How do you teach the biography genre without it being boring and mundane? You have students choose someone they are passionate about…someone who has made a difference…someone that will keep them engaged for a trimester long project. You also have them become the person, become a journalist, as well as a designer.
The living memoir project was created to cover a variety of writing skills for seventh grade. The following are the components of the project:
- Research: Students use noodletools to collect information about their person from websites, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, etc.
- Diary Entries: In order to make the memoir seem authentic, students write 3 diary entries from 3 different times in their life.
- Friendly Letter & Business Letter: Research is vital to writing these letters. Students need to decide who they are writing to and why while following strict letter writing guidelines.
- Newspaper Article: Students learn the parts of the newspaper, how to write a newspaper article, and how to format it properly.
- Epitaph: Students use their imaginations to create a “gravestone” along with an epitaph that has a quote that represents their person. Yes, even if they aren’t dead yet, they get an epitaph! Some students write the date of death in the year 3000 because they don’t want to “jinx” them!
- Obituary: Students hone in on those journalism skills they learned when they were writing their newspaper article to create an obituary that includes a charity their person would have wanted donations to go to.
- Commemorative Stamp: Students have fun designing (and pricing) a commemorative stamp that the US Postal System would be happy to use!
- Photos and Captions: Every memoir needs photos along with a description of the event.
- My Contributions to the World: This is an essay written in first person, as their biography choice, that describes what contributions they have made to the world. It is a traditional 3-5 paragraph essay.
- Dear Reader Letter: This is a reflective piece written by the student to anyone that reads their project. It is their chance to explain why they chose their person, some interesting facts that they learned, as well as the time and effort spent and if they would do anything differently if they were to do it again.
The students are given the components, they are taught the skills necessary to complete the assigned parts, but they are not told how to present their project…it is totally up to them! This year I had a bicycle tire, a powerpoint, a fish tank, a bike, several old trunks, scrapbooks, pamphlets, and even a larger than life Cat in the Hat!
I believe by giving students choice with some guidelines as well as having an open ended design, it allows students the freedom and flexibility they need in order to be engaged. Student engagement is essential to the learning process…it is actually the bottom line…if you don’t have student engagement, how do you have effective teaching and learning?
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From Theory to Practice
Set the stage for high-interest reading with a purpose through a biography project. Students work together to generate questions they would like to answer about several well-known people, then each student chooses one of these and finds information by reading a biography from the library and doing Internet research. Students create a graphic organizer (a web) to organize the facts they have found and share what they have learned about their subjects through oral presentations. Students evaluate themselves and their classmates by using a rubric during the research and graphic organizer-creation process and by giving written feedback on one another's presentations.
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Bio-Cube: This planning tool can help students organize their research; use it as an extension to the lesson and have them outline the lives they' researched before writing their own biographies.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
International Reading Association. (2001). Comprehension, Part II: Text Comprehension. International Reading Association's Summary of the (U.S.) National Reading Panel Report "Teaching Children to Read." Retrieved October 1, 2003, from http://www.reading.org/General/CurrentResearch/Reports/NationalReadingPanelReport.aspx.
- By using graphic organizers, students write or draw meanings and relationships of underlying ideas. This has been shown to improve students' ability to recall content.
- By summarizing information, students improve in including ideas related to the main idea, generalizing, and removing redundancy.
- By working in cooperative groups, students may increase their learning of reading strategies through peer discussion. They may also lead to better comprehension.
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