Getting to Know You: Developing Short Biographies to Build Community
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- Standards |
- Resources & Preparation |
- Instructional Plan |
- Related Resources |
Students in a class form a type of community, and members must get to know one another for that community to thrive. When students and teachers share their backgrounds and interests early in the year, they develop a base for understanding that will support effective teaching and learning throughout the months that follow. This lesson, which is designed for the first few weeks of school, helps build classroom community. Students begin with a discussion about community and what it means to be part of a community. They then prepare interview questions to ask a classmate about their lives. Students interview a fellow classmate to compile biographical data about him or her and use a Web tool called Bio-Cube to organize the material. In a culminating activity, students use their completed Bio-Cube to introduce their partner to the class.
Bio-Cube: Have students use this interactive to compile biographical information about a classmate.
From Theory to Practice
- Comprehension is a social constructivist process. Learning is the continuous integration of knowledge and experience and promotes the active construction of personal meaning.
- Thematic approaches to teaching and learning are responsive to the interests, abilities, and needs of students and are respectful of their developing aptitudes and attitudes.
- We read biographies to gain insight into the lives of others, which in turn offers us insight into ourselves.
Important "new literacies" needed in the 21st century include the opportunity to collaborate with others, engage in critical inquiry, and enhance communication skills while learning to respect the varied perspectives of others.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Computers with Internet access
- LCD projector (optional)
- Overhead projector and transparency
|1.||Visit and familiarize yourself with the Bio-Cube. Students will work in pairs to use this tool, so if you do not have a set of classroom computers with Internet access, you will want to reserve a session in your school’s computer lab (see Session 2). Make sure the tool works on your classroom or lab computers and bookmark it.
Note: You will need the most recent version of Flash to run this tool. If it is not working, please visit our Technical Support page for a free download.
|2.||Complete a Bio-Cube using your biographical information. You will want to keep the information brief so that it will fit on each square of the cube. You will also want to model ideas that students can relate to. (You might choose some from your childhood for this reason.) Some suggestions are as follows:
|3.||Print out and make one transparency of the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet and copies on paper for each student in your class. [Note: You may want to wait until after Session 1 to make copies for students (see Session 1, Step 6).]
|4.||If you have a classroom computer with Internet access, arrange to use an LCD projector during Session 1 (see Step 6). If you do not have access to an LCD projector, print a copy of a blank Bio-Cube. You can do this by entering your name and then hitting the “Print” button before you fill the cube out. Make a transparency and print a copy on paper for modeling purposes.
|5.||Decide how to pair students for this activity. You can let students select partners, or you can assign them. If you are assigning partners, you may want to consider the following suggestions:
- Gain knowledge of the backgrounds and interests of their teacher and classmates through personal interviews and the creation of a Bio-Cube
- Develop communication skills by practicing a variety of speaking techniques such as making eye contact, asking and responding to questions while interviewing, and orally presenting biographical information to classmates
- Review and expand their knowledge of text structure and practice using technology in relevant ways by organizing and presenting information with an online organizer using an online biography development tool
- Practice working collaboratively to develop their Bio-Cubes
Introducing the Strategy/Activity
|1.||Gather students and ask them if anyone knows what the word community means and if they can name a few different types of communities, listing them on the board as they do so. If no one mentions the school or classroom as a community, make sure you add it to the list. Ask them what they think is important for a community to work well, and write this in a separate list. Ideas might include being kind to each other, helping each other, or celebrating similarities and differences.
|2.||Explain that you want to make sure that your classroom community works well during the rest of the school year and that a good way to make sure this happens is for everyone to get to know each other, including others' backgrounds, languages, interests, similarities, and differences.
|3.||Show students a few biographies from your classroom library and ask them what they know about the biography genre. It is important for students to understand that biographies help us to understand other people including their backgrounds, their lives, their interests, the obstacles they have faced, and the contributions they have made to society.
|4.||Ask students to imagine that they are biographers. Ask them what kind of work they might have to do before writing a biography. Students may include ideas such as researching a person’s life, going to the library, and interviewing the people who know or knew that person.
|5.||Explain to students that they will be acting as biographers as they gather information about the lives and interests of their classmates. Explain that they will be creating a short biography called a Bio-Cube (hold up the one you have created) in order to gather information about their classmates and that they will be sharing that information with the class.
Modeling the Strategy/Activity
|6.||Place the transparency of the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet on the overhead. Explain that students will use this planner to conduct an interview with another student. Model what kind of questions a student might ask for each section of the planner. For example, if you wanted information on “Personal Background,” you might ask,
Ask students to brainstorm possible questions for each section of the planner. Include a question or two under the prompt for each section. This will help students when they conduct their own interviews.
Note: It may be helpful to make a copy of these prompts and questions for each student so that they can use them during the interview (see Session 2).
|7.||Ask for a volunteer to act as an interviewer. Have the student sit facing you. Discuss and model appropriate eye contact and verbal and nonverbal response. Have the student ask one of the questions you have written on the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet for each section. Provide your own information to each question and have the student interviewer fill in the Information column on the transparency. Remember to keep the information short and to the point.
|8.||Show students the Bio-Cube tool with an LCD projector. If you do not have an LCD projector, show students the transparency you have created (see Preparation, Step 4).
|9.||Model how you can take the information from the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet and insert it into the Bio-Cube. You should model the format you expect from students, which will vary depending on their age and abilities. (For instance, you may choose to have them respond to the prompts with bullets or in a narrative format. The space on the cube is quite limited, so narratives would have to be brief.)
|10.||Show students how to print the Bio-Cube, cut it, and fold it. Show them your completed Bio-Cube (see Preparation, Step 2).
|11.||Select a student to be your partner. Meet with that student and prepare him or her for this activity. Have this student introduce you to the class using your Bio-Cube. You will want to model the following:
|12.||Draw students’ attention to the second list they created about community during Step 2. Lead a discussion about how knowing this kind of information might help them to make sure the classroom community works well. Be sure to mention that you know it can be difficult to talk about personal stories with people they do not know well and that they should share only what they feel comfortable sharing. Give students the opportunity to add to the list and ask any questions they may have.|
Note: If you do not have classroom computers, this session should take place in your school’s computer lab (see Preparation, Step 1).
|1.||Explain to students that they will be interviewing a partner and creating a Bio-Cube to introduce that person. Provide each student with a copy of the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet (with questions students helped write during Session 1 if you choose) and quickly review each section.
|2.||Place students in pairs. Remind them to sit facing one another and to provide their partners with good eye contact and verbal and nonverbal responses.
|3.||Students should interview each other using the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet to record responses. While students are conducting interviews, move around the room conferring with them as needed. You may choose to take notes on the Interview Checklist for assessment purposes.
|4.||Once students have completed their interviews, they can move to completing the Bio-Cube online. Each student will use the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet as a guide to complete the online Bio-Cube. Students should be encouraged to check their work for accuracy, spelling, and grammar.
|5.||Ask students to print, cut, and fold their Bio-Cubes when they are completed.
|6.||Remind students that they will be using the Bio-Cubes to introduce each other to the class. Go over the best way to share this information. Talk about the model you provided during Session 1, Step 11. If you have not already done so, hand out the Presentation Checklist and review it with students.
|7.||Students should practice introducing their partners to the class using the Presentation Checklist and the Bio-Cube.
|8.||Gather students in a circle (seating partners together) and have them introduce their partners to the rest of the class.
|9.||After students have finished their introductions, ask students to notice any commonalities they might have with other students. You can even chart some of this information (e.g., the number of students who have pets, the number of students who have lived in another country, the number of students who speak more than one language, the number of students who play sports, or the number of students who play an instrument). You may also want to discuss ways in which students are unique.
|10.||Ask students to reflect on the things they have in common and what things make them each unique. Ask them to describe your classroom community. A final reflection might be to ask students what they have learned about each other and how they can use this information to help their community work well as the year progresses.
- Display the Bio-Cubes in your classroom. This can be especially nice for families to view at Open House or fall conferences.
- Students can also
- Share the Bio-Cubes they have created with students in other classes in the same grade level so that everyone gets to know one another.
- Create Bio-Cubes for themselves, family members, or other people they are interested in.
- Use the Bio-Cube as a graphic organizer to write a complete biography or autobiography.
- Read biographies and use the Bio-Cube to summarize the text and share information with others.
- Share the Bio-Cubes they have created with students in other classes in the same grade level so that everyone gets to know one another.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Observe students during the whole-class discussions, interviews, and as they work to create and share the Bio-Cube. Look for interpersonal skills, oral and written communication skills, how students work collaboratively, and who might require more or less support in the future.
- Assess students using the Interview Checklist. Provide coaching and additional practice with interviewing for students who demonstrate difficulty on one or more of these criteria. You might even pair these students together and coach them while they conduct an additional interview.
- Use the Presentation Checklist to assess students’ presentations. Provide coaching and practice to students who need more support.
- Extend students’ reflections from Session 2 by keeping the chart about classroom community up and periodically returning to it during the year, reflecting on how successful you have been at establishing your classroom community. You might ask students to complete the same activity part of the way through the year to see how they are able to deepen their interview responses. Or you might have students complete a Bio-Cube for themselves and compare it to the one their peer created.
- Ask students to use the Bio-Cube Assessment to assess their work. Meet with each pair of students and discuss the assessment, providing feedback and completing the Teacher section of the rubric. Work with students to develop goals for improvement. Since this lesson is most likely occurring early in the year, this can be a good assessment of what students can do independently and in partnerships.