Having Fun with the Famous!

Before I even start, I have to explain the horrible desk arrangement in the background.  Usually, the desks are grouped together in student teams of 4, but it's standardized testing time.

Cue the deep sigh.  And the eye rolling.  

You know the spiel. "The students have to be separated.  Remove any visual aids. Yadda, yadda, yadda."  Our counselor doesn't really say yadda... that's just what I hear.  So the room is super boring and old-fashioned feeling.  I can't stand it.  Neither can the kids.  (Except for this one kid who doesn't like any of us.  He's in his glory right now.)  :)

Our Biography Reports

This was another one of those times when the district road map didn't make complete sense, so we created our own poster-project to coordinate with our study of biographies.  I guess these moments are a blessing in disguise because they usually lead us to some pretty cool projects we may not have otherwise done.  The challenge, as with most of our other units, is finding books (in this case, biographies) first graders can actually read.  I always hunt through our guided reading collections first.  I have to say, a lot of the publishers today are providing really well-rounded sets that include all sorts of genres in both fiction and nonfiction.  I was able to find age-appropriate biographies about:

• Christopher Columbus
• Jane Goodall
• Sally Ride
• George Washington Carver
• The Wright Brothers

All of these titles came from a biography set we purchased years ago from Scholastic.  They're written at a great level for primary children and include many of the text features they've learned about all year... bold words, glossaries, captions, timelines, etc. 

The Rubric:  What are the expectations?
To help guide their research as they worked on their projects, we first developed a rubric for the finished poster and decided to present the projects orally, either to the whole group or to a single partner... their choice.  I think being able to verbally communicate ideas is an important skill, but I do know some children (like adults) have a lot of anxiety about speaking in front of a large crowd, so being allowed to present in a less threatening, more private setting is a choice some kids need.

The rubric is simple, but clear for 1st graders:
As a class, we discussed each point of the rubric so the kids were sure what each meant, or "looked like."  

The Character Map
This feature of their presentation had to include a hand-drawn picture and 3 words that described their person, plus evidence (or an example) of how they knew that or why they picked that word. For example, a student couldn't just write that Jane Goodall was kind... they had to provide an example from the text to support it.

The WOW Facts
The poster had to include at least 2 true and important facts about their person. This criteria gave me a good indication of whether children could distinguish between a simple fact like He was born in Missouri from something more significant like He discovered many different ways to use peanuts.

Vocabulary Words
For this part, each child had to decide on 2 vocabulary words they believed were unique to their person... words they thought were important, but not obvious.  For example, the word man isn't a strong vocabulary choice for Christopher Columbus, but compass, explorer, and jewels are.  It's very interesting to see what children choose for this section of their poster.

Before & After
I love this part... it's analyzing, inferring, and synthesizing all rolled into one.  For this criteria, each child needs to understand the effect their person had on the world... what was their role in history?  They have to think, What was life like before their person's work and how was life different or better because of that work?

The Letter
Each child wrapped up their research by writing a personal letter to their person.  I chose this criteria because we were also working on letter-writing at the same time, but I also wanted the children to identify with these "famous" people as "real" people and writing letters tends to feel personal.  Their letters also had to include at least 2 questions they were still curious about... questions their research didn't already answer.  These were glued onto the back of their posters.

And because timelines are a natural for biographies, I used that feature as a little bonus project for my fast-finishers or for kids who wanted to stretch themselves. These were also added to the back of the posters, if done.

Forming the Research Teams

Then, the children went through a similar research process as they did for their all-about books on unlovable animals.  You can read more about that process in this earlier post:  Animals People Love to Hate.

Each child chose one famous person from the list above and that's how the student research teams were formed.  The purpose of "the team" was to help each other read and comprehend the biography.  They're encouraged to discuss their ideas and questions as they learned about the important role their famous person played in history.  Then, they worked independently to record their notes on research templates that correspond directly to the rubric we made:

Practicing & Feedback

Because the children were going to be orally presenting their finished projects, it was important for me to give them plenty of time to share out with partners.  This time is crucial to help kids understand what's strong and what might still need a little clarification.

Peer Evaluations & Active Listening

Oh, this part was so fun because the kids got to "be the teacher" and evaluate their peers' presentations.  Using our rubric as our guide, the children had to determine if all the criteria had been met for the project, but I also wanted to hold the audience accountable for active listening, so they had to write something they learned from each presenter.  You can facilitate this in several different ways.  I had volunteers present orally to the whole group while the audience listened and evaluated.  (It took a few days because most of the kids wanted to speak to the whole class.)  For kids who didn't want to share out to the whole group, they were paired with a volunteer partner for their peer evaluation.

An Extra Note About the Character Maps

I would encourage you to let the children hand-draw their famous person for their poster.  I definitely use clip art in my classroom, but for a project like this, I love to see what they can create.  (Their parents do, too.)  Take a look at some of these adorable pictures... the details on some of them are so fun:

If you'd like to download the rubric, research templates, and peer evaluation sheets, you can find them HERE.

Happy teaching!  :)

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