How To Structure A Successful Biography Research Project
In terms of bang for your buck, a biography research report packs a punch. It covers a wide range of standards-based skills, and it’s a meaningful student-centered project. Each step of the biographical writing process is outlined below, allowing you to make the most of every minute of instructional time.
Start the biographical writing process by examining a mentor text. Mentor texts are pieces of writing that students can return to and reread for different purposes. They are texts that can be studied and imitated. To make sure you don’t overwhelm your students or bombard them with unnecessary information, select a short biographical excerpt (I use the John Muir chapter from Home of the Brave: An American History Book for Kids: 15 Immigrants Who Shaped US History). After reading through the biographical excerpt together as a class, analyze the major components of a biography using discussion questions that you have prepared ahead of time. Focus your mentor text questions on content, structure, and connection. Three example questions are provided below.
Text Content: What details does the author provide to begin the biography?
Text Structure: How is the information in the text organized?
Text Connection: Which elements from this text would you like to include in your biography?
Biography Research Guide
Completing a biography research guide will help your students remain focused and on task. The format and structure of the research guide is based on the needs of your students. Hopefully, the items listed below will point you in the right direction.
Cover Page: It’s important to review the meaning of the term biography and require students to think critically about who they will research and why. Giving students room to pick the person they will research and write about is what makes this assignment student-centered. Even picking from a list of figures provides students with a sense of choice, helping them take ownership of their learning.
Things To Keep In Mind: Include a page that reviews important details and things to keep in mind during the research and writing process. You may also want to include space for students to record due dates.
Bibliography: A bibliography template with space to record source information is helpful for students to utilize while researching.
Research Template: Guide students through the research process with a comprehensive research template. In order to assist students in crafting a successful biography, include specific criteria for students to fill in while researching.
After completing the research portion of the project, your students will be prepared to start writing their biographies. Providing your students with a structured step-by-step outline will ensure that each paragraph of their biography is organized and focused.
An essay template is nice to have on hand for students that might be struggling with the writing process. It can also be used as a whole-class activity before independent writing begins. Modeling the writing process for students will ease the feelings of stress and provide your students with a roadmap for success. Observing others plays a vital role in how we acquire new knowledge and skills. When applied to this particular project, analyzing the mentor text and modeling the writing process are two ways in which observational learning can be applied.
“Observing others plays a vital role in how we acquire new knowledge and skills.”
Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory
An editing checklist is extremely helpful for peer or independent editing. Ideally, the checklist will include the assessment of essay content, structure, grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. The revising process is something that students will develop over time. Providing students with an editing checklist is a helpful learning scaffold until students feel comfortable revising their work independently.
Students need to start with the end in mind. Reviewing the rubric before starting the research and writing process gives students a clear understanding of the project expectations.
In addition to reinforcing research and writing skills, the biography project will provide your students with an opportunity to think critically about an influential figure and how they might apply some of the lessons learned to their own lives.