Two second grade girls were headed toward me in our mostly quiet library. It was Friday morning and Fridays are generally a bit slower than the other days of the week. I was sitting behind a shelf on the floor scanning the last of the 920s into my inventory of the 900s I had been working on. As they approached I heard these declarations: “I want to find a biography book!” and “Me too!”
My students were on the opposite side of our biography shelf so I called over, “There’s more on this side too!”
The first student made her way around the corner of the shelf and exclaimed to her friend, “Yes! There’s more on THIS side!!!”
There is not usually such about the biography genre. Usually there are a few standouts of popularity in figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, and Abraham Lincoln. And there are a few crazed student fans who are desperate for “the singer” books. Not Ella Fitzgerald… but the Bieb.
However, I recently co-taught a biography introduction lesson with a second grade teacher and now these books are HOT! My pair of biography adventurers were exploring one shelf and I heard, “Sasha and Malia Obama. Oh! That’s Mrs. Obama’s daughters!!” (Which cracks me up because their reference falls right in line with polling results. Mrs. Obama is generally more popular than her President husband.)
When my friend and I planned the lesson we decided to (shhhh, don’t tell) “wing it.”
We scheduled the lesson on my calendar for the following day. I considered trying to prep a notetaking page or looking for one, but I didn’t. We were both comfortable just seeing where a basic exploration would go.
Our lesson was simple. We wanted to explore several print biography examples and biographies on PebbleGo and discuss what text features standout in biographies. Are there nonfiction text features that are the same as in other nonfiction books? Are there text features that are different? Which text features should we pay special attention to as they are characteristic of the biography genre. I was aiming particularly at several objectives. I wanted to students to understand that the illustrations in these books are either a collection of primary sources or an artist’s rendering of the person’s life based on research. They’re a little young for primary sources, but they can recognize the differences between an illustrator’s artwork and paintings, newspapers, photographs, and documents. I also wanted students to see examples of timelines because they are quite common in biographies and are one of the significant text features of the genre. Along with these nonfiction text features I wanted students to understand that biographies aren’t just organized by topics determined by the author the way a book about giraffes might be, but organized chronologically. Again, the term wasn’t as important as understanding that a book would be organized in order from youngest to oldest, birth to death, education to work, etc.
During the lesson we worked our way through a few simple biographies. I can’t tell you how much I love Pebble Plus books, especially in this genre. Have you ever opened one and really paid attention?
There is a timeline at the bottom of the pages. It begins with one event (a person’s birth) and on each subsequent page the timeline is lengthened. When the text reaches a new significant event then a new entry is added to the timeline. The timeline grows as the pages of the book are turned. Just another reason for my heart to go pitter-patter over Capstone products. Boy do they think about the fine details that are so important!
I used the document camera to flip through the books and we were observers searching for text features. As students noticed each one that was familiar, or as we reached ones that are significant to biographies, their teacher kept track on chart paper. It was lovely teamwork as we guided the discussion.
We compared this version of the glossary to one of print texts. Our copy of Justin Bieber, also from Capstone, has the glossary running along the bottom of each page with bold-print words. Another biography had the words in the back.
I also pointed out how the headings are featured on each tab. We examined the timelines and how the information is organized in order from their early life to the end of their life.
Finally, we took a tour of our biography shelves and pointed out how it is in alphabetical order and where some of the more popular figures reside.
Which led to today’s excitement about finding the wealth of biographies that were available for checkout. I love that we let it happen organically. I did ask if we wanted to give the students a checkout opportunity after our lesson, but the students visit the library at least 3 times a week and have plenty of opportunity. I’m so glad we let the students choose because it gave them such a thrill to be coming to the shelves on their own a day later.