Teaching Fifth Grade Students How to Develop a Biographical Sketch

There are so many different aspects of the writing process that we need to teach students that there hardly seems enough time to do it. That can be said of all the subject areas. Integrating writing and reading with your content areas alleviates some of that stress, and helps to unify the curriculum to create more meaningful experiences. In essence, writing a biographical sketch for the sake of it may not entice any enthusiasm, and they may even question why they are doing it. Here’s how to solve for that.

Teaching Biography Writing

For this purpose I shall relate how I taught biography writing to my fifth graders. Of course, one of the Writer’s Workshop options is to write a biography. That is, research some things about a person of interest and report on it.

To teach them this process, I use the religion textbook, as I teach in a Catholic school, but you can easily substitute a social studies or history textbook. For example, in the religion textbook we use, Saint Pius X was the focus of a particular chapter. One page in their text was devoted to telling about his life.

I started my lesson with “fact finding.” I paired students up and had them read the segment on Pope Pius X. I instructed them to highlight the important details of his life that we might use in a paragraph to tell about him. I gave them ten minutes to do this.

Afterward, I gathered them together as a whole group and asked them to tell me what facts they underlined. I wrote each one on the overhead projector transparency, and had them do the same in their notebooks. After gathering all their facts I starred the most important facts on the list and told them we were going to use the starred facts to write a biographical sketch of Saint Pius X.

I put them to the individual task of writing the biographical sketch, but first emphasized their need to sort the details of his life in order as it occurred. Other than that, they were free to develop this biography using their own wits.

In the end, I had them meet with their peer editors and then I gave each paper a teacher’s edit. At this time I addressed individual issues with grammar, sequence, and general organization.

Their final papers were publish-ready and perfect, as it should be.

Even older elementary students need tons of structure and modeling to create essays, sketches, and other types of writing. They need step-by-step approaches to completing writing assignments. Children in the fifth grade should not be expected to turn out an essay of any worth without these highly valuable first, teacher-guided steps.