The Year I Was Born: An Autobiographical Research Project
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In this autobiography with a twist, students conduct interviews of friends and family members, as well as online and library research to find details on what was going on internationally, nationally, locally, in sports, music, arts, commercial, TV, and publishing during the year that they were born. After they've gathered their research, they discuss how they will organize their information, typically in chronological order, and then create a rough outline. In small groups, students share and get feedback on their research and outlines. They then refine their outline into a paper that they publish as a newspaper or booklet using an online publishing tool.
- Printing Press: Use this online tool to create a newspaper, brochure, booklet, or flyer. Students choose a layout, add content, and then print out their work.
From Theory to Practice
This mini-research paper draws on Daniels and Bizar's idea of integrative units, combining research into a specific historical time and research into students' family lives with the English study of understanding voice and point of view in a writing assignment. Carol Booth Olson believes authentic research "stems from a student's intense need to know about a topic that has immediate relevance for him or her." In this instance, the topic the student is researching is his or her place in the world at the time of his or her birth.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
- Make copies or overhead transparencies of all handouts students will need: Year I Was Born Research Project, Links to Websites handout, Sample Paper, Research Form, Self-Reflection questions, and Research Paper Rubric. Alternatively, arrange to project the handouts using an LCD Projector.
- Arrange for Internet access for students, so they can complete the online research and publish their work.
- Test the Printing Press on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- conduct research, using a variety of resources including personal interviews, primary documents, and online research.
- evaluate resources to find those best for the project.
- demonstrate an understanding of point of view by adopting the voice of a family member or another adult.
- write an autobiographical research paper.
- Hand out the Year I Was Born Research Project and the Research Paper Rubric.
- Share the details of the activity with the handouts then share the sample paper.
- If you desire, share additional examples online.
- Discuss the strategies that students will use, brainstorming sample interview questions and ways that students can use library and online resources.
- Help students choose their storyteller by providing a variety of options and examples.
- Students should interview others about the first year of their life. Many students will be able to interview their family about their birth and first year of life as well as look through family photographs, their baby books, and so forth. It is inevitable, however, that you will have one or more students who will not have this kind of family information due to divorce, being adopted later in life, being a ward of the state, or in the case of one of my students, a house fire. Make exceptions for these students and talk about the exceptions in class to be sure that all students are included, suggesting they interview anyone who might know some of their history, or skip the interview part entirely and have them do their project using just their research. Students can also write from a fictional point of view, for example, taking the persona of a reporter writing a special report about the year with their birth taking a prominent place. If they have no older siblings, the story can be told from the perspective of a household pet that was in the family before them.
- If desirable, change the assignment to a slightly different focus, to fit more of your students' experiences. For instance, students might research and write about "The Year I Was Adopted," "My First Year of School," or "The Year We Moved." You may wish to provide some guidelines, such as the event explored should have happened at least 5 years ago.
Sessions Two and Three
- Arrange for library and online research time, where students can consult periodicals such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report for the month and year they were born.
- Remind students that their research might include commercials, slogans, births, deaths, sports news, movies, books, plays, music, financial, national news, international news, religious events, music, TV shows, and local news.
- Have students search for their birth date on the Internet. Many of these sites give information for their birth date throughout history. To narrow to the year they were born, choose only those events that occurred in their birth year.
- Pass out the Links to Websites handout and the Research Form for students to use during their research.
- Remind students to record all of their information from their interviews and research on the Research Form, including the information needed to prepare a Works Cited page.
- Point students to their class textbook or the Landmarks Citation Machine Website for information on MLA format.
- While students work, monitor their progress, offering feedback and assistance as needed.
NOTE: While the goal of this lesson is not to explicitly teach research strategies, you may wish to have students include in-text citations in their written projects, in addition to a Works Cited page. This could be used as an extension or an addition for students who are more advanced and require a challenge.
- After students have completed their research, discuss organization of the paper.
- If desired, use the Sample Paper to outline the order that details are included in. Typically, these stories are told in chronological order.
- To begin the organization of their papers, ask students to arrange their completed Research Forms in chronological order.
- Using the ordered forms, ask students to create a rough outline for their stories.
- Divide students into small groups, and ask them to share the basic details of their research and their outlines with each other.
- Share three questions to guide group feedback on each outline:
- What is the most surprising thing about the writer's research and outline?
- What did you like the most about the writer's plan?
- What question do you have about the research and outline?
- What is the most surprising thing about the writer's research and outline?
- At the end of the session, remind students of the specific requirements of the assignment, pointing to the Rubric for more information.
- Ask students to use the feedback, their research, and their outlines to write their papers for homework. Ideally, students should complete the work in a word processor and bring the file on a disk to the next session.
- Answer any questions that students have after writing their papers.
- Demonstrate the Printing Press, showing students the formats available and pointing out those best for the assignment (probably the first newspaper layout or one of the booklet layouts). Alternatively, a newspaper, brochure, or booklet can be created in Microsoft Publisher or a word processor, instead of using the Printing Press.
- Demonstrate how to copy the document from the word processor file and paste it into format template. If copy and paste doesn't work, students can type their mini research paper directly into the template.
- Remind students to include a Works Cited page at the end of their document.
- Copy and paste your photograph into the template.
- Print out document.
- If desired, students can add photos or other images to the booklets or newspapers.
- If time allows, students can share their stories in small groups or with the full class before submitting them.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Using the Self-Reflection questions, ask students to think about the steps they took as they worked on this assignment—what they had problems with, how they worked out their problems, and how they feel about their final project.
- Use the Research Paper Rubric to evaluate students’ work on the paper itself.