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“History is but the biography of great men [and women].”
—Thomas Carlyle

Go There

Why Read Biography?

Spacer HA good biography lets you get inside someone else’s life. You accumulate a richness that lets you understand your subject in ways that facts alone cannot, to put on the persona of your subject and think as they thought, feel as they felt. You can reflect on how they were shaped and even anticipate decisions they never made. Assignments offered here require that depth and breadth—a simple Wikipedia entry just will not do.
spacer hAnd because you will get to know this person intimately, they must have accomplished something worthwhile with their lives—no tyrants, serial killers, gunslingers, ne’er-do-wells. Celebrity is not enough. And, because there should be some perspective on their accomplishments, they must be deceased. You get it.
spacer hSubmit a Prospectus for your subject (no duplicate subjects allowed) and locate a full-length biography on your person. If one is not available in our library, you may make arrangements through interlibrary loan or purchase one yourself. Note: You will not be allowed to proceed without a book.
spacer hTake Approved Notes on your approved subject from at least eight legitimate, respected sources. If you have difficulty at this stage, you may change your subject, but a new prospectus and new notes must be submitted.
spacer hSubmit an Annotated Bibliography of those eight sources.You will also present the highlights of your research to the class.
spacer hRead your Full-length Biography and be prepared to write an essay on the author’s analysis of your subject.
spacer hThen the fun begins—Projects and Presentations!

QuestionLet’s Start with Some Lists

Time: The 100 Most Significant Figures in History” is a data-driven ranking. A little quirky.

Biography Online: 100 Most Influential chooses from a worl list that extends back to ancient history. Very global.

Biography Online: 100 Women Who Changed the World has a few surprises.

Business Insider: Their 100 may surprise you. Not so businessy.

100 Scientists OR 100 Painters OR 50 Writers OR 40 Inventors OR ... Celebrity vs. Gravitas: A Quantitative Analysis—serious.

Step 1: Prospectus

Directions: On a 4" x 6" index card, state your choice for the biography project, list three reasons you have chosen this person, and include a citation for the dedicated biography you will read. This prospectus must persuade me that your person is worthy to research and is established well enough for you to locate adequate sources. Obscurity is not a recommendation.

Step 2: Approved Notes

cover sheet
Directions: Brainstorm information categories for your person— family background, education, accomplishments, influences, etc. Some categories will be appropriate for any approved person; other categories may be specific to your choice. For example, not everyone will have published books. You should have at least ten research categories, each on a separate page.
spacer On your cover page, correctly cite each source you consult in a different color (or coded in some other way that clearly identifies the source). Take notes on your approved subject from at least eight legitimate, respected sources.

  • Two Encylopedia Articles
  • Three School Databases
  • Three Reputable Websites
  • Book (optional at this point)

spacerSort and categorize your information as you take your notes. For example, all information about education from every single source will appear on your Education page, with different colors indicating the source.
spacerDo not repeat information. Do not copy complete sentences. Key points should stand out. Use notation aids (abbreviations, symbols, bullets, etc.)
spacerSo, each category page will have many-colored notes. As you take notes, however, you should have less and less to write, since sources will duplicate information you have already noted.
spacerIf done properly, your notes become an analysis of your subject AS you take them. Major topics will emerge. A blank category page will reveal the need for more specialized research. This is critical thinking, not just copying information.

Research Notes Rubric



Step 3: Annotated Bibliography

Directions: An annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of your sources, an assessment of the source, and a reflection upon its usefulness for your project. Your annotations for each source cited in your Notes will be approximately 100-300 words. Yes, you may use “I” when you reflect.

  • Summarize: At the very least, an annotation summarizes the contents of the source. What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say?
  • Assess: After summarizing a source, it is helpful to evaluate it. Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the goal of this source? Is there bias?
  • Reflect: Once you’ve summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

(See 122-word example below.)annotated bibliography

Annotated Bibliography Rubric

Step 4: Biography Book Review

Directions: Read a dedicated biography of your person, at least 200 pages long. As you read, focus on the author’s attitude toward your person. You will analyze the book, just as if you were a reviewer for The New York Times Book Review or School Library Journal. That means you will judge the biographer’s bias in light of your expert knowledge of your person’s life. Your thesis sentence for your review must include the title of the biography, the name of the reviewer, and at least three opinion words to describe the biographer’s attitude. You are the judge of the accuracy, authenticity, and bias of the reviewer.
spacer Your review must be at least five paragraphs, with at least three main body paragraphs, each of which has at least three integrated quotes from the review. You will be required to submit your thesis and plan page for approval before writing. Typed, double-spaced, properly cited title, footnote, and integrated quotations.
spacer Thesis Sentence: Submit on a 3" x 5" index card, properly punctuated. Strive for three opinion words. (See the following examples.)

  • In The Russian Revolution, Richard Pipes has redefined Lenin’s destructive genius, pensive personality, and historical impact.
  • In Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America.
  • Victoria the Queen, Julia Baird’s exquisitely wrought and meticulously researched biography, reveals the real woman behind the myth: a bold, glamorous, unbreakable queen—a Victoria for our times.
  • In Will in the World: How Shakepeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt asserts that William Shakespeare was the ideal Renaissance man because of his interests in exploration, politics, and humanism.
  • David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers reveals Orville and Wilbur Wright as men of exceptional courage and determination, of far-ranging intellectual interests, and of ceaseless curiosity.
  • In Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Godwin contends that Lincoln succeeded because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, and to undertand their motives and desires.

Biography Book Review Plan Page
Sample Biography Book Review
Biography Book Review Rubric

Part 5: Projects

Symbolic Recipe: Write a symbolic recipe for your person. This means your person’s ingredients are not blood, muscle, bone, and a hank of hair, but abstract qualities and personality traits (like patience, friendliness, humor). What is really necessary to create your person?  Follow standard recipe format: a list of ingredients and exact measurements, followed by a paragraph of instructions, advice about the proper sequence of the steps, and any tips or warnings. Illustrate attracively as a letter-size poster for display. Colors, illustrations, fonts—all matter. Symbolic Recipe Rubric

Biographical Body Biography: For your chosen person, you will be creating a body biography—a visual and written portrait illustrating several aspects of the person’s life and importance. Biographical Body Biography Directions & Rubric

Business Packet: Design a creative packet of business-oriented materials that draw from the experiences and accomplishments of your chosen person. This business packet must include a logo, letterhead, a business card, resumé, and a letter written by your chosen person. Businesss Packet Directions & Grading Guide

Op-Ed Article: Write an op-ed article similar to those that appear in major newspapers, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. Select a specific, concrete event and/or issue about which your person would feel passionately and that can help shed light on their ideals, morals, political beliefs, etc. The topic or theme that you select must be historically accurate and written from the point of view of your person. Before you begin writing your essay, you must submit a prospectus of your topic to receive final approva. Op-Ed Article Directions & Rubric

Historical Newspaper: You will be responsible for developing a newspaper set in the time period of your individual. Every article does not need to include your chosen person; however, each article must pertain to the appropriate time period. Directions for this activity include a checklist for specific types of articles that must be included. Historical Newspaper Directions & Rubric

Personal Portfolio: Eight assignments chosen from the Autobiographical Portfolio you have been writing on yourself will allow you to reveal how well you know your chosen person. You will assume the persona of your person, revealing your insight into their true nature. Personal Portfolio & Rubric

Dramatic Monologue: Your task is to write a dramatic monologue to be spoken by your chosen person. Your poem should successfully reveal character and situation. You will both write and perform your monologue. Dramatic Monologue Directions & Chart

Where I Am from… Poem: Remember that poem you wrote about yourself at the beginning of the year. Now that you know your chosen person intimately, you will write the same kind of poem for your person. Where I am from Poem & Rubric

Six-Word Memoirs: You will create a Mini-Memoir movie by creating a six-slide PowerPoint show composed of an introductory slide and five six-word memoirs. You will also print that mini-memoir as a handout. Each memoir should include vivid, powerful, and specific word choice and a well-chosen photograph that compliments the memoir without distracting from the text. Choose one memoir to present in class and to add to the course PowerPoint. Six-Word Memoir Handout and Worksheet/Rubric

Deck of Cards: Examine various sets in class to get ideas for how you can best develop a set of cards for your person. Not simple playing cards – each card needs its own design on the face and its own information on the back, though you may want to organize colors and patterns for each suit. Cards should organize and prioritize information from the life and times of your person. You need the following four suits of thirteen cards each –

  • Personal Life -- Birth / Death, Education, Family, Relationships, Accomplishments, Failures, Travel, etc.
  • Contemporary Culture -- Popular Music, Movies, Foods, Fashion, Transportation, Celebrities, Living Style, etc.
  • Historical Events -- Sports, Politics, Economics, Local & International News, War & Peace, etc.
  • Sciences & Humanities -- Literature, Art, Architecture, Music, Science, Inventions, Medicine, Technology, etc.

In edition, you will need cards for a Title, a Works Cited card, and any additional information cards. The whole deck should be packaged as well. Items will be graded on appearance, appropriateness, and authenticity. Deck of Cards Planning Sheets

Honors Night Presentation: At last, it all comes together. If this is a major project program, you have spent the whole year preparing for this chance to BE the expert on your person. Honors Night & Rubric

An Interesting Infographic

Love infographics! Even though this one is not all about people, its overview of inventions and ideas that have made the modern world just might spark some less-than-predictable person choices.

Way We Live

If you download or print anything from this site, please consider making at least a $10.00 donation through PayPal.
I can maintain and expand this website only with your help.

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Updated 16 March 2022.

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