphabox. I set this activity up to be an independent reading component to my literacy block where my readers that can read independently get to read these biographies. It features a table with each letter of the alphabet. As students read, they record key words or phrases that start with the appropriate letter. For example, the student below dove right in to reading about Anne Frank. For “A” he selected amazing author, as she is well known for her diary. For “C” he chose confident and crowded, for obvious reasons. From the time line featured in the back of the book, he estimated that she was in hiding for about two years; this went under the letter “Y.” For me, this Biography Alphabox activity is sort of nontraditional. It gives readers the luxury to think out of the box. I’m not telling them key facts about their individuals. The information is coming from them. What can be better?

My readers respond very well to this activity, which I’m featuring as a download. In fact, I have several “biographers” that are on to their third book. I hope your students get some good use out of this activity. As always, thanks for reading!


I'm a proud teacher with over 15 years of teaching experience. I began my teaching career as a fourth grade teacher at the Bates Elementary School in Salem, Massachusetts. Since then, I have taught fourth grade for eight years. From there, I moved to a job as a reading coach under the Reading First grant. Having missed my true passion—having a classroom of my own—I returned to teaching as a first grade teacher for the next five years.

Now I've moved to the Carlton Innovation School, also in Salem, Massachusetts, where I am ready to begin my first year as a member of a team of four teachers that teach grades one and two. In addition, I teach undergraduate and graduate students at Salem State University. My courses involve literacy, children's literature, and elementary education. My educational interests include early literacy, effective reading interventions, and positive classroom climates.


For more information on the Biography series, which was used in this activity, click here to visit our website , or click the series highlights image to the left below to download an information sheet with key features. To download the Alphaboxes Worksheet, click the image to the right!