Approximately 38 Things to do with Biography in the Classroom
(any of these can be adapted for a particular book)
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- Have students write biographies. Using some of the same methods of “LIVES OF” (warts and all, humor, taking the point of view of a neighbor or bystander), kids can write their own autobiographies, or write portraits of their neighbors, kids in their classroom, teacher, families, their favorite creative person or hero. This activity could be used to teach research skills, especially the all-important one of how to use the library.
- Make creative bookmarks based on heroes or heroines from history.
- Have your class write and illustrate its own book: FUTURE LIVES OF THE STUDENTS: FAMILY, FAME, FORTUNE (AND WHAT THE NEIGHBORS THOUGHT). Each student will write a brief autobiography of themselves as future adults. What did the students accomplish? What were their high’s and low’s? What quirky, funny things took place? What have the neighbors noticed?
- Explore the subject of creativity. How do people create? What is it like to live a creative life? What are the secrets of success? (Hint: two of them are perseverance and single-mindedness.)
- Put on imaginary talk shows with students playing the roles of famous people. Learn how to interview people, how to make a list of interesting questions and go about finding the answers, how to take another’s point of view.
- Make a “hero quilt” using your favorite method of classroom quilting, such as having each student contribute a decorated piece of heavy construction paper. Students will each pick a hero from history and illustrate in words and pictures on a “quilt square.”
- Design imaginary “hero fanny packs.” What personal items would each hero be likely to be carrying around?
- Use these life stories as a way of exploring history. (The “Lives of” books are arranged chronologically by date of birth, so they can be used to give a general overview of history.) What was going on during these people’s times? How and why did things change? Why, for example, there were so few women in early literary and art history? How did wars and upheavals influence the creation of masterpieces?
- Use these biographies as a way of discussing how religion can be a factor in shaping a person’s life. Look up a famous person’s religious affiliation and discuss how this was (or wasn’t) an influence.
- Use biographies as a way of discussing tolerance of or discrimination against women, minorities, or people who stand out as “different.” How did prejudices of the times shape each person’s life? How did each person cope?
- Costume Day: Have students dress up as their favorite famous person and answer questions from that person’s point of view.
- Write letters to favorite famous people. Ask nosy, but polite, questions.
- Make a Hero Calendar for the school year. Research heroes’ birthdays and write them in an existing calendar—or make a calendar from scratch.
- Have students make trading cards about famous cultural figures, as with baseball cards.
- Birthday Party: Declare a day in honor of a famous person, a day during which all activities are somehow related to the person. Look up the person’s actual birthday and hold the party that day.
- Bathroom Heroes: Once a week, label the school “his and her” bathrooms with signs of famous “his and her” couples in history. For example: George and Martha, Frida and Diego, Franklin and Eleanor, Clara and Robert, Bill and Hillary, etc. Girls will make short reports on the females, boys on the males.
- Secret Hero Day: At school, each student makes a poster and becomes an expert on a chosen hero. Try not to reveal the hero at home. On Secret Hero Day, have parents and family come to a poster display at the school and guess which hero their child picked.
- Focus on one element—something big (like major accomplishment) or small (like hair), and make little books about people, famous or ordinary.
- Biographies can be a way of boosting self-esteem. They are really a way of learning about ourselves. In “LIVES OF,” many of these people had unhappy childhoods, were desperately poor, or got into trouble, even to the point of being thrown in jail. Many had flaws or handicaps or setbacks that could have wrecked the rest of their lives. It can be instructive to discuss how the geniuses surmounted their difficulties.
- Choose a LIVES OF book and make a detailed study of its format. For detailed directions click here.
- Explore biographies on the Internet. Some great general biography sites:
A & E Biography
The A & E BIOGRAPHY® Experience It! Teacher’s Manual, Grades 6-12.
For 17 more ideas on Specific Ways to Use Biographies, click here.