Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

What Are Some Guidelines for Teaching With Biographies?

We're in the process of creating our teacher's guides for our Biography Series, and as we've been immersed in these books, some common guidelines have emerged across all the books. Biographies are great not only for their sheer factual value of teaching students about the lives of important and influential people, but also for the way that they use a narrative arc (the life of a person) to introduce students to a particular era of time, segment of society, or historically relevant cause.

With that in mind, here are some basic ideas and guidelines to use when teaching with biographies:

* Call attention to informational text features, important for Common Core State Standards—table of contents, chapters, glossary, timeline, index, photos, maps, text boxes, and quotations.

* Look for angles of appeal to tie the life of the person being studied to the lives of your students; maybe they are interested in sports, or animals, or the environment—find tangential ways to tie the biography to these interests.

* Determine reading goals that studying the biography can help with. Look at the craft and structure of the text, examine its integration of knowledge and ideas, and find ways to hel students recognize key facts and details.

* Use the text as a springboard for student writing, whether it be a Reader's Response Notebook, an opinion piece, or a simple report on what they've learned.

* Meet Common Core speaking and listening goals by discussing the text and sharing and reflecting on the ideas presented within. These can be small-group or whole-class discussions.

* Inspect and discuss any art, illustrations, or photography present in the biography. Use this as an opportunity to discuss artistic symbolism (i.e., objects present in the pictures, the angle from which pictures are presented/taken, patterns of light and dark, etc.).

* Expand student vocabulary. If a glossary is present in the biography, add its contents to your vocabulary list. If not, search through the text for likely suspects to add to your list.

* Reflect on quotations from the subject of the biography. Ask students why it is important that we pay attention to the wise (or not!) words of these people whom we are studying. What might they have to teach us in their own words?

To learn more about the Biography Series, you can click here to visit our website, or click the image below to download an information sheet with key features and series highlights.

Biography Series Highlights