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Exploring Elements of Biography and Autobiography

Lesson Plan

Exploring Elements of Biography and Autobiography


In this lesson, students will learn the elements of biography and autobiography. Students will:

  • determine what information is included in biographies and autobiographies.
  • identify the text structure used in biographies and autobiographies and explain why it is used.
  • compare/contrast the use of point of view and text structure in biographies and autobiographies.

Essential Questions

  • How do readers know what to believe in what they read, hear, and view?
  • How do strategic readers create meaning from informational and literary text?


  • Author’s Purpose: The author’s intent to inform or teach someone about something, to entertain people, or to persuade or convince the audience to do or not do something.
  • Autobiography: The story of a person’s life written by himself or herself.
  • Biography: The story of a person’s life written by someone other than the subject of the work.
  • Point of View: The perspective from which a story is told or information is presented.
  • First Person: The “first-person” or “personal” point of view relates events as they are perceived by a single character. This character “tells” the story and may offer opinions about the action and characters that differ from those of the author.
  • Third Person: A perspective in literature, the “third-person” point of view presents the events of the story from outside of any single character’s perception, much like the omniscient point of view, but the reader must understand the action as it takes place and without any special insight into characters’ minds or motivations.
  • Text Structure: The author’s method of organizing a text.


45–90 minutes/1–2 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

Prerequisite Skills haven't been entered into the lesson plan.


  • Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer (L-6-4-3_Biography Autobiography Graphic Organizer.doc)
  • The following high-interest biographies at various reading levels are appropriate for this lesson and may correlate with other parts of your curriculum. Teachers may substitute other books or materials to provide a range of reading and level of text complexity.
    • Henry Ford (Rookie Biographies) by Wil Mara. Children’s Press, 2004.
    • Amelia Earhart (Graphic Biography) by Saddleback Educational Publishing, 2008.
    • A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman by David A. Adler. Holiday House Inc., 1993.
    • A Picture Book of Harry Houdini by David A. Adler and Michael S. Adler. Holiday House Inc., 2010.
  • The following Web sites provide biographies that are appropriate for this lesson:
  • Knots in My Yo-yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid by Jerry Spinelli. Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. This autobiography is appropriate to read to the class.

Additional examples include the following:

  • It Came From Ohio! My Life as a Writer by R.L. Stine. Scholastic Paperbacks, 1998.
  • Bill Peet: An Autobiography by Bill Peet. Sandpiper, 1994.
  • The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life by Sid Fleischman. Greenwillow Books, 1996.

Related Unit and Lesson Plans

Related Materials & Resources

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Formative Assessment

  • View

    The goal of this lesson is to build on students’ understanding of the elements of biography and autobiography.

    • To assess students’ grasp of the concepts, observe students during their discussions with partners. Evaluate students’ ability to do the following:
    • Identify the elements of biography and autobiography.
    • Compare similarities and differences between biography and autobiography.
    • Identify the text structure authors use in biographies and autobiographies and explain why they use it.

Suggested Instructional Supports

  • View
    Scaffolding, Active Engagement, Explicit Instruction
    W: Help students examine biographies and autobiographies and compare and contrast the elements of the genres. 
    H: Have students read biographies to find out the information generally included. Help students work together to fill in a graphic organizer. 
    E: Help students determine similarities and differences between biographies and autobiographies. 
    R: Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding by writing biographical and autobiographical text. 
    E: Observe students to assess their understanding of biographies and autobiographies. 
    T: Provide flexible groupings based on students’ instructional reading levels, and incorporate extension activities for all levels by suggesting materials for further practice as well as more difficult materials to extend thinking to a higher level 
    O: The learning activities in this lesson provide for large-group instruction and discussion, small-group exploration, partner interaction, and individual application of the concepts. 

Instructional Procedures

  • View

    Focus Questions: What are the elements of biographies and autobiographies? How are they alike and how are they different?

    Part 1

    Say, “Today we are going to look at biographies. What is a biography?” (the story of a person’s life written by someone else)

    Assign one short biography for each student or group of students to read. Ask students to make notes about the kinds of information about the person that are included in the biography. Have students discuss their notes with a partner.

    As a class, discuss the elements of a biography. Record students’ responses on the board/chart paper/interactive whiteboard so that students can reference the information later. Key details and events should include the following:

    • date and place of birth
    • information about family and childhood
    • achievements
    • major events in his/her life
    • why s/he is important

    Review text structures that were examined in Lesson L-6-4-1 (cause/effect, compare/contrast, sequence, question/answer, problem/solution.  Ask, “What text structure is generally used in biographies?” (sequence)  Have them search for evidence that shows the biography is presented in sequential order. Ask, “Why do you think an author uses sequence in a biography?” (to tell the events of a person’s life in order)

    Review point of view and discuss its use in a biography. Lead students to discover that biographies are written in third person. Have students cite evidence of third-person point of view from the biography they read (i.e., use of pronouns he, she, or they).

    Have students trade biographies with someone who read a different one. Ask students to read the new biography and fill in the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer (L-6-4-3_Biography Autobiography Graphic Organizer.doc). Then have students compare answers and revise if necessary.

    Part 2

    Ask students, “What is an autobiography?” (the story of a person’s life written by the person)

    Read aloud a short autobiography or an excerpt from a longer autobiography, such as Knots in My Yo-yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid. Ask, “What difference do you notice between an autobiography and a biography?” (An autobiography is written in first person.) Have students cite evidence from the reading to support their answer (i.e., use of pronouns I or we). Guide students to see how the first person point of view in an autobiography helps readers understand how the narrator feels about events. Ask them to find evidence of this in the autobiography.

    Have students work in pairs or small groups to read an autobiography and fill in the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer (L-6-4-3_Biography Autobiography Graphic Organizer.doc).

    Discuss the similarities between biographies and autobiographies. (Both have the same kinds of information, such as dates, information about childhood and family, achievements, and major events.) Help students see that both use the same text structure, sequential order.


    For students who need additional practice differentiating biographies from autobiographies, provide scaffolding, such as “Is the book written from the first-person or third-person point of view?”

    Students who need additional opportunities for learning may do one of the following activities:

    • Work in a small group to identify the elements of a biography in one of the books from the Materials list or another biography from the classroom library. Use highlighter tape or sticky notes to mark the elements in the book.
    • Use the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer to gather information about a classmate’s life. Then write a short biography of the classmate based on the information.

    Students who are ready to go beyond the standards may do one of the following activities:

    • Research a famous person and write a biography about that person, using the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer to gather and organize the information.
    • Write an autobiography, using the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer to collect and organize the information.

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Final 03/01/2013
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