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Lesson Plan

Biographies: Creating Timelines of a Life

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Biographies: Creating Timelines of a Life

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Kathy Egawa

Kathy Egawa

Seattle, Washington


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One: Introducing the Lesson

Session Two: Small Group Research

Session Three: Debriefing the Initial Research


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • negotiate with peers to select persons of interest for their study.

  • use a variety of information resources to synthesize, create, and communicate what they've learned on a timeline.

  • negotiate with peers to select key events.

  • research further to resolve conflicting information.

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Session One: Introducing the Lesson

  1. Share your interest in the chosen personality and your quest for more information about that person. Leaf through a magazine article or book, sharing key events, show short clips from a video, and/or share several pieces of information on a Website.

  2. Highlight instances when the authors of the resources emphasize different aspects of the personality's life or when you run across conflicting dates or information. Share that resolving such conflicts is always a challenge for researchers, and generate with students an initial list of ways they might resolve conflicting source information.

  3. Introduce the initial set of resources, and invite groups of students to select and support with rationale two personalities worthy of the group's study among the collected resources, as well as two additional personalities (browsing the Resources section is one source for additional names). Students can make their selections on loose sheets of paper, in a bound notebook, or on the included Biography Selection & Rationale.

  4. Ask students to work in small groups to make the selections and generate the rationale. If there is time, ask a spokesperson to share how different group members made their selections.

  5. Create a whole group list of preferred choices, dividing into those for whom resources are already gathered and those that will require a search and gathering of sources.

  6. Ask students to make an initial choice by adding their initials after the listed name of their choice. Indicate a deadline when resources must be collected for newly generated names—over the weekend is a workable timeframe—and join the students' search for those resources. The personality from the initial set of resources can serve as a "default" choice if resources can't be located, yet note that the quality of the research is enhanced by student commitment to a personality of interest so it can be well worth the effort to help students gather resources.

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Session Two: Small Group Research

  1. Students are seated in groups of 3-5 with sufficient resources so that each student has his or her own text on the same personality (book, magazine article, CD-ROM, Website, video).

  2. Ask students to browse their texts quietly, mapping the key events on their timeline paper strip. Encourage sufficient flexibility for students to invent their own ways of taking notes on the timeline. Advise that including page numbers, URLs and counter information will aid them in revisiting information if necessary.

  3. All begin working quietly. Circulate to encourage those who are reading page-by-page to browse key subtitles, charts or photograph annotations. The independent work period should be limited to no more than 30-40 minutes.

  4. As the small groups begin to finish browsing their texts, encourage them to share the gathered information among themselves. What have they found? What information is new? of interest? a surprise?

  5. Ask the group to agree on 6-10 key events in the life of their personality. If computer access is limited and the online timeline tool must be shared, create a schedule so each group has the opportunity to enter the key events. Note that entering data and printing out the timeline must be accomplished in one sitting.

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Session Three: Debriefing the Initial Research

  1. Conduct a full group discussion of the groups' work: What went well, what was a challenge? Which texts were helpful? Which were less helpful? How did the group decide on key events? How will they further explore conflicting information?

  2. Revisit the initial list of strategies to resolve conflicting information. Add strategies as necessary. Try the strategies out on one or two key conflicts as applicable.

  3. Post the class-generated strategies in the school library for on-going reference.

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  • Schedule additional small group work time to resolve conflicting information.

  • Help teams develop short bibliographies of their resource text set, sharing the protocols for citation of the various sources.

  • Create individual online timelines on figures of interest related to another course of study, i.e. world leaders, scientists, women explorers.

  • Create autobiographical timelines.

  • Recreate paper timelines, using colored pencils or fine tip markers to add illustrations.

  • Use timelines as "notes" to write a fuller biography essay. One potential online tool that helps students manage their ideas and writing can be found at The Biography Maker Website.

  • Begin another round of biography research, challenging students to research alone or in pairs, using the strategies developed in these introductory lessons.

  • Categorize the attributes of the famous people you have studied. See the Images of Greatness Website as one example by a 4th/5th grade class.

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  • Group conversation

  • Timelines

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