After the great kick off to our biography unit that Mary Dodson Wade gave us, we looked at several of her biographies along with a handful of others. The students were asked to read and fill in a graphic organizer, also taking note of how the information was presented (one was in verse) and point of view. We then discussed what we wanted to include in our biographies.

It was time for the students to start choosing the person they wanted to research. All of our middle school students are completing this project. The Grades 5 & 6 students were required to choose a person of note from the Revolutionary War. The 7 & 8 students were allowed to choose someone from any time period. I will be focusing on my Grades 5 & 6 students as I discuss this project.

I started out by putting up a list of 20 or so notable people from the revolutionary War. I gave the students a 30 second or less summation of who the person was and what they did. From my brief discussion they were to have a few people in mind they may be interested in.

Next the students scoured their textbooks for information; I wanted them to practice using the index, a skill they all need to improve. Once they read the information in the textbook, they were allowed to explore the Internet. Finally, they were to make a list of the top three people they were interested in researching. I was lucky and most of the students got their first choice. The two who didn’t easily worked out a compromise. I love my class.

The students then went back to their textbooks to fill in the K-W Chart from their Big6™ Research Notebooks. The information in the textbook is sparse for even the most notable characters. The plan was for them then generate questions based on the information provided, hopefully getting at who, what, why, when, where and how. The “What do I want to find out?” part was given as a homework assignment.  It did not go so well. We spent a much larger part of the next day’s lesson going over how to generate questions that will yield relevant answers. I wish I had some before and after examples, but let’s just say they were less than thoughtful. Granted these poor children were in the middle of lunch and afterschool play practices, so I should have thought better of giving them this assignment as homework. Here is an example of “after” questions. This student did a nice job working through many of the five W’s.

Revised Questions

Following the Big6™ research model, we discussed the types of resources they needed to use and where to find them. I wanted them to use a print resource, mostly to practice finding books on the library shelves, as well as websites found through our Follett Webpath Express subscription. The students spent the next two days reading and taking notes from their sources.

Sample Note Sheet