In the past, I used a simple template to research and write biographies. Then, I expanded on that idea into my own format with the detail template. There was more information that could be gathered and researched about people in the past and the present. Then, Presidents' Day was upon us. I pulled out my biography template and decided to make a few adjustments and created a U.S. President detail template.
The biography template would have sufficed. However, when researching Presidents there are some important details to gather and include in the final report, such as years served, important bills passed, political party affiliation, Vice President, etc. A specific detail template was warranted to gather details related to researching a U.S. President.
I love researching Presidents as much as I love researching people and writing biographies. My students love it too! Writing biographies, presidential or otherwise, provide practice for two important writing skills. First, when writing biographies, the sentences need to be in chronological order, thus the practice of ordering sentences is an important skill that is practiced when writing biographies. The birth of a person is written about before the death of that person. Second, they are usually writing about this person in the past tense. The U.S. President detail template follows the same procedures as the other templates, it just provides some built-in scaffolding to assist students in practicing these two important writing skills.
The time came for my fourth graders to learn how to write a biography. I started to gather materials in the book room of my school. I found a chapter book biography about Abraham Lincoln which was at the reading level of my students.
The book was challenging and enjoyable since they loved reading chapter books. I also ordered some extra books about Abraham Lincoln from the local library. Next, I made my copies and created my daily small reading group plans.
I began this research project by meeting daily with my small reading group and following my district-wide procedures for reading groups with fidelity. I introduced the chapter we were going to read that day. After my students read the chapter, I introduced them to the detail template for the biography of a U.S. President. They reviewed the template and I asked them if we read any information that could be written on the detail template. Then, I gave them a few minutes to work together to record this information onto the detail template. Afterwards, I sent them to their stations. When the extra library books arrived, I sent them to the reading station to familiarize themselves with the topic of Abraham Lincoln on their own.
We continued to meet the following days until our initial small reading group book was read. Each day, they completed some of the template. After each meeting with my group, I sent them to either a reading station or a writing station to do some research on their own about the topic of Abraham Lincoln until the detail template was completed.
Then, I began another book with my small reading group. We met a couple more times to discuss the organization of the students’ biographies. After all the information was gathered on Abraham Lincoln by each student, I reviewed their research for accuracy. Sometimes, this entailed researching in the books myself as I modeled using the index and table of contents to obtain the missing or incorrect information. If I couldn't find the information, I brought in an additional resource that involved a website on the computer to complete the detail template.
After all the information was correctly gathered, I reviewed the template again and instructed the students to initial the back of each box and cut the boxes apart. Each box represented one detail for this report.
This step was where organizing the research of a biography was different than organizing the research of another topic. For the biography, I instructed my students to organize the boxes in one long chronological line or the order of the person's life. Some students grasped this concept very quickly while others were not sure where to begin. For my students that understood this concept, it felt like I turned around, turned back, and they were finished organizing their boxes in one long line. When I reviewed what they had done, it was completely coherent.
For my students that struggled with this concept, we had a brief conversation about their own life. First, they were born and then they got older and attended school, etc. Sometimes I placed the birth date at the beginning and the death at the end of the line. The student had to fill in the middle.
Researching people that are still alive can be confusing when it comes to organizing the information since there is no date of death to frame the report. I recommend starting with a biography of a person that is no longer living for the beginning opportunities of learning how to write a biography.
For the next step, the students decided which details went into a paragraph. I reminded them that they had their boxes in sentence order. Usually, they did sentence order last, but for a biography they did sentence order first. Then, they decided which details formed a paragraph with a main idea. All they had to do was separate some boxes in the line of details.
The students informed me of the main idea in each paragraph before they glued them onto the half sheets of paper. Finally, the paragraphs were already in sentence order if they kept their work organized.
Students wrote their biographies about Abraham Lincoln. Each half sheet of paper was to be one paragraph with a two-finger indent. Each box glued to the paper was to be one sentence in the paragraph. After they finished writing their reports they made a poster for it. Finally, they published it to the class, a friend, or an adult in the building before I hung their biography of Abraham Lincoln in the hallway for everyone to see.
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I am writing this blog to share and inform others about researching in the elementary classroom with The Leveled Research Library !