Unlike fiction writing, biography is grounded primarily in fact with some leeway for inference where background information is difficult to acquire. Time and place based on real–life events have a direct bearing on how the researcher interprets the subject. Biography thus requires research. Background information can, however, be obtained through a variety of means: private letters accessible through historical libraries or members of the person's family, reference resources acquired from museum archives, or documents provided directly from relatives of the individual. History books and encyclopedic resources serve as another alternative. First person interviews conducted with the individual or via personal interviews with others who have or have had an interactive relationship with the subject also prove invaluable in the research process.
In some instances, however, depending upon the area of focus, biographic resources may be difficult or easy to find.
To give our young writers a feel for the process of writing biography, have them first conduct a trial run by writing an autobiographic sketch in the form of a memoir.
Writing Exercise # 1. "A Bit About Me!" Snapshot
Objective: To target and emphasize an event that has helped shape one aspect of the student's personality.
Purpose: To create a clearly defined autobiographic sketch using effective techniques, descriptive details, and clearly defined event sequences.
Focus Question: What word best describes one of your major character traits? Think about that one character trait along with an episode in your life that has contributed to that aspect of your personality. Use engaging, descriptive language to convey your experience and innermost feelings. Include dialogue, adjectives and adverbs, powerful synonyms, and well–constructed sentences. Through these literary devices, readers will come to learn about you from a deeper perspective.
In this regard, have students brainstorm on creating a listing of personality traits. Jot their responses down on oversized chart paper. Role play each trait so children derive a concrete understanding of each word listed. (Refer to http://www.ltl. appstate.edu/reading_resources/Character_Trait_Descriptive_Adjectives.htm for additional characteristic word possibilities.) Reinforce their selection possibilities by having your children provide a listing of personality trait focus questions. (My children came up with the following):
Are you timid? A crowd–follower? Bossy? A jealous individual? Considerate? Smart? Insolent? Energetic? Diligent? Persevering? Lazy? Careless? A scaredy–cat? Fearless? Thin–skinned. Melancholy?...)
Once your students have narrowed down their word choice, have them think about how they happened to take on that character trait. Stir their thought processes by asking:
– What major event(s) occurred during that youngster's childhood to help shape that aspect of his or her personality?
– What descriptive words (adjectives, idioms, similes, metaphors...) can be used to best describe him or her at that moment?
– What series of actions happened during that moment to further reveal the student's highlighted character trait?
– How did those events shape the child's life, helping to make that youngster who he or she is today?
Be mindful that each student's writing style will differ based on the language arts ability of each child. Allow students flexibility to write from their abilities levels, requiring that they adhere to the basic guideline: include time, place, and the key event to help convey the targeted personality trait of the individual. The sample noted herein was created by a youngster relatively adept in the use of syntax and semantics:
Writing Sample – First Draft by 3rd Grader, Vaughn.
I remember when I was five years old. I was the only child in my family for a very long time. A very, very, VERY long time! Because I was the first child, my Grandma and Gramps spoiled me. In fact, they spoiled me rotten! My grandparents lived not too far away from me. Actually, they lived right down the street. When I was five years old, my parents and I went over to visit them a lot, and my Grandma and Gramps would give me presents EVERY time I visited. I was showered with presents––even when it wasn't my birthday. And if I wanted a double scoop of ice–cream and my mom and dad said "N–O!," if my grandparents were around, I'd get six scoops of ice–cream anyway. I loved being the first grandson. Then all that changed. My cousin was born. That's when I became jealous, and I hate to admit it, but I still get jealous today. I remember when it started. My aunt and uncle brought my cousin home, and my mom, dad, and me were visiting Grandma and Gramp's house at the same time! All those grownups were so busy with my new cousin, they forgot all about me. I remember walking over to my uncle. Usually, he gave me a high five and swung me around up over his head. But not today! And the thing was, that new baby made a boop–boop–be–doop in his diaper. A BIG ONE! Everyone was around that baby, holding their nose, saying how cute he was. "Hey! I want some attention too!" But no one could hear what I was thinking. So I came up with a plan. I stood in the middle of the livingroom floor. "Eeeeewww. Eeeeewww. Eeeeeewww. Eeeeewhhh!" I strained and strained until… I made a boop–boop–be–doop too! A BIG ONE! But my Grandma and Gramps and mom and dad and aunt and uncle WERE NOT smiling. In fact, my mom cleaned me up and my dad made me go sit alone in the corner of the guest room real fast after they cleaned me up. And believe me, they had to do a lot of cleaning. They looked aggravated. "What's wrong with you?" they kept asking. They looked at me like I was retarded. I told them I was jealous… jealous of the baby!
Vaughn completed this first draft and enthusiastically shared his biographic sketch with peers. His classmates provided constructive feedback. They noted that Vaughn had zeroed in on each of the target questions. They also noticed that his work was not chronological in content, rather that he targeted a key moment in his life that provided insight into one aspect of his personality. They added that Vaughn also used a sequence of events surrounding that key moment. My students laughed their heads off at the
portion of the reading and commiserated how they too are sometimes envious of younger siblings who seem to get away with murder. The children gained deeper insight into an aspect of Vaughn's personality. The additional outcome: more students raised their hands, eager to share.