Biography Unit: Who Are the Dreamers?

By: Mary Kienstra on: January 7, 2016  in: biography unit, essential question

dream book

Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom, and Wishes by Susan Bosak and Leo Dillon

Students can learn so much from reading about some of the famous people in history.  But unfortunately, at times a biography unit turns out to be a list of facts about that person with no real analysis of their importance.  Instead of the regular traditional biography unit, the book, Dream,  challenges students to think about the “dreamers” in a new way.  An essential question prompts students to analyze why this group is considered dreamers and what they have in common.

This project was in three main parts:

  1. Research a dreamer from the book, DREAM, to find out why that person is considered a dreamer.  Create a documentary to teach the class and others about this person.
  2. Watch  the documentaries to compare the dreamers.  What attributes do they share?  Create an interactive poster using Thinglink to give the evidence of the characteristic they share.
  3. Read an article about Malala in StoryWorks Magazine (by Scholastic).  Write a persuasive paragraph to convince the audience that Malala should or should not be considered a dreamer.

As with so many of my projects with my reading class,  my students exceeded my wildest expectations.   They also  met and exceeded the 5th grade Common Core Standards for several reading, writing, speaking, and listening objectives.  I’ve learned to provide just enough scaffolding and encouragement, hopefully at the “just right” time.

My students wrote questions and then researched in books and websites to become experts on their dreamer.  Some of these dreamers were people that 5th graders did not know at all, like Nicolas Copernicus and Ferdinand Magellan. When their research was complete, they watched a variety of documentaries to find out how to tell their story in that style.  They used iMovie to create their documentaries and posted them on class website.

The next step was to watch each others’ documentaries in order to find out what these dreamers have in common.  Once they identified a trait, they found examples in the lives of four different dreamers.  They created mind maps that linked the characteristic to a symbol for each dreamer and made them with   Again, they posted these on our class website and then viewed each others’ ideas.

The last part of this month-long project was a short article about Malala from Scholastic’s StoryWorks magazine.  After reading the article, the students wrote an opinion piece about whether or not Malala should be considered a dreamer.  This part of the assignment aligned with our year-long objective of finding text evidence to support your ideas.

A project like this is engaging to kids as it weaves the theme throughout various activities.  Their excitement in creating documentaries and interactive posters was evident as they had real audiences for their work.

What thematic units do you have that involve engaging projects for your students?  Please share!


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