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Lesson Plan

Strategic Reading and Writing: Summarizing Antislavery Biographies

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Strategic Reading and Writing: Summarizing Antislavery Biographies

Grades 3 – 7
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 60- to 90-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Sarah Dennis-Shaw

Avon, Massachusetts


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1: Discuss Slavery and Summarization and Introduce the Bio-Cube

Session 2: Research and Bio-Cube Planning

Session 3: Creating Bio-Cubes

Session 4: Jigsaw Groups and Mobiles


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Identify why summarizing is an important skill for comprehension through whole-class and small-group discussions

  • Identify characteristics of an effective summary by analyzing a summarizing graphic organizer and discussing its attributes

  • Improve their reading comprehension by constructing summaries of researched information on an assigned antislavery activist

  • Analyze what they have learned by participating in jigsaw groups, in which they present their summaries and record information gathered by their peers

  • Apply summarization skills by displaying their research using the Bio-Cube tool

  • Apply metacognitive strategies by reflecting about how summarizing helps readers make meaning

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Session 1: Discuss Slavery and Summarization and Introduce the Bio-Cube

1. If you have chosen to do the background building activity suggested in the Preparation section (Step 1), do so before beginning this session. Ask students what they know about the Civil War era, and in particular, what they know about slavery. They should brainstorm and predict some common characteristics of people who fought against slavery (e.g., they were brave, determined, opinionated, outspoken). Record students’ ideas and discuss.

2. Ask students what strategies they use when reading to help them remember what they read. Some examples might include taking notes or restating in their head what they read. Be sure to highlight the fact that summarizing means restating only what is essential. Some guiding questions include:
  • Why do you think it is important to know how to summarize?

  • Why shouldn’t you include all the details in a summary?

  • Why include just the most important information?
3. Using an overhead transparency (or a photocopied handout), discuss the Summarizing Strategy Sheet with students. Some guiding questions include:

  • How and why do you think good readers use summarizing?

  • When has summarizing been an important skill for you to use? Why?

  • With what types of texts does summarizing work best?
4. Model how to create a summary using a biography from Enemies of Slavery or the other book you have selected. Record essential bullet points on chart paper, enlisting students’ help.

5. Explain to students that they will be working on summaries of important people in history—specifically, people who have fought against slavery. Tell them that they will be using an online tool that is designed to help them summarize a person’s life. Show students the book Enemies of Slavery by David Adler and explain its structure, which consists of short biographies about antislavery heroes.

6. Remind students that they will be summarizing the life of an important person in history. Although they have brainstormed and talked about important aspects of summarizing, ask them to think about what might be important to include in a summary of a biography. Record students’ ideas and discuss.

7. Distribute the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet. Display your previously made Bio-Cube as an example (see Preparation, Step 5). Explain to students that the planning sheet is designed to help them organize the information about their assigned person.

8. Have students count off from one to four. Assign a specific antislavery hero for each number. Students can use any remaining time in this session to read over the biography from Adler’s book. You may want to have all the students in a group work together with a couple of copies of the book. Or you may want to photocopy the biographies and give one copy to each student.

Note for Struggling Learners: There are several accommodations that can and should be used to support struggling learners, including English-language learners and students with learning disabilities. First, it is important that the groups are mixed ability to ensure that struggling learners will be provided with “good” models, as well as being supported by more capable students during the research phase of the lesson. Another accommodation to consider is to have additional resources set aside for struggling learners that provide information for them to access at their reading level. Also consider pairing a struggling learner with a more capable peer as “buddies” and have them both travel to the jigsaw group together (see Session 4, Step 3).

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Session 2: Research and Bio-Cube Planning

1. Begin by reviewing why summarizing is important. Go over the brainstorming ideas from the previous session.

2. Pass out the Abolitionist Web Resource List. The short biographies in Adler’s book will not provide all the essential information needed to complete the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet, so further research will be necessary. Assist students as they do independent research on their assigned biography.

Note: You may want to have some of the sites from the Abolitionist Web Resource List bookmarked on the computers students will be using; consider your students’ level of familiarity with the Internet to decide whether this is necessary.

3. Encourage students who are researching the same antislavery hero to work cooperatively and help each other gather information. The Bio-Cube Planning Sheets should be completed by the end of this session.

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Session 3: Creating Bio-Cubes

1. Have students meet briefly with their groups to make sure that everyone has the appropriate information needed to create their Bio-Cubes. You may want to give students some guided questions to discuss within their groups.

  • What surprised you most about the person you researched?

  • What character traits did you list and why? Can you think of any others?

  • Look at the quote you chose for the “Important Quotation” section. Why did you choose that particular quote?
Note: At this point in the lesson, you should be cognizant of any students who seem to be having trouble gathering information (i.e., their planning sheets are blank or not sufficiently complete) or students who are having difficulty expressing and verbalizing the information that they recorded. Once these students are identified, you may choose to use some of the strategies recommended at the end of Session 1.

2. Students should then access the Bio-Cube tool and use their planning sheets to fill in their Bio-Cube. You may want demonstrate the process with students using an LCD projector. However, with the completed planning sheet in front of them and your Bio-Cube as a model, most students should not have a problem completing it independently.

3. Assist students who have completed their Bio-Cubes as they print and assemble them. If you have heavy paper or cardstock available, you may want to have students print their Bio-Cubes on this paper for durability purposes.

4. If students finish early, ask them to practice presenting their Bio-Cube in preparation for Session 4.

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Session 4: Jigsaw Groups and Mobiles

1. Review what students have done thus far. Discuss the importance of summarizing. Elicit students’ opinions on using the Bio-Cube tool, and ask for their feedback on the independent research they did for their assigned biography.

2. Distribute a copy of the Biography Information Sheet to each student. You may choose not to use this sheet; however, it helps to ensure students actively listen while their peers are presenting their Bio-Cubes.

3. Divide the class into jigsaw groups. Each group should have at least one student from each of the assigned biographies in the group. If you have an odd number, there can be two students who researched the same person in the jigsaw group.

4. Ask students to present their Bio-Cubes to their jigsaw groups. Although oral presentation is not a major objective of this lesson, you should remind students to keep their presentations to between three and five minutes. Also, point out that they should use their Bio-Cube to determine what information is essential. Remind them that they are working on the skill of summarizing and that should translate into their short presentation as well. As they present, the other students in the jigsaw group should be completing their Biography Information Sheet with five important facts about the person.

5. When students are finished presenting, provide them with some discussion questions that compare the four biographies. Examples include:

  • What was similar about the people you researched? Different?

  • What surprised you?

  • What characteristics did they have in common?
6. Help students to attach their Bio-Cubes to a mobile (a clothes hanger works fine for this purpose). They may also want to add a title or the names of their group members. Display the mobiles in the classroom or other prominent place in the school.

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Use the Self-Reflection Sheet to assess students. This assessment will give you information as to whether students understand the value of summarizing and what they learned about their assigned person as well as the other biographies in the jigsaw group.

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