Biography research projects can engage your entire class. Just use the Goldilocks principle. In other words, the process shouldn’t be too easy or too hard. Instead, it should be just right. Take a peek at this simple 1-2-3 method of differentiation.
Ms. Sneed Plans a Biography Research Project
“Let’s continue planning our fourth grade ELA block,” Ms. Sneed told her student teacher, Mr. Grow. “I’d like to plan a biography research project for February.”
“Since it’s Black History Month, why don’t we focus on African Americans?” he replied.
Page #1 – Basic Biography Research
“Good idea. That will go great with our other biography activities. Now let’s see, what should they learn about each person?”
“Well,” said Mr. Grow, “I guess they should get some background information first. Like, for example, where the person was born, information about their family, that kind of thing.”
“Yes, and of course, we’ll want them to pinpoint their major contributions next.”
Ms. Sneed sat down at her computer and began to type:
- Describe when and where the person was born, grew up, and died. Include information about family members.
- What made the person famous?
“This is good basic information. Every student should find these things. Let’s use this page for everyone. But most kids can do more. So what else? I’d definitely like to differentiate this biography research project.”
Page #2 – Intermediate Biography Research
“Hmm, how about the challenges the person faced?” asked Mr. Grow.
“That’s perfect,” responded Ms. Sneed. Her fingers pecked away at the keyboard. On this page, she gave kids space to:
- Explain challenges the person faced.
- Identify ways the person overcame the challenges and people who helped or inspired them.
“I love this,” she said. “Kids need to know that influential people face adversity. Furthermore, they need to know that these people didn’t make it to the top on their own. If you look behind every famous person, you’ll find a support system.”
“So most kids in our class will do these two sheets?” Mr. Grow asked.
Ms. Sneed nodded.
Pages #3 and 4 – Advanced Biography Research
“Let’s add one more page for our advanced learners,” Ms. Sneed said.
“I’ve noticed that history played a big part in determining a person’s path in life,” she continued.
“On the advanced page, we’ll ask kids to explain how history changed events in the person’s life, as well as how the person changed history. However, in order to do that, they’ll have to research the time period and compare it with the biographical information.”
Mr. Grow looked on as Ms. Sneed worked on her computer. When she finished, she had added two more pages: a double timeline and a response sheet.
Creating a Display
“I have an idea for displaying kids’ research projects,” said Mr. Grow. “Can I work on it tonight and show you tomorrow?”
Ms. Sneed smiled. “Of course!”
The next day, Mr. Grow brought in a mock-up of his idea. “On this page,” he said, pointing to a template with a large photo of Harriet Tubman, “kids simply write the person’s main contribution. That will force them to pinpoint the pinnacle of their efforts.”
Pointing to a page with a small image and lines, he continued. “On this one, students will write their research paper.”
The 1-2-3 Method
Ms. Sneed and Mr. Grow found an easy way to differentiate research. First, they identified three groups of students in their class. Second, they matched each student with the number of pages he or she could handle. That way, the research project was appropriate for everyone.
This strategy can be used for a variety of activities. It’s as easy as 1-2-3. As a matter of fact, you can find a variety differentiated research projects in my TPT store.