“History is but the biography of great men [and women].”
Why Read Biography?
A 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.
Let’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.
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
Sort 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.
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.
(See 122-word example below.)
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.
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 –
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.
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Updated 16 March 2022.