Learning from Personal Stories: Biographies in the Classroom

Posted by Cassidy Taylor on Mar 4, 2015 8:01:06 PM


The power of personal stories cannot be denied. Reading biographies helps to provide a human face and a context to ideas, history and concepts outside of students' personal experience. Unfortunately, biographies are a rarely used resource in the classroom except when introduced as part of genre studies. The variety of biography styles available including popular, historical, children's, literary, reference, fictional, and even graphic editions also make the genre perfect for multiple learning styles and reading preferences.

Three Ways To Use Biographies In The Classroom

Use in STEM lessons to supplement textbooks

Use biographies to lend context to the history of ideas, concepts and advancements in subjects that are more traditionally taught from textbooks. STEM subjects are a perfect example. Biographies about scientists, mathematicians or those that work in technological fields can help students that are not engaged or struggling in these subjects find a new access point to the subjects. For students who are doing well, reading biographical accounts add important historical and intellectual context to the lesson and even act as further inspiration. Biographies help students find themselves represented in the context of a subject in a way textbooks do not. This is especially true of students of color and those from underrepresented backgrounds and cultures.

HayatSindi_BrillantBiologist Jill C. Wheeler (author) Hayat Sindi: Brilliant Biochemist

Have students write their own biographies. This works really well at the beginning of the year. Having children write short biographies is not only a good way to gauge their level of writing skills but the stories they share allow the teacher a glimpse into the personal history of the students. Biographies also help the students learn about each other and can expose children to cultures, ideas and families that are different from their own.

With older students who already have practice writing sequential and traditional narrative pieces, try using technology like Big Universe's writing platform to create personal stories, Incorporating a digital component into the writing exercise will also have students using information in a new ways and help teachers incorporate multiple common core standards into one lesson.

Big Universe_WritingTab


Bobbie Aloian (author)

I can write a book about my life

In this book, children will learn how to write an autobiography, a biography of a family member who has influenced their lives, a memoir of an event or special occasion, or even a creative journal on their possible future lives. Children will learn how to interview people and write and recite narratives. They will learn more about themselves through their wonderful stories.

Sharing Biographies

Biographies are an amazing genre of literature that is valuable resource in teaching. No matter the topic, biographies about the major thinkers, scholars and participants involved help to give the subject a human face. These personal stories provide another access point to the theories, numbers, statistics and facts in whatever subject is being taught and help students gain additional levels of understanding to the material. Whether teaching children about the past, introducing new ideas and concepts in the STEM curriculum or helping students discover themselves; biographies are an amazing resource for the classroom.

Common Core Connections

Compare and contrast one author's presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person). (Reading)

With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers. (Writing)

Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure (Writing)


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Topics: Classroom Ideas, Personal Experiences, Common Core, Big Universe News, Integration Ideas, Writing, Technology

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