Teaching Biographies: Activities and Ideas

Teaching with Biographies and Ben Franklin

With all of the fabulous biographies available today for children, teaching about and with biographies can be such fun for your students. It hasn't always been this way. When I was a little girl (many, many years ago...) I remember biographies being boring, fact-filled chapter books. They were definitely not the books that I chose when I went to the library. The only biographies I remember reading were those assigned to me by my teachers. Today's biographies for children are very different. Biographies for children are now colorful picture books full of interesting information that grab the reader's attention and are enjoyable to read. 

I recently gathered a variety of biographies for my students on Benjamin Franklin. My school library has several wonderful biographies about Mr. Franklin. We combined learning about the characteristics of biographies with learning more about this U.S. founding father. 

Some great biographies about Benjamin Franklin include: Ben Franklin His Wit and Wisdom by Alan Schroeder

Who Was Ben Franklin? by Dennis Fradin

Now and Ben by Gene Barretta

Although all of these books are excellent, I chose to begin by using How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer.

Before we read this book, I had the students to do a variation of an ABC brainstorm activity. With ABC brainstorm, students write what they know about a given topic using each letter of the alphabet. Instead of ABC's, we did a BEN brainstorm. Students wrote one fact about Ben Franklin with each of the 3 letters: "B", "E", and "N". (3 facts are much faster to write than 26.) I discovered that many of my students knew very little of Ben Franklin or thought he was one of our presidents. After we discussed our prior knowledge, we then discussed characteristics of biographies. My sweet teacher friend next door has this adorable biography anchor chart that she let me share.

 After reviewing the characteristics of a biography, we read and discussed How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning. My students really enjoyed this colorful and interesting biography. 

Next, students used their Chromebooks to read an online book about Ben Franklin. This book is actually part of a paid website that my school system has purchased called myOn. It was a fun graphic biography that my students enjoyed, but if you do not have access to this website, another great choice is this page from Mr. Nussbaum. 

The students then used the information they learned from both resources to complete a graphic organizer. This biography graphic organizer can be found in my store in a packet containing four graphic organizers for your students to use as templates as they research and write about a person. Choose the graphic organizer that is perfect for your whole class, assign different graphic organizers for different groups of students, or choose specific organizers to differentiate the needs of your students. Use the graphic organizer alone, or as a writing template for the writing page essay paper. A grading rubric is also included if you choose to use this as an assessment. Click here or the picture below to purchase.

Finally, we watched a 90 second video that recapped the information we had learned about Benjamin Franklin. This short video can be found here. If you are looking for a fun lesson to use with biographies, I hope you may want to try these activities out with your students. I know my kiddos had a lot of fun and learned a lot about Benjamin Franklin and biographies.

Have a blessed day!

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