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HistoryFix: Beyond the Basic Bibliography Report

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from HistoryFix
Historical Topic: any noteworthy historical figures Students Write: a comparison essay

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Meet the lesson author!

Christy Aker-Minetto has been a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant since 2000. She teaches fifth graders in Reno, Nevada.

Christy keeps a personal portfolio of work here at WritingFix. Check out her other lessons and ideas!

Beyond the Basic Biography Report

This writing across the curriculum lesson was created by Nevada teacher Christy Aker-Minetto.

Christy considers this comparison/contrast writing task to be appropriate for students in grades 3-8.

Lesson Overview:

Objectives/Overview: Students will borrow from the mentor text's format and structure for relating non-fiction information about a noteworthy historical figure. They will make comparisons between themselves and a researched figure. They then will teach their peers about their historical figure through the sharing of their published essay, which can also be turned into a personal book.

Students will demonstrate knowledge of a noteworthy historical figure with writing that is engaging to read and that uses a literature-based framework. Students will acknowledge the contributions of historical significance of said historical figure.

Time Needed: Between four and six 45-minute sessions

Writing skills (traits) to stress while teaching this lesson:

  • Idea Development (writing with a clear, central idea or theme in mind; and putting researched ideas into one’s own words)
  • Voice (conveying passion towards the message of the writing or the topic)
  • Conventions (spelling skills, punctuation skills, capitalization skills, grammar usage and skills, Indenting and spacing)

Materials List:

Background Information:

This lesson may be used with any historical unit of study. Most students have a state standard that requires them to recognize the contributions of a historical figure.

For instance, in Nevada, a fourth grade standard requires identification of the contributions of four inventors (Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, George Washington Carver, and the Wright Brothers.) I teach these inventors imbedded in our science unit of Electricity and Magnetism. I would like students to be able to teach each other about these required historical figures as well as have the option to branch off into key scientists that relate to Electricity and Magnetism, such as Nikola Tesla, Benjamin Franklin, Alessandro Volta, and others.

A Writer's Notebook Page for Pre-Writing:

As part of our "Year of Writer's Notebooks" project, this lesson was revised in 2011 to include a suggestion for a writer's notebook page task for your students.

Some time before introducing the mentor text, have students do a small amount of research on someone famous and historical they're personally interested in. Have them record two-column notes on "Things I Have in Common with the Famous Person" and "Things I don't Have in Common with the Famous Person."

Explain that comparing yourself to famous people--living or dead--is not only a great thinking exercise but it's also a fun way to do research. Suggest students create a writer's notebook page where they compare themselves to a famous person they researched, a person they find very interesting.

Here, our WritingFix webmaster,Corbett Harrison, shares his teacher model of a notebook page he created when teaching Christy's lesson to his own students. He shares it here to encourage you to create your own teacher model to show your students, but he'll understand if you choose to use his instead of making your own. Remember this though: when your students see you write and see that you are participating in the writing process too, they will be more invested in their own writing assignments! Click here for a really large version of the notebook page, which allows you to zoom in on the details or print on a poster-sized page, if you have that ability. Corbett also encourages you to visit his personal webpage where he shares his Mr. Stick materials, which help him decorate his notebook despite the fact that he is artistically challenged!

The page they create in their notebooks could be about the person they ultimately write their essay about, but it might also be practice for the actual person they will research when you follow the teacher instructions below.

Teacher Instructions:

  • Introduce the mentor text once a unit of study has already begun and the students are familiar with the key historical figures of the unit. For instance, I suggest a couple of weeks into a 6 week unit. Read the story, A. Lincoln and Me, to the class first for enjoyment. Then go back and reread to the class as the students take notes as to the historical facts they learn about Abraham Lincoln. Compile class notes on a class graphic organizer. Then go back again and look at the comparisons the boy makes to Lincoln. Once again, compile class notes on the class graphic organizer. Continue to reread the book on various days, or have available for students to look at while researching and writing their own essays.
  • Next, brainstorm the key historical figures in the unit of study. Have students pick a figure to research. (Numerous students may pick the same figure, because the self comparisons will all be different – hence the writing will still be engaging.)
  • Share teacher sample with the class. Explain expectations and traits they are to focus on with the project. You may want to provide with a timeline and due dates, since this may be a self-paced project.
  • Allow time for the students to research the historical figure through classroom, library or computer sources. Encourage students to pick key/interesting items from the historical figure’s past, in which they can make a connection/comparison to. Have students take notes and fill out the essay graphic organizer to help organize the information and comparisons.
  • Students write their own essays using researched non-fiction facts about the historical figure. They take the writing through the writing process. Students will also score their writing on the traits of ideas and content, and voice.
  • Share completed stories with each other to teach their peers about each historical figure.

Scaffolding extensions:

  • Struggling students may need steps 2 and 3 flip-flopped.
  • Younger students may want to work in small groups to produce a group book on one historical figure.

Student Samples:

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Me
by Jafet, third grade writer

Have you ever heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? He was the 32nd President of the United States. Franklin and I are alike and different in many ways.

Franklin and I are alike in some ways. He had a remarkable childhood by having some horseback riding lessons, and I have a remarkable childhood by getting lots of presents on Christmas. Franklin liked to collect stamps, and I also like to collect stamps. Franklin was a very nice person, and I am a very nice person, too. Franklin respected lots of people, and I respect lots of people, too.

Franklin and I are different in many ways. Franklin made lots of models of ships, but I haven’t. Franklin had polio, but I don’t have polio. Franklin was President of the United States, but I am not President of the United States of America...yet. Franklin also lost his father, but I haven’t lost my father.

When I grow up I want to be just like F.D.R., but nobody will be another F.D.R. Just like there will never be another me.

Leonardo da Vinci and Me
by David, third grader

Do you ever wonder if you have something in common with someone famous? You could, and I do. I have some things alike and different with Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo had a huge feast when his nephew got married. I had a huge feast too, when my sister got married. Leonardo did not believe in war. I don’t believe in war, too, like him.

Leonardo da Vinci was a hard working artist. Although I am not an artist, I would like to be a hard-working man. Leonardo was a scientist. Although I am not a scientist, I would like to invent stuff. Leonardo was from Vinci, Italy. I am not from Italy, but I am from America.

You can see Leonardo and I have some things alike and different. I hope this can teach other readers about Leonardo da Vinci.

Steven Spielberg and Me
by Josh, fourth grade writer

Have you ever seen the movie Jaws? If you have, do you know who directed it? It was director and producer Steven Spielberg, who was born in Ohio on December 18, 1946. When I grow up I want to be an actor or director like him. Maybe I could be in one of his movies. My whole family watches his movies.

When he was young, he moved to Arizona. He spent most of his childhood there. I have never been to Arizona, but it would really fun to go there. When he was a child, he liked to scare people. I sometimes scare my sisters. He also liked to mess around with his dad’s movie camera. I sometimes take random pictures and videos like he did.

Later he moved to Saratoga, California. I have never heard that place even exists. While he was there, he applied for a film school. Unluckily, they turned him down. I think a film school would be awesome to go to, I have never been to one. Steven Spielberg applied to Long Beach University and got in. The university is right next to Universal Studios. I have never been there, but it looks like fun. There Spielberg made a television film that he showed them, and they liked it. It was called Duel. In fact, they liked it so much they gave him the opportunity to film for the cinema.

After that he made Jaws. I have seen parts of Jaws and it is really good. Then he made Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Schindler’s List and that movie won him the award for Best Director. Later in 1994 he made a new studio called Dreamworks. Before I studied him, I had never heard of Schindler’s List or Dreamworks.

Steven was married twice. His first wife’s name was Amy Irving. She is an actress. His second wife’s name is Kate Capshaw. He has five children and two step-children. I have never heard of Amy, but I saw Kate in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

I hope you learned something new. I sure did.

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Recipient of the NNWP's
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