Genre Studies Series: Part 5 {Biographies}

Other Posts in This Series:

While we're learning about non-fiction texts, we delve right into biographies after informational.  Because it's another non-fiction study, it looks very similar to the informational study, in that, I let my students' interests drive their reading.

To begin this unit, I ask students a question - "How does a person become famous?"  or "What makes someone famous?"

They have lots of ideas!  Again, I give them a post-it and they write their answer on this.  I collect them and share them aloud as we sort them onto chart paper.  At the end, we have an Affinity Diagram of reasons why people are famous.

You can see from this chart, that most students think are thinking of athletes or musicians as famous people.  We talk about people we know from each section of this chart.  Then, I introduce "forever famous" vs. "famous right now" to students.  I explain that some people are forever famous because they did something that changed how people live - affected lives so greatly that they are forever famous (inventing light bulbs, helping to end segregation, etc).  While, others, (and I may throw out a musician I loved as a child) are just "right now famous" - I ask students if they've ever heard of that person or can sing any of their songs.  Why or why not?  They catch on pretty quickly!

Then I tell students that we are going to learn about some forever famous people.  Often times, they're not very familiar with most of them, so I'll set out books and give them time to roam the room and browse.

Soon, I'll ask them to write down 3 forever famous people they would like to know more about.  Again, I'll go through my books and books from the library to find and assign books on appropriate levels for each of my students.

Just like with our informational unit, students will be reading and learning on their own independent levels during this unit.  I will pull small groups to work on certain skills or to provide assistance.  We still focus on text features a lot - especially a new one for this unit...timelines!

After reading, learning, taking notes, and becoming experts on their person, we will dive into our Bio-Buddies projects.

Students will create a replica of their famous person in which the shirt opens up to reveal an Important Poem, a timeline, and a report.  I have students write the reports in first person - as if they are the person telling about their lives. 

I do this because these bio-buddies will be used during the celebration of this unit - our Living Museum!

At the end of the unit, we invite families, other classes, administration...anyone that will our classroom to tour our museum.  Students will come to school on that day dressed as their famous person.

Students are assigned a spot to stand (spread out around the classroom and in the hall).  Many of them even strike a pose to represent their famous namesake!  But, they are statues in a museum.

As you can see, they are wearing buttons that I created that say "Press Me."  As visitors tour our museum, they will press these buttons to bring to life any statue that looks interesting.  Once the button is pressed, students come to life and teach the visitor how he/she became famous and what it's important to know about him/her.  Then, they resume statue pose.

This picture shows Betsy Ross coming to life to teach our principal about herself.  Students eat. it. up.  Especially if we have a 5th grade class come to visit.  They LOVE teaching the big kids a thing or two. :)

End of unit celebrations are so important!  Not only do they give students an authentic purpose for their learning, but they let families (including grandparents <3) get a glimpse of our classroom and what happens in it on a daily basis.

If you have questions about our biography unit, feel free to leave them below!  At the end of my genre series, I'll have one last FAQ post to answer any remaining questions about teaching reading through genre studies!

Here are some resources that I created to use during this unit:

This unit has everything I use to create (and grade) the Bio-Buddies Projects, as well as some Timeline practice, Living Museum resources, and more!


  1. How fun! Do you allow students to choose the same forever famous person? I'm guessing not - probably the reason for the three choices written on the sticky note.
    Can't wait for the next installment of this series. I'm hooked and know the kids will be too!

  2. So much fun! Any chance you'll put all of your genre studies into daily lesson plans?

  3. I would love to have lesson plans included with the genre studies too!!!

  4. This looks so fun! I love the way you explain "forever famous" and "famous right now." That would really help the kiddos understand. Thanks so much for this series of posts! I think I've pinned them all! Ha!

    Teaching Little Miracles

  5. I am anxiously awaiting for your next blog :) wonder what will be next???

  6. vMy gratitude to the author of this blog. I'm very happy that i found this site with a lot of interesting and creative ideas. I'm a teacher and i know how it's important to interest my students. No doubt that writing an essay is boring but with it's much easier. As a result we have more free time for this perfect idea with the famous people. Hope my students and their parents will be satisfied with this event.

  7. Do you incorporate autobiographies & memoirs with this as well? In my district we have to hit all 3 aspects.


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