Sunday, January 29, 2017

Biography Bouts

I've been a third grade teacher in Wisconsin for over six years. I save my lesson plans from year to year; I continue with the lessons that "work" and discard the lessons that don't.

I was ready for something new this month in guided reading. My class had just finished reading about fables and folktales and I wanted to try more non-fiction texts with them. Our librarian had a new bulletin board with biographies and had many new books available for checkout. I chose a variety of books from my library as well as the school library and each student had their choice of biographies; the only exception was that they had to be reading about different people. The students were very excited!

I found a graphic organizer and culminating writing activity (newsletter) to go along with this project. Students had many days to read the book and begin jotting down facts about their famous person. At the guided reading table, students would share information that they had learned or found interesting and work on completing their graphic organizer.

I'm currently in the middle of this project and trying not to rip my hair out. My high group of readers are doing well. They are able to work mostly independently and understand the assignment. The other at-level groups are struggling with:
  • writing dates correctly
  • taking notes in bullet form (not writing in complete sentences)
  • capitalizing proper nouns
  • writing in their own words
  • struggling with understanding what constitutes "significant" life events
  • retaining information
  • understanding the history portion
While I forgot how prior historical knowledge would help (i.e., Anne Frank), I am struggling with the other issues the students hare having. We have had multiple mini lessons on all of these skills.

I already have ideas on how I would change this next year:
  • putting students together who have famous people who are from the same historical time period (Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, etc.)
  • create a simplified version of the graphic organizer
  • spend more time understanding vocabulary such as significant, etc.
  • or maybe even a partner project?
But, what about now? How can I continue this project and get the desired newsletter I want with these difficulties on the graphic organizer?


  1. If it makes you feel any better, I have 5th graders who struggle with many of these same skills. I think you've come up with some good alternative solutions and most importantly, you've demonstrated that you are a reflective educator, always looking for a way to make it better.

  2. I remember doing biographies with my third grade students before starting the rain forest reports. I have a lot of graphic organizers and timelines for biography projects. Do you have these? I currently am doing a one paragraph report where each child is writing about a different kind of ant. I do this to prepare for our three paragraph research report. I am finding that I am having to do many mini lessons as well on things such as writing topic sentences and writing in your own words. Good luck finishing your project!