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Lesson Plan

Alphabiography Project: Totally You

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Alphabiography Project: Totally You

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Lisa Storm Fink

Lisa Storm Fink

Urbana, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • write an autobiography using the letters of the alphabet.

  • describe significant life events and interests.

  • apply summarizing skills to their entries.

  • assess their entries using a checklist.

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Session One

  1. Begin the session by asking students to share what they know about biographies and autobiographies. Try to make connections to any texts that have been covered in class.

  2. Next, share the word “alphabiography” with the class by writing it on the board or on chart paper. Invite students to share their reactions to the term, encouraging them to break the word into two parts to determine its meaning.

  3. Follow up the discussion by reading the letter that Joe writes to his teacher Mr. Daly before he shares his alphabiography in Totally Joe.

  4. After sharing Joe’s letter, tell students that they will also be crafting their own alphabiographies, writing about a person, place, thing, or event for each letter of the alphabet.

  5. Explain that after the entry, students will sum up the life story by recording life lessons (what they have learned from the experiences). Share details from the last question in the Teaching Tolerance interview with author James Howe, “Totally James,” to provide the author’s commentary on the life lessons in Totally Joe.

  6. Read a few of Joe’s alphabiography entries with students; or if there are multiple copies of the text available, ask students to choose examples to share with the rest of the class.

  7. Pass out copies of the Sample Alphabiography Entry, and read the model with the class.

  8. Discuss the voice and tone of the entries in Howe’s book and the Sample Alphabiography Entry with the class. Note that both authors use very informal style and that this tone and voice is fine for their own writing as well.

  9. Once students have experience with an alphabiography, work together as a class to discuss what the requirements of the project should be. You can begin the discussion by creating a guideline for the tone and voice of the entries.

  10. As you create the class list, be sure to answer questions such as “What should be included in each entry?” and “What should we do if they cannot think of anything for a letter of the alphabet?”

  11. Record the requirements and tips on the board or on chart paper; and use the information to create the students’ self-assessment checklist to be shared at the next session. Alternately, customize the Alphabiography Self-Assessment to incorporate students’ observations and suggestions.

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Session Two

  1. Pass out the self-assessment checklist that students helped to create in the previous session, or pass out your customized version of the Alphabiography Self-Assessment.

  2. As a class, decide how often assignments will be turned in. Will students turn in a letter or two per week, or wait and turn in the entire project as Joe did?

  3. Once a deadline has been determined, provide time for the students to write in class and as homework. Students can write their alphabiography in a notebook, or they can use the Alphabet Organizer as a means of publishing. Suggest that students choose Option 2 in the Alphabet Organizer, as it best fits the entries they will compose.

  4. Remind students that they do not have to write this alphabiography in a linear fashion: A, B, C, and so forth. They can write entries as they think of them and then relate their entries to the appropriate letter of the alphabet.

  5. In the same vein, students can publish when they have entries done, or when their entire alphabiographies are completed.

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Session Three

  1. When students have completed all entries of their alphabiographies, re-read to the class the letter that Joe writes to his teacher Mr. Daly.

  2. Ask students to write similar letters to the teacher, which will serve as an introduction to their alphabiographies. For more strategies on composing these letters, explore the Draft Letters: Improving Student Writing through Critical Thinking lesson plan.

  3. If there are students who would like to share an entry or two from their alphabiographies, allow time for them to do so.

  4. Provide time for the students to assess their alphabiographies, using the criteria set by the class or using the customized version of the Alphabiography Self-Assessment.

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  • Adapt this strategy as a book report alternative, asking students to write alphabiographies from the point of view of a character in a book they have recently read.

  • See the lesson plan activity in “Totally Us,” from Tolerance.org, for additional alternatives for composing alphabiographies with students.

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Review the work that students complete during this project on an on-going basis for the thoroughness and completeness. As students work on their entries, talk to them and observe their work. Pay particular attention to the connections they make from their life to their writing. Collect completed self-assessments when collecting the finished alphabiographies, and use the checklist to provide feedback on students’ work. As you review the artifacts, look for evidence that students’ assessment accurately reflects their performance in the alphabiographies. Focus feedback on places where students’ understanding of the requirements seems lacking and/or where their performance does not match the assessment they completed.

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