Biographies are many students’ first glimpse at history. It is one of my favorite units to teach every year. It is a great opportunity for students to read, research, use technology, and write!
If you’re teaching students to write biography reports this year, then check out how I like to break it down!
Brainstorming who to have your students learn about? Grab your copy of my Great Big List of Famous people to help you get started!
Breaking Down Writing a Biography Report (Grades 2-5)
Writing these types of reports are part of the Common Core writing standards for Grades 2-5. There are several steps to take as you teach your students to write a biography report.
The first step ALWAYS: Introduce Biographies
Before I even begin to teach my students how to write a biography, I like to read them several from our school library.
For younger grades:
- Have several biographies in the classroom and give students time to explore the books. Then discuss, what did you notice about all these books? How are they the same? How are they different?
- Discuss genre and introduce biographies.
- Then, I would read them biographies about many different people.
For older students:
- Make a class anchor chart discussing what you already know about biographies. Look for gaps in understanding, and make sure students know the main characteristics in a biography.
- Then, read them several different biographies about the same person with a focus on the different information each biography shared, as well as what information was the same. Did all of the biographies have the characteristics we listed on our anchor chart?
This type of introductory lesson allows them to hear how biographies are written and to notice similarities across the various texts.
It is important to make note of the characteristics that biographies have so when students write their own, they already have an understanding of how they are written!
Once they have been exposed to biographies, we can begin to learn about writing them.
Discuss Text Structure
Depending on the grade you teach, you may not necessarily call it “text structure” but it is important for students to understand that most biographies are written in a chronological/sequential way.
Since we are writing about someone’s life, it wouldn’t make sense for the report to be out of order. While we go over this, I like to create a timeline with my students.
If you are using my biography writing units, I recommend:
- Using the mentor text to create a timeline of the subject’s life. You can do this on the board or on chart paper.
- Use the research text to create a timeline of the subject’s life (this is the person the students will write about, and a text is included in the units). For older students, you may choose to have them fill out the timeline on their own.
Writing an Engaging Introduction for the Biography Report
At the beginning of the report, students should write an engaging introduction that includes one (or both) of two main components.
The introduction should:
- Introduce the subject with their full name and birth information or
- Briefly preview what they are most famous for
Practice writing a variety of introductions and have students choose the one they like the best. (Model some poorly written introductions as well, and discuss why those are not a good fit!)
Crafting the Body Paragraphs
When teaching your students to write biography reports, it is important to explain to them what the body paragraphs should include.
The body paragraphs should include the major events in the person’s life. Read over the body paragraphs from your mentor text and discuss what was included and what was not included. What was included in the timeline you created? What did you leave out?
You can make a T chart with your students and discuss what are major events in your own life, and what are not.
Writing a Conclusion for the Biography Report
Most conclusions in a biography end with the person’s death.
While this can be noted, it’s important for students to understand that they shouldn’t just end their report with “and then they died in 1894”. It is more important for them to end their report with the legacy of the person.
To help students understand what a person’s legacy means:
- Review and write legacies of other famous individuals from biographies you have read your class.
- Ask them what their person is most known for (and review their introduction).
- Ask them how this person has impacted other people.
If you are looking for resources for teaching your students to write a biography report, check out my writing units.
These units also include a digital option so you can teach the whole unit virtually if necessary!
Preview the Google Slides version of the resource here:
Get resources for teaching your students to write a biography report here.