How to Write a Biography

It’s Women’s History Month, and primo biography writing season.

Which leads me to my next point: writing a biography is HARD!

Find the Things the Matter (1)It can be mind numbingly challenging for teachers and parents to get a child to research and compile all the information needed to write a decent biography.

However, if you break it down into smaller chunks, the research and writing phase can be easier. Not easy, just somewhat less like pulling teeth.

First, focus.

Use a chart or graph to help you organize your information. I use the Note Taking Research Bundle in my TeachersPayTeachers store. It really helps me, and my students, to focus on what matters: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

This is the story of someone’s life, and that life is/was important. So make sure you are using good sources and research techniques. My favorite mantra during research projects is “Trust, but verify.” Kids, and adults, should always seek out corroboration of their information from several sources before finalizing their presentations or papers.

Put it in order

After the information is collected and written down, it’s time to organize it clearly. Since biographies follow someone through his/her whole life, the final project should be in chronological order (birth to death or most recent activity).

Jesse OwensMy favorite way to do this is with index cards. I write one important event or detail on each card. Each event should be connected to a year, or more specific date if available. Then, it’s simple: just physically lay the cards down in order from first to last. Once everything is accounted for, just pick up the cards and create a stack.

When the student (or you) are writing your paper or making your presentation, the hard work is done. Copy or type the information on the card. Remember to always write the final presentation in complete sentences and paragraphs!

As a bonus, if your class is doing presentations, they each now have cue cards to help them as they speak.

Fit in other details

Sometimes, there are super important things about a person that just don’t have a date. For a lot of our Black History Month biographies, there were intangibles that helped to shape them as people: family, community, school, faith. These should absolutely be included in the finished biography.

Fit these details in where they makes the most sense. I tend to put information about family into the early part of a biography, usually around the part when the subject is born or is a child. School, usually college or university, should come before the major events of young adulthood. Community and/or faith should be mentioned where it enters the picture.

Polish it up

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 5.27.15 PMBefore your students submit their finished work, get them to add their finishing touches: pictures of the subject, illustrations, and a bibliography.

Check out my TeachersPayTeachers store for biography writing printables!


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