Booktalking Biographies

Whew!  I spent most of yesterday book-talking biographies to our 4th grade classes in preparation for a research project they are beginning.  Luckily our 4th grade teachers were agreeable to allowing students free rein (within reason!) in choosing the person they want to read about, because with two other grade levels also doing biography projects this month, we’re starting to run out of books!

I took that opportunity to hand-pick some titles from our biography collection that are often overlooked.  The books had to meet the following criteria:

  • not too easy, not too hard – I discussed the students’ reading levels with the teachers ahead of time
  • not too long, not too short – teachers want to be done with this project before MAP testing begins on February 28, so most students will not have time to read over 100 pages before beginning the writing portion of the project
  • cover the person’s life from beginning to end – some biographies focus on a specific time period (such as childhood) or a single event (discovering electricity), but for this project students needed a broad overview of an entire lifetime
  • include the nonfiction text features they have been discussing this year – most of the books I used had a table of contents and/or an index
  • present the story in a fairly straightforward way – figurative language and flashbacks and free verse definitely have their place in the world of biographies, but for this assignment students are learning to pick out facts and take notes, so I didn’t want to make it more difficult for them than necessary

This proved to be a great “teachable moment” for me, because under this type of close scrutiny I could see where we had gaps in our biography collection, and which materials need to be updated.  Students who did not want to read one of the books I shared were free to search for someone else, and that also provided some valuable insight into which people our students are most interested in reading about.

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