Recurring Lesson

Guided Comprehension in Action: Teaching Summarizing With the Bio-Cube

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
At least four 45- to 60-minute sessions
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Using biographies to engage students in active learning provides teachers with many opportunities for motivation. Biographies of current, well-known figures can help students draw parallels to their own lives, while biographies of figures from the past can help students make connections to content area subjects in meaningful ways. In this lesson, students learn about how biographies are constructed using the Guided Comprehension model developed by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen. They use self-selected subjects to fill out an online summarizing tool and then analyze potential applications for summarizing in other academic areas.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • There are excellent biographies suitable for students of all ages that can be used for instructional purposes.
  • Recent biographies for children and young people have been written from a more realistic point of view so that readers can relate to them.

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.

State Standards

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 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.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Overhead projector and transparencies
  • LCD projector




1. This lesson is intended for classrooms in which students have access to computers and teachers have access to LCD projectors. If this is not the case in your classroom, the whole-group instruction in Session 1 can be demonstrated using an overhead projector. Print a blank Bio-Cube by accessing the online tool, entering your name, and then hitting the print button. Make a transparency of the printout.
2. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve four sessions in your school's computer lab. Visit the Bio-Cube tool and make sure it works properly. Arrange to use an LCD projector.
3. Visit the other websites listed in the Websites section and add them to the Favorites list on your classroom or school computers.
4. Print and make three copies of the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet for each of your students. Make two transparencies as well.
5. Choose two brief biographies from one of the websites to use as an example with students. (This lesson uses Steve Irwin and J. K. Rowling as examples.) Print off a copy of each biography and the TIME 100: Jackie Robinson article. (You may choose to use a different magazine article if you wish.) For modeling purposes, complete a Bio-Cube Planning Sheet using information from these biographies.
6. Make copies of the Cinquain Poem Outline for the Writing Center (see Session 3).

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Acquire knowledge by completing research on self-selected subjects using Internet sources
  • Comprehend, interpret, and evaluate information using both print and online tools
  • Communicate their findings using a completed Bio-Cube to prompt them
  • Demonstrate comprehension of what they have learned about summarizing information during class discussions

Session 1: Teacher-Directed Whole Group Instruction


1. Begin by reminding students about the importance of studying biographies. Review with students by discussing what constitutes a good biography, previewing the prompts included in the Bio-Cube.
2. Ask students what type of assignments they have used summarizing for and why it was important. Engage in a direct explanation of summarizing, focusing on expository text. Remind students that summarizing is important because it helps readers process and comprehend text. It also allows readers to use a variety of sources during research. Remind students also that summarization can be used in all content areas and tell them that they will use it to summarize a biography.

Review how to summarize with students, making sure to tell them to include main ideas and important supporting ideas. Make connections to the Bio-Cube, explaining that it provides a structure for summarizing a person's life.


3. Show students the first biography you have chosen to use as an example (see Preparation, Step 5). Read the text of the biography, pausing occasionally to think aloud about the Bio-Cube components and to mark necessary information with sticky notes. For example, Side 1 of the Bio-Cube asks for the person's name, time period, and place. Using a printed copy of Steve Irwin's biography, place sticky notes under Irwin's name and his date and place of birth.
4. After reading the text, use a transparency of the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet to demonstrate how the information from the biography can be used to complete it. Use a think-aloud to show how you move the information that you have marked with sticky notes to the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet. For example say, "I have found all of the information I need for the Bio-Cube. Now I'm going to fill in the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet with the information that I have marked. The first thing that I have marked is Irwin's name. I will write that on the part of the planning sheet that asks for the information for Side 1."
5. Using an LCD projector or a computer with a large screen, demonstrate how to transfer the information from the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet to the interactive Bio-Cube on the computer. Think aloud for students saying, "Now that I have my Bio-Cube Planning Sheet filled out, I can enter my information into the Bio-Cube tool." Demonstrate for students and remind them that they may have to further summarize and condense their information to fit on the Bio-Cube. If you do not have a computer with Internet access, use the transparency of the blank Bio-Cube.
6. Use the Bio-Cube to create an oral summary about Steve Irwin that you share with students. You want to make sure they understand that the important main ideas and supporting ideas they will need to include in their oral summaries can be found on the Bio-Cube. Remind students to speak clearly and loudly when giving their oral summaries.


7. Place students into small groups of two or three using flexible grouping.
8. Read aloud from the next biography you have selected. As you read, begin to record information on another Bio-Cube Planning Sheet on the overhead projector. Note the information for the first side of the cube.
9. Guide student groups in providing information for Personal Background (Side 2) and Personality Traits (Side 3) by showing them that they may need to use additional resources to complete the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet. Mention that the link is produced by an educational publisher that publishes textbooks and dictionaries, and therefore, it can be considered a reliable source of information. Discuss students' ideas and add the suggested information to the planning sheet on the overhead.


10. Students should work in their groups to complete the remaining sides about their selected person on their own Bio-Cube Planning Sheets. Students should then transfer the information to the Bio-Cube on their computers and print the Bio-Cube when they are finished.
11. Have students share with their partners an oral summary that is based on the information they have just entered and then share and discuss their Bio-Cube and summary with another group of students. The goal of these discussions is for students to share the information they have learned with other students as well as serve as practice in speaking and listening skills.


12. Reflect with students using think-alouds focused on how the Bio-Cubes helped them to understand what is important about people's lives and how Bio-Cubes can be used to summarize that information. Questions for discussion include:
  • Do you think that you know your person better?
  • Have you learned anything new about them?
  • How did the Bio-Cube help you organize the information you found?
13. Discuss how to use Bio-Cubes in other subject areas. Ask students how they think the Bio-Cube might help them better understand important people in math, history, or science. How might they change the information they enter depending on the purpose of their summary? Could the Bio-Cube for a given individual be different if students fill it out for a different purpose?

Session 2: Teacher-Guided Small Group Instruction


1. Remind students about the comprehension strategies that readers use such as generating questions and finding main ideas. Focus on summarizing using Bio-Cubes. Explain that they will be reading a magazine article about Jackie Robinson.


2. Begin by discussing what students already know about Robinson and baseball. Students' responses may include that he was a baseball player in the past, that he was the first African American player to play major league baseball, or that he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
3. Following the discussion, ask students to read TIME 100: Jackie Robinson to learn new or more detailed information. As they read, have students highlight the information needed to complete the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet. Students should then complete the planning sheet. Provide support as needed.


4. Students should transfer the information from their planning sheets to the online Bio-Cube. Remind them to print their work when they are finished.
5. Share expectations for the oral summary with students. Remind them to include all the points from their Bio-Cube. Review how to speak clearly and listen quietly when others are giving their oral summaries.
6. Once they are finished and have printed their Bio-Cubes, students should get into their small groups from Session 1 and contribute to an oral summary.
7. Students should then discuss what they have learned about Jackie Robinson with the class.


8. Reflect with students about how summarizing helps them to understand what they have read and how Bio-Cubes help them to summarize people's lives.

Session 3: Student-Facilitated Work

During this session, students rotate through both the Student-Facilitated Comprehension Centers and the Student-Facilitated Comprehension Routines to expand their knowledge about biographies.

Student-Facilitated Comprehension Centers

  • Research and Technology Center: Students can access the websites from the Resources section to create a Bio-Cube about a famous person of their choice. Students should use at least two research sources and the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet.
  • Art Center: Students can create a collage about a self-selected subject using details from the person's life.
  • Writing Center: Students can use their completed Bio-Cubes and the Cinquain Poem Outline to write a poem about their subject.

Student-Facilitated Comprehension Routines

Students can practice using the Bio-Cube with the subject of a biography they have recently read in Literature Circles.

Session 4: Teacher-Facilitated Setting: Whole-Group Reflection and Goal


1. Begin by asking students to share the Bio-Cubes, collages, poems, and summaries they created during Session 3 with the entire class.
2. Ask students to reflect on their abilities to create Bio-Cubes and use them to develop oral summaries.


3. Reflect with students about how summarizing helps them understand what is being read and how summarizing different kinds of text requires different components.

Set new goals

4. As students should be feeling confident with their abilities to use summarizing, have students set new goals for learning multiple ways to evaluate texts. These goals might include inferring, generating questions, and research.


Student Assessment / Reflections

Observe students throughout the Guided Comprehension process and use their completed interactive Bio-Cubes, oral summaries, and other projects as articles for assessment. You might create a checklist that includes the various comprehension centers, oral summaries, and practice sheets you choose to require for your students. For writing projects, use your state writing rubric with the additional purpose of familiarizing students with it. You might also create your own rubric for oral summaries using considerations such as presentation, tone, volume, or eye contact.

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