Writing Lesson of the Month Network

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Of Thee I Sing, by Barack Obama, is a wonderful letter to his daughter that touches many facets of education.  He has written a moving tribute to 13 groundbreaking Americans that have touched our lives in one way or another. This book is about the potential in each of us and how we might be able to touch others the way these Americans touched us.

I had been searching for a meaningful way of teaching my 9th grade Special Education students what a biography was and how to write one.  I wanted them to realized that a biography didn't have to be boring and meaningless.  It can inspire and move us as well as educate us.

I began this project by talking about what a biography is and is not. We had a discussion where I asked questions like, "Is it the story of someones life?" "Is it a tale of accomplishments?" "Is it tale of woes?" or "Is it a boring list of facts that nobody cares about?" I tell them a good biography brings the person to life... it makes us care about what she or he did with time and opportunity.

I then go over some vocabulary words that they will encounter in their reading as well as questions. I do this with groups of 2 putting together a 4 square of the words and then we share out as a class.

I read the book to them. Pausing to show them the wonderful pictures that go with each American. After I'm done reading I have them pick a playing card that I have assigned to one of the Americans highlighted in the story.  This is the person they will research. 

I then give them a handout of the basic boring questions that I want answered (birth, death, family etc...).  I want this information to enforce how boring writing about these facts are.

I then pass out my "Questions to Consider" handout.  These are 12 questions that are deep and thoughtful questions that make them look into the many facets of the person they will research. We then spend one day in the computer lab researching and checking out books.  They are required to use 2 books for research.  They will fill out a Work Cited page detailing the websites they've used and the books they've checked out.  This makes them realize there are more ways to research than the internet.

After they've done a thorough research we start answering our 12 questions.  I give them paper that is lined and boxed so they know how many lines I want for each question.  From there we start to formalize our writing.  This process takes about 2 block days (110 minutes each day). From there we Peer Edit (handout). They will then fill out a self assessment form. After the peer editing we do a teacher one on one.  By now we should have a paper that's ready to be typed and turned in. 

They will then present their person to the class in any form they are comfortable with (power point, poster, etc.....)

Each student will fill out a presenters rubric and turn into the teacher when the presentation is done.


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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Virginia,


Did you know we recently published a WritingFix lesson inspired by this mentor text?  I like your expository idea here; it's different than the narrative feel of the lesson recently posted:  http://writingfix.com/Picture_Book_Prompts/Of_Thee_I_Sing1.htm


I wonder if there's a persuasive writing lesson hidden in this book somewhere too; it's always nice to have a mentor text that can be used to teach multiple genres.




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