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What your students can learn from biographies

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24, 2015 17:30 PM

The Common Core State Standards ask students at every grade level to read a "range of texts," including everything from fictional stories and poems to plays and informational texts. While English/language arts teachers have been using literature, poetry and drama in their classrooms for decades, informational texts may not have been quite as prevalent in ELA lessons until now. So what exactly does the Common Core want teachers to use? Well, biographies are one type of informational text suggested by the CCSS. Biographies are great to incorporate into ELA curricula for a number of reasons, including these:

They allow students to engage in the structure of informational reading
Though biographies typically have a narrative format, meaning they're written in the form of a story rather than as a list of facts you may see in a textbook, they also often contain a lot of elements of other informational reads. In this way, they're a good transition from fiction to nonfiction. Students can read the book as a story, while also learning to understand and make use of things like glossaries, indexes, charts, graphs and maps. This will come in handy as they progress into middle and high school and learn to navigate more complicated texts, like scientific studies or technical papers. 

They teach historical events in sequence
Beginning in second grade, according to a Common Core reading Standard, students should be able to "describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text." Biographies are the perfect tool for allowing students to understand how historical events connect to each other, and how one seemingly small event can be the impetus of something huge. A biography about Rosa Parks, for instance, may help students see how her renowned act on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, was one of the many events that led to a full-out Civil Rights Movement.

They're engaging because they're real
Though there are many students who truly enjoy reading fictional books, some students can find them difficult to relate to - historically this is especially true for boys. Biographies, on the other hand, are all about real-life events that have had some effect on the students' own lives. In that way, students can sometimes engage with biographies a little bit better than they could literature or dramas. Biographies can also be useful as a supplement to a piece of literature you're currently reading - perhaps reading a biography about William Shakespeare would help students better understand or enjoy one of his works.