5 Ways to Teach Biographies in Middle and High School

Hi there-- The SuperHERO Teacher here to talk about biographies! Finding unique, innovative ways to teach informational text can be challenging, especially when you want to keep students engaged while simultaneously strengthening their reading, writing, and annotating skills. Below, I’ll share 5 activities or tips to teach nonfiction, specifically using biographies.

Engage students with art or visuals
Before introducing a piece of nonfiction text to your students, try showing a picture of the person or a piece of art related to them. This gives students a visual as they are reading through the biography. For your more visual learners, this will help them make connections to the text. If you’re doing a larger unit on biographies, hanging posters, art or photography around the classroom will set the mood for the unit. Here’s an example:

Use creative alternatives to research projects
Who says research PROJECTS have to be Times New Roman and double spaced? Instead of an essay, turn it into a project where students have to develop a scene that depicts the person they are reading about while simultaneously sharing factual information about them. Here are some examples:
  • Have students develop a social media platform for their assigned person (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc)
  • Biography in documentary film style
  • Record a movie trailer of their life
  • Host a gallery walk by turning your classroom into a museum of art either created by or about each person
  • Assign a variety of projects (group and individual) using my Inspirational Women, Men and Non-Binary Biography Journal
Include current biographies
Historical figures are important to include, but so are modern day biographies that students can personally relate to! For example, include a biography about Beyonce or Taylor Swift so students are already familiar with the person, but are now diving deeper into their life to see where their success came from-- struggles and all.
Have students write an autobiography
Now it’s time to flip the script! After reading and researching about other famous, inspirational figures, have students write an autobiography where they share their story. Now that they’ve seen several examples of what a biography looks like and the research it entails, they can begin brainstorming and drafting their own. It’s a perfect opportunity to strengthen reading AND writing skills. 
Practice annotation skills in a group setting (FREEBIE)
Text annotation can be a relatively dry process in my opinion. However, when students are working together and sharing their findings, it develops a level of engagement that didn’t exist before. Using the free annotation guide I provided, assign each person in the group a different person’s biography. After completing the annotation and comprehension questions, they can share their answers with their group members. This gives students the opportunity to learn about other important bios than the one they are researching, too! 

Check out these awesome resources from members of The Secondary English Coffee Shop:
Thanks for reading!

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