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Learn All Year Long

Learn All Year Long

Learn All Year Long

Kids and teens should read and write even when they are out of school. Why is this so important?

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Activity

Amazing Biographies: Writing About People Who Change the World

 

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Amazing Biographies: Writing About People Who Change the World

Grades 3 – 8
Activity Time 2-3 hours
Activity Author

Cathy Allen Simon

Cathy Allen Simon

Urbana, Illinois

 
Publisher National Council of Teachers of English
 

What You Need

Here's What To Do

More Ideas To Try

Glossary

 

What You Need

  • 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the World by Maura D. Shaw (or any other nonfiction children’s book that highlights biographies from a variety of people that have had an impact on history)
  • BBC – History: Historical Figures: This website can be used to find biographical  information about people from history in place of or in addition to books used in this activity.
  • Bio-Cube: Children can use this tool to create a 3-D representation of the biographical information they find. (Optional)
  • Bio-Cube Planning Sheet: This printout can be used in addition to or in place of the Bio-Cube Interactive. (Optional)
  • Interactive Timeline: Use this online tool to help children record events in a selected person's life. (Optional)
  • Three Ways to Bind a Handmade Book printout
  • Heavy-weight paper and art supplies for creating book pages
  • Computers with internet access (Optional)
  • Printer (Optional

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Here's What To Do

  1. Locate the book 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the World by Maura D. Shaw at your local library or a bookseller.  If you cannot locate this book, any other nonfiction children’s book that highlights biographies from a variety of people that have had an impact on history will work, or you may choose to use an online resource for gathering information, such as BBC – History: Historical Figures.  Familiarize yourself with the content and the information within the book or online.
  2. If you so choose, gather a collection of other picture and chapter books that the child can explore to broaden his/her notions of who and what counts as “amazing.”  A few suggestions are listed below:
    • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)
    • Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Henry Holt, 2009)
    • Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick, 2009)
    • Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Weatherford and Floyd Cooper (Wordsong, 2008)
    • Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking, 2009)
  3. Test the Bio-Cube and Timeline interactives and make sure that you have the appropriate software installed for them to run effectively.  You will need computers with internet access to use these interactives.  If computer accessibility is a problem, print out paper copies of the interactive.  If you need additional help with this interactive, please visit our Technical Help page.
  4. Introduce the book 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the World to the child by showing the cover and having a discussion about people that you and the child consider to be important historical figures.
  5. Ask the child who she/he thinks may be included in the book and why they might have been chosen as one of the ten “amazing” people.  Ask the child who he/she thinks mmight be included in a book like this and why those people might have been chosen as being “amazing.”  Think together about why certain people are more likely to appear in books like these and others are not.  What do you and the child think about that idea of “heroes”?  What are some of the qualities of heroes that you would agree on?
  6. For older children, you might want to have a deeper discussion of the idea of heroes.  Are there certain kinds of heroes that are easier for the public to embrace?  Why is that?  Some examples of guiding questions for the discussion are as follows:
    • Why is Martin Luther King, Jr. the one figure from the Civil Rights movement who is always featured in books like these?
    • Why do children tend to hear about the same heroes over and over again?
    • What are the dangers of celebrating "heroes" and people who "changed the world" in big ways as opposed to creating recognition for people who made a difference in more quiet or controversial ways?
  7. Choose two different profiles of people included in the book to read aloud to the child (or, for older children, they may read profiles to themselves).  After reading the two profiles, have a discussion with the child about how the two people were similar and different.  Be sure to compare and contrast timelines and biographical information, but also consider the different ways that people can make a difference in the world, as well as what sort of things make one a “hero” and count as “amazing.”  Keep adding to your list of what qualities make someone a hero.
  8. Allow time for the child to explore books that you’ve collected (or other online resources) to help broaden their notions of who and what counts as “amazing.”  See the list of suggested titles above for suggestions.
  9. Ask the child to begin brainstorming someone that he/she thinks is “amazing” and deserves recognition in a book such as 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the World.  This person can be someone that the child knows personally, or another historical figure that is not already included in the book.  Ask the child if this person has some of the qualities you’ve been naming on your list. Tell the child that they will be creating a book page, similar to the pages in 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the World for the person that they choose.  The book page will include:
    • Name of person
    • Image (this can be an image from the computer or an original drawing by the child)
    • Subtitle
    • Quote by the “amazing” person
    • Fascinating fact
    • Timeline of events
  10. Before the child creates the book page about her/his chosen “amazing” person, he/she will need to collect biographical information on this person and/or do research.  She/he will then choose between two online interactives to organize their findings before putting it in the book page format.  The child can choose either the Bio-Cube or Interactive Timeline.
  11. Briefly model how to use both the Bio-Cube and Interactive Timeline.  Allow the child to ask questions pertaining to the use of these online interactives.  If you’d rather use pen and paper, print out paper copies of both interactives and have the child simply complete them by writing in the information.
  12. Allow the child to start collecting information on the “amazing” person of their choosing.  If this is someone he/she personally knows, the child may already know much of this information.  If not, the child might want to talk to others who know this person (if it’s a grandparent, for example, he/she may want to talk to an aunt or uncle).  However, if it is a historical figure, the child may need to use the Internet or other resources again to find the information needed for their person.
  13. Once the child has found all of the information necessary to complete the online interactive, have her/him begin to input the information into the online interactive (or write it on the paper copy of the interactive if you have chosen to use the print version).
  14. Upon completion of the interactive Bio-Cube or Timeline, have the child print his/her work.  Have the child justify to you why they decided this person was worthy of being called “amazing.”
  15. Remind your child that he/she will be creating a book page on the “amazing” person of her/his choice, which will be modeled after the book 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the World.  With your child, discuss the important parts that his/her book page should include, modeled after 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the World.   Below are things that you should consider for inclusion:
    • Name of person
    • Image (this can be an image from the computer or an original drawing by the child)
    • Subtitle
    • Quote by the “amazing” person
    • Fascinating fact
    • Timeline of events
  16. Show the child a page from 10 Amazing People And How They Changed the         World as you explain all of the requirements so that she/he can visualize what is expected of him/her as she/he creates the page.
  17. Tell the child that he/she can use the Bio-Cube or Timeline that was previously completed as a guide for the biographical information on their book page.
  18. Give the child access to heavy-weight paper, scissors, magazine images, and a variety of art supplies to use in the creation of the page.  The child may also choose to create his/her page using a word processing program on a computer.
  19. If the child (or other children) completes more than one page of “amazing” people, compile a book of “amazing” people to be shared with friends, family, neighbors, and other members of the community.  Refer to the Three Ways to Bind a Handmade Book printout for ideas and help with the bookmaking process.

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More Ideas To Try

  • Have the child read the book aloud to family members or younger children and have a discussion with them about the people he/she chose to highlight in their book.
  • To push children’s thinking past stereotypical notions of what counts as “heroes” or “amazing,” make another book of “amazing” people that consists entirely of people from your family and/or community.  Obtain the information about these people through interviews and follow the same process as outlined above.
  • Using information collected while researching “amazing” people, create a Graphic Map of the person’s life events.
  • Have the child create an online profile for the “amazing” person they’ve chosen to highlight using the online Profile Publisher.
  • If you chose to create a book with multiple pages, have the child design a cover using the online Book Cover Creator.

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Glossary

Discuss

 

Discussion is a natural way for children and teens to express or explain what they already know or what they are learning. When possible, let children and teens lead the direction of a discussion. Ask questions that lead to an extended response (“What do you think about…?” or “Why do you think…?”) rather than questions that might result in a yes or no or a simple answer.

Interview

 

While some interviews are formal, informal interviews with family members and peers should be friendly and more casual. Interviewers still need to be prepared with a list of questions that lead to an extended response, not a yes or no answer, and need to record their interviewees’ responses carefully to maintain accuracy and show respect for their answers.

Nonfiction

 

Writing based in fact that is designed to explain, argue, or describe.

Online profile

 

A person’s representation of him- or herself on an Internet site.

Research

 

Researching a topic or question can take many different forms, from year-long studies resulting in publication to a quick search of available resources on the Internet. For these activities, we refer to research in the informal sense, using readily available resources (Internet, magazines, books, interviews, etc.) to answer questions.

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