For this immersive genre study, third graders explored the craft and process of award-winning picture book biographies with a focus on character, context, theme, and backmatter. Their investigation included an in-depth look at four titles by Bryant and Sweet.
There are so many reasons I love this project!
—It gives teachers an innovative, engaging way to delve into nonfiction during their narrative writing unit. Currently, the curriculum in many schools calls for students to write personal narratives, an activity that many children dislike.
—Picture book biographies celebrate the lives and accomplishments of a diverse array of people. They also offer tie-ins to content area curriculum by serving as portals to the past and/or authentically modeling the process of doing science.
—Students have an opportunity to learn about members of their community and develop interview skills, which will serve them well in the future.
—Students learn that writing high-quality nonfiction is about much more than cobbling together facts they’ve plucked from books or encyclopedic databases. Research is a treasure hunt that can and should involve many different ways of gathering ideas and information. At its best, it’s a creative, self-driven process.
—The instruction in this unit focuses on “mentor processes” in addition to mentor texts. As a result, students get a sneak peek at the creators’ pre-writing activities. They also come to understand that a biographer’s selection of key moments to include in the narrative are influenced by his/her own personality, passions, beliefs, and view of the world.
I’d love to see more meaty, in-depth learning experiences like this one as part of the curriculum in schools all across the country.
Dawes, Erika Thulin, et al. (2019). Portraits of perseverance: Creating picturebook biographies with third graders. Language Arts, 96: 3, 153-166.