14 December 2011

Teacher Resource: Biography

I couldn't resist angry Bill Shakespeare over there! Maybe if they learn to read the whole book now, they just might read the whole book later...

One of the many benefits of the reading program I've got going in my classes is the variety of genres I require my students to read. In fact, because I will complete the goal myself, it has freed me from my own reading cycle. I trend toward fantasy mostly, especially when I need an escape (George MacDonald seems to be the best antidote).

It's true of us all - we get into a comfort zone with a certain style of writing, a certain type of story, and we stick with it. We even go back to the same author over and over, don't we? Yet another reason YA books perform so well as a series!

Like I said, it's been good to branch out a bit. I've found that I've read very few biographies, and it's a personal goal to cycle back more often. I just read a decent bio of C.S. Lewis, by his stepson Douglas Gresham.

The book is called Jack's Life, after the nickname Clive gave himself when he was a preschooler (do you blame him?). Even though I'm very much a fan of Lewis, there were quite a few interesting facts and insights I learned through this book - especially about his relationship with his brother, Warnie, his involvement in World War I, and his promise to care for his friend's mother and sister as long as needed - which he did.

In spots the book is a bit repetitive, and it felt rushed from an editorial standpoint at times. However, those things were easily overlooked by the subject matter: the life of a great writer, teacher, and Christian.

I suppose there are several biographies about Lewis that are better than this one, and Gresham does mention them, but this may be a good place to begin - especially for the younger audience.

Again, I'll share what I have my students write about when they've read either a biography or autobiography (I require they read at least one), and if you have any suggestions or thoughts, let me know. And as always, feel free to use what you find!


There are three root words you should know: bio, auto, and graph. Bio means “life,” auto means “self,” and graph means “write.” Therefore, your book to meet this genre’s requirement should have been a book about a person’s life – either written by someone else (a biography), or by the person the book is about (autobiography).

In this letter you will:
  1. STATE whether the book is a biography or autobiography.
  2. DESCRIBE why you think the person is important (this means you should think about why there is a book about them at all).
  3. EXPLAIN three things you learned about the person from your book.


Anonymous said...

Just an idea for you:

When I was an elementary school librarian, I would read a picture book aloud to the students. That is not to say a "simple" book. Some books are really quite heavy on content, though in picture book format. After the hearing the book, the students would have to compare the story to one of a group of objects I gave them. Maybe a choice of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, tossed salad or chocolate cake. Maybe different styles of shoes which I would copy from internet. The items would not be directly related to the story. The students would have to find commonality with one of the objects and the story in some way. The students would then split into groups based on their choice and discuss what the story and the object had in common. Then we would share as an entire group.

What made it interesting was that sometimes the students who struggle most came up with the most interesting, profound reasons for their particular choice. Occasionally so profound, it brought tears to my eyes. When I used that approach to the lesson, the library aide would always make it a point to listen because of the insight it gave her, not only insight to the story, but to the students.

Those lessons really stretched the students' thinking since it was such diversion from the typical approach to a book. If you try this, I would recommend modeling it first with the story you are using for the assignment. Only you would need to pick something unrelated to the choices the student have.

I loved doing this, and tried to do it at least yearly with the students from grades three up.

Man O' Clay said...

That sounds like a great activity - especially for getting every type of student to join discussion. I'm also always looking for ways to crack the exteriors of tougher students.

Thank you for sharing!

Theresa Milstein said...

I think all of us gravitate towards certain types of books to read - children and adult. Writers do this in writing too. That's why I'm so impressed when someone is versatile in their reading and writing.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...