How to Write a Biography: Upper Elementary to Middle School

Writing a biography can be a daunting task. When students hear the assignment of writing a biography, they may have thoughts of long, boring essays or a tedious 10-page book report. There are various ways to tackle writing a biography, and they can even be fun in the process! Let’s look at some less intimidating ways to get your kiddos to write a biography, whether in elementary or middle school.

Step 1: Read a Biography

The first step for students before writing a biography is to read one. They need to see a real-life example before tackling their own biography assignment. Elementary students can read biography picture books or Who Was? biography novels. Biography picture books are especially interesting to students as the splendid pictures bring the person to life. 

Here are some picture books we recommend for younger students: 

I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer

The Girl who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne

Upper elementary students love the Who Was? novel series. These books are more challenging, contain some pictures, and are age-appropriate. We recommend:

Who Was? Anne Frank by Anne Abramson

Who Were? The Tuskegee Airmen by Sherri L. Smith

Who Was? Selena by Max Bisantz

Middle school-aged students can read a variety of biographies from sixth graders reading Who Was? to advanced readers conquering even adult biographies. Some biographies or autobiographies my middle school students have read and loved are: 

I Am Malala by Malala Youfsazai

Gifted Hands The Ben Carson Story by Gregg Lewis

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

Step 2: Research a Person

Once students have read a biography to gain an understanding of what one looks like and how it is organized, as well as more about the person they are learning about, they can complete research from the biography or autobiography. A simple graphic organizer to help students organize crucial information would suffice. Important information that the student should gather from their book includes: 

  • Birthdate and Birthplace
  • Death Date and Place If Deceased
  • Childhood/Family
  • Education
  • Adult Family
  • Major Accomplishments
  • Major Obstacles
  • Fun Facts
  • Lessons we can learn from this person’s life

Step 3: How to Write a Biography Tips

As a teacher, you can provide choices for students or provide a project students can tackle. Some biography projects require students to write a biography in a different format than a typical essay.

Paper Bag Biography

For elementary grades, a paper bag biography book report is an interesting way to create a biography. Once students have read their biography or autobiography, they color the front of the paper bag with a picture of the person as well as display the person’s name. On the back of the paper bag is written the major accomplishments, obstacles, and a lesson learned from this person’s life.

On one side of the bag is written fun facts and on the other side is written basic information such as birthdate, birthplace, family, death date, etc. Inside the paper bag, students place varying objects that symbolize the life of the person and explain or write about them. 

Cereal Box Biography

This same concept can be completed with a cereal box. Students would utilize construction paper and glue over the cereal box instead. They can create a cute name for their cereal that coincides with the person they’re learning about as well. For instance, a biography about Sugar Ray Leonard, a professional boxer, could become Sugar Rays on a cereal box biography report. 

Pizza Box Biography

Speaking of food, a pizza box biography report is something I have utilized for years in the classroom. It combines creativity, art, and writing to display a biography. A simple Google search can give you tons of templates, instructions, and student sample pictures to choose from. I’m not certain of the original creator of this project, but it is amazing!

Students decorate the outside and inside cover of a pizza box with pictures and facts of their person. Next, they create a pizza out of construction paper and each slice displays important information. They can use their creativity to decorate each slice with toppings. Some students create a flap that goes over their slice of information and on the flap are toppings they’ve drawn such as mushrooms, pepperoni, and peppers. I am always impressed with how students use their creativity to design elaborate pizzas!

Here is the link to a FREE pizza box biography book report guideline I have used for years. 

*Disclaimer: It is a compilation of information gathered from other reports found online. It is not my intellectual property.*

MLA Biography Essay

I have used the pizza box biography report for sixth graders, but as students move into seventh and eighth grade, there is a huge focus on learning to write an MLA essay. Because of this, I require students to write a biography essay or book report. Using a detailed template, students write their biographies. Each paragraph is thoroughly explained and chunked to display the life of the person they’re investigating. Here is a simple template of how I have seventh-grade students organize their biography essays: 

1st paragraph contains: Title of your biography and the author’s name. The book is a biography of __________, who was born on (Date) ______________ in (Birthplace) ____________________. Why did you choose to read this book? Write a brief summary of their well-known accomplishments.

2nd, 3rd, 4th Paragraph contains: A summary of their life. Make sure their life is in sequence. Tell of major life accomplishments, major disappointments, and major obstacles they faced. Tell of their childhood, adulthood, etc.

5th Paragraph contains: What is the most interesting fact about this person? Explain why. How would you describe this person? If you could meet your person, what questions would you ask him or her? Why? Would you recommend this biography to a friend? Why or why not?

6th Paragraph: Conclusion paragraph. What are the major life lessons a reader can learn from this person’s life? 

Step 4: Publish through Technology

Students can create biography presentations by using Google Slides, all the while utilizing pictures, quotes, and thematic decor to make their project come to life. Slidesgo.com is an amazing template resource in which students can make their presentations fit a theme, and be a bit more aesthetically pleasing and be exciting. 

Furthermore, Canva has a plethora of resources students can use to create biographies, from a standard presentation to infographics to creating a eBook. Canva is an awesome resource. It contains varying fonts, pre-loaded graphics, and the ability to upload pictures online. Canva has become a favorite tool of our students here lately!

Conclusion

Writing a biography can be challenging, but in a great way! By reading biographies such as picture books to novels, this readily prepares students to conquer biography writing. By presenting options such as craftivities or a detailed template for an essay, students can feel interested and ready to tackle the world of biographies.

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