Tag Archives: biographies

Remembering the Ladies

12 Feb

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About 10 years ago, Cokie Roberts published Founding Mothers: the Women Who Raised Our Nation.  She followed it in 2008 with Ladies of Liberty: the Women Who Shaped Our Nation.

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Last year, she published a children;s version of these two books,  Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies. I picked this up to beef up our biography unit and I am using it today to talk about introductory paragraphs and opening sentences.

The book contains 12 biographies, each of which is a two-page spread. That means 12 opening sentences. I tell the kids, I don’t want 23 boring openings or 23 openings that are exactly the same. I want 23 openings that make me want to keep reading, especially if yours is the 23rd biography I pick up. And Cokie’s book lets me show how one writer can do that. certainly, some are more remarkable than others, but none of them are boring. This one is my favorite:

At the time of the American Revolution, of course there were no radios, televisions, or computers. So politicians depended upon newspapers and pamphlets to spread the message. One of the most important writers arguing for independence from Britain was Mercy Otis Warren.

The kids are in various stages of writing and researching. This is never a clean and neat progression of tasks. But I hope, wherever they are int he process, this mini-lesson will stick.

To Dare Mighty Things

12 Feb

Our 4th graders have pretty much wrapped up the research for their biographies. Before the storm I co-taught a lesson on introductions. We’ve taught this before, but it never hurts to review it , and put it in the context of writing a biography. I used several books to show examples of how other authors began their biographies. The kids loved my Elvis impersonation as I read the opening paragraph of Who was Elvis Presley by Geoff Edgers.

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Here it is:

“He was called “The King”. That’s because Elvis Presley ruled rock and roll. There were other         singers in the 1950’s. But nobody like Elvis. He Looked different. He greased up his black hair and grew long sideburns. He wore whatever he wanted. Even pink pants with black stripes looked cool on Elvis. And, boy, could he dance.”

It’s hard to read that aloud without doing an Elvis lip curl, let me tell you. So I did one.

Another thing we talked about was using a quote. Some kids have found a few. The boy researching Robert Oppenheimer found Oppenheimer’s most famous quote, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” He’s using it as his opening line.

A new book about Teddy Roosevelt, To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt written by Doreen  Rappaport, and illustrated by C. F. Payne is filled with TR quotes.

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The book opens with this quote of the front flyleaf, “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”

One ting we’ve found in teaching the 4th graders to research  the impact a person has, they don’t always understand what type of evidence to look for. This is a great book to read to them to give them examples of impact. The mixture of informational text, quotes from TR, and the excellent illustrations by Payne, help the reader and researcher discover and understand TR.

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It gives us insight into TR as a boy, a father, a presidents and an environmentalist.

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All around, an excellent book for beginning researchers.

Nikola Tesla

9 Jan

The fourth grade is starting a biography unit. I culled through the biographies I have to share in the classroom biography museums we are going to set up in each class. I have enough kid & adult biographies to put a few in each museum. But I got excited because I came a cross a couple of biographies I picked up at the OASL Conference I attended in October. One of them was about this man, Nikola Tesla.

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He was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system. And local author, Elizabeth Rusch wrote a biography of him this year.

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There are many reasons why I like Elizabeth Rusch’s books. They are readable, but not dumbed down. She assumes that the people reading her books are smart and want to learn. She also thinks about teachers and creates materials to support teaching.These are often in the back of her books and/or included on her website. She has a  FOR TEACHERS page on her website where she has materials to support the common core using her books. She always provides lots of backmatter in her books: bibliographies, other info she didn’t have room for in the text, scientific explanations. Her books never disappoint.

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