Inspiring Students with Inspirational People

January 9, 2016

Are your students familiar with this quote which has been attributed to the beloved author Dr. Seuss:

“Why Fit In When You Were Born to Stand Out?”

Its message—focuses on what makes you unique instead of simply blending in or following others—is a great way to thematically convey the value of biography study. By providing students with opportunities to read and think about the moving stories of influential people, students discover and can be motivated to make the most of their own special qualities.

Starting with this blog post, we’ll highlight stories of people who chose to “stand out” and who are intriguing subjects for biography study. Read on for practical lesson ideas you can use to inspire students of all ages.

From Nameless to Famous

Engage students in learning about ordinary people who became well-known, focusing on the character traits that they have in common. For primary students, use an e-book such as Mo Willems: Award-Winning Children’s Author and Animator. They may not know him from the cover but they’ll immediately recognize one of his favorite characters, the pigeon! As you read this title projected on a screen or smartboard, point out the vocabulary words “passion” and “persistence.” Discuss how Mo was passionate about creating a picture book and persistent about getting his first children’s book published. Introduce students to other favorite authors with similar life stories. As a follow-up activity, ask students to create a Biography Puzzle, in which each piece represents an image of Mo Willems or any other person you’ve selected, his or her personal background, significance, and any obstacles they faced. (Graphic organizer for this activity: “Puzzle”) and other resources on our website.

For middle and high school students, assign groups of students to different time periods in history and ask them to read a biography about someone from that era. Or compare the stories of different people in the same field during a specific period of time. The Britannica e-book series, Impact on America: Collective Biographies, for example, provides a wealth of stories about people living in colonial America, during the American Revolution, and at the time in which America assumed its world leadership. These life histories are also valuable for their use as informational text or as research starters.

A creative way to share this information is to ask students to dress in costume, assume the roles of the individuals they studied, and then invite other students and parents to their “living museum.” Imagine a scenario in which Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Randolph Hearst compare and contrast their success stories. Or another in which Upton Sinclair and Emma Goldman discuss their various reasons for activism and chronicling life’s injustices.

And this is only the beginning, click here to see these titles and more! Available via our new annual subscription plan for unlimited use or can be purchased for perpetual access.

Watch for our Black History month biography study ideas!