This project is a great way to have students present biographical research in a fun, creative way that discourages plagiarism. This project easily works across the curriculum through choice of the research subject: musicians, artists, scientists, explorers, authors, etc. Students can hand write their finished riddle on the template, or they can type it. At the bottom of their page, I had my students center the answer to the riddle. We cut out rectangular pieces of construction paper large enough to cover the answer and taped them on one side to create a “lift the flap” feature. When the riddles are displayed, people can read the riddle, then lift the flap to see the correct answer. It would also be fun to display the riddles and have a contest to see if students can correctly identify the person described. Answers could be revealed at the end of the contest. The idea for this project came from an NCTE publication called Ideas Plus , Book 17, p. 40-41, submitted by Christine Christensen.
This fall, a teacher in my building came to enlist my help in having her 2nd grade students create a Reading Rainbow style book review video. She assigned partners for the project and had each group choose and read a book to review. When the students came to me, I showed them some video excerpts of Reading Rainbow book reviews, and we discussed what made the reviews good (showing the cover of the book, telling enough about the book to make the reader interested but not giving away the ending, telling the title of the book, making eye contact with the camera, speaking loudly and clearly). Next, I gave three sample book reviews to the students that I had prepared ahead of time. On the first two, I made a variety of mistakes and had the students point them out. On the third one, I followed all the guidelines we'd discussed after watching the video.
Next, I handed out the book review script. We discussed how to organize the book review with a beginning, middle and end. Students spent 2 class periods writing their scripts, which they rehearsed and then videotaped. One note: if you plan to post any of the videos on the Web, don't have students tell their first and last names during the book review like they do on Reading Rainbow.
Book Review Script
When a 5th grade language arts teacher asked me to work on genres with the 5th graders, I began searching for some fun activities. We started off by naming and defining the major genres and giving specific examples that 5th graders would be familiar with (for example, Harry Potter or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for fantasy). I found a wonderful list of genre definitions and a matching exercise from the professional publication Library Sparks that gives excerpts from books and asks students to identify the correct genre.
To extend the lesson, I then asked students to think of at least 2 books they'd read recently that they would recommend to other 5th graders. I had them use the OPAC or go to the book to provide some basic bibliographic information and fill in a brief recommendation form. I then set out genre posters I made using large 11 x 17 pieces of construction paper. I made a label for each genre poster using word art and glued it to the top of the page. Once students had filled out their recommendation forms, they glued them to the appropriate genre poster. We displayed the posters in the library for students to refer to when they came in to check out books.
Genres (Kellner) Library Sparks , Feb. 2005, p. 40-46.
Book Recommendation Poster
Genre headings for poster
Recommendation slips (cut apart)
Imagine that a wealthy organization is planning to fund the building of a monument or memorial to honor a person who has made the world a better place. You want to submit a proposal in hopes your ideas will be made into a real monument! Your task is to design a monument or memorial to represent the contributions made to society by a hero of your choice. You will create a model of your monument and write about why your chosen person deserves to be honored.
I have used this project with 5th and 6th graders and have been very impressed with students' creativity. I've had students design a playground, a baseball stadium, a track and field stadium, a basketball court, a quilt, a sculpture, a museum, a movie theater, and a stained glass window, among other things. I love this project because it requires students to do in-depth biographical research rather than just a superficial look. I also love that the critical thinking and creative aspects make this assignment plagiarism-proof.
The first time I did this project, it was in collaboration with a 5th grade teacher who wanted students to do some biographical research on African Americans as part of Black History Month studies. Obviously the teacher has the freedom to ask students to choose a subject following certain guidelines (women, inventors, musicians, artists, etc.) or let the students choose whomever they're interested in.
Most recently I've done this project as part of a 6th grade reading class biography unit. The class reads and studies a biography together, then branches off into their own research with this project.
Biographies we've used for class study are:
- Lincoln : a Photobiography by Russell Freedman (Newbery Medal winner)
- Genius: a Photobiography of Albert Einstein by Marfe Ferguson Delano (starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist, and part of a wonderful series of children's biographies published by National Geographic)
- 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg and Lorraine Roscoe (a wonderful collective biography)
I like studying a biography together as a class before initiating this research. One reason is that as we read and study together, I'm able to model reading strategies for biographies. We also practice the kinds of critical thinking skills students will need to complete the project.
After students choose their research subject, I require them all to locate and read a book about their person. I let them know that the kind of research needed for this project will require the in-depth information that a book gives that can't be found in an encyclopedia or most Web sites. Although an encyclopedia article gives them a good overview of the person's life and Web sites can be useful for providing additional information, the most recent information, and photo sources, the bulk of their research will come from settling down with a good book on the person's life.
Project Overview PowerPoint -- I show this to students
before they've chosen their research subject so they
understand what is expected from them. (If you email
me, I'd be happy to reply and send the PowerPoint
as an attachment.
Class discussion -- Ask students what monuments or memorials they've seen in person or in photos, on TV, etc. What is the purpose of a monument? Why are they built? Why do people visit them? Why do people put up headstones in a cemetery?
Reading Rainbow DVD – The Wall. I show just the section that interviews the architect who created the Vietnam Memorial. It talks about the creation of the memorial, the materials used, and the symbols.
Local Field Trip -- If possible, visit local monuments, memorials, and murals.
Virtual Field Trip -- Assign students a monument or memorial to research and then have them present the information to the class.
Student handouts & grading rubrics:
Assignments and points -- Lists all assignments and their point values.
Student directions -- Explains written description and visual model. Includes grading rubrics
In search of a hero – This is where students take notes on facts about the person's life. Available also in rich text format as a template for students to download and type in their text.
In search of a hero grading rubric
Bib sheets – Helps students collect bibliographic information.
Web – Helps students plan important facts and how they will be shown on the monument. I enlarge it on a photocopier to fit on 11 x 17 paper. ( It works well to do a sample one together.)
Teacher examples -- The first page leaves "room for improvement," and the second page does a good job with the written description. We brainstorm ways I could take the graphics and ideas described and create a model of the monument.
Parts of a Book / Textbook
I came up with this activity when a fourth grade teacher commented that students may understand how to use a book's table of contents, index, and glossary, but they don't know when to use each feature based on an information need. In response, I got my hands on the fourth grade science textbook and came up with an activity that would allow students hands-on practice with this skills. I created four sets of the activity with different questions (this encourages independent work and discourages cheating), but they all cover the same skills. Our school uses the xxx textbook name, but you could easily adapt the questions to your school's text. This is sooo much better than the boring skills worksheets I used to use.
Parts of a book activity sheet -- Set 1
Parts of a book activity sheet -- Set 2
Parts of a book activity sheet -- Set 3
Parts of a book activity sheet -- Set 4
This would be a wonderful collaborative project between the art teacher and librarian. Students choose a famous piece of art they'd like to have in their personal collection and describe and analyze it, telling about the artist, style, why they chose it, and where they would display it. Technology skills play a part when students are asked to either scan in a photo of the artwork from a book or download a photo from the Web. We had lots of discussions about why you often can't enlarge a photo from the Web too much, and how to pull from the corners, not the sides, to avoid distorting the image. I used this as an enrichment project at the end of reading the art mystery Chasing Vermeer , but it could easily be used as a stand-alone project.
My Personal Art Gallery Project – resource links http://www.usd376.com/hs/staff/brownleea/vermeer/index.htm#gallery
Personal Art Gallery student page
Students research any topic and present their findings in postcard format through writing and drawing. This is a great tool for teaching kids to use the free online tools we get through Kan-Ed like World Book Online and SIRS. I had kids write their sentences on the left side, address on the right side, and draw and color a picture in the box at the bottom.
Propaganda Techniques / TV Commercial
I came up with this project to teach propaganda techniques to my 6 th grade reading class in preparation for the state reading assessment. We defined some specific propaganda techniques and discussed TV commercials we had seen that illustrated the techniques. We also spent part of a class period looking at magazine advertisements and identifying propaganda techniques. After taking a quiz asking students to identify the techniques, our culminating project was for students to work in partners to create a new cereal, define a target audience, and create a TV commercial incorporating at least three propaganda techniques. We videotaped the commercials and then used them to teach propaganda to other 6th graders. This was lots of fun!
Advertising Techniques Quiz
Cereal Box Advertising
This is another creative biography project that would work for any curricular area. After researching a famous person, students design a proposal for a postage stamp in that person's honor. They create artwork for the stamp and write a persuasive piece explaining why that person deserves to be honored with a stamp.
We used this activity to celebrate Women's History Month and asked students to choose a woman to research. We invited our local postmaster to be a guest speaker and talk about the process a proposal goes through to become a real stamp. She also brought some neat examples from her personal stamp collection as well as some posters we got to keep for the library. We had our postmaster “judge” the proposals and choose one to become a stamp. For a prize for first place, we scanned the student's artwork and used an online service that turns photos and artwork into a sheet of actual postage stamps. We carefully explained that the student's stamps would not be available for purchase at the post office, but that the stamps we purchased could be used to mail an actual letter.
Stamp Persuasive Writing
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