Informational writing is a big part of 2nd grade. It’s one of the types of text that your students will be expected to confidently read and write by the end of the year. There are a lot of ways to introduce informational writing but one of my favorites is with 2nd grade biography writing!
Classmate (Peer) Biographies
Your students will love writing and learning more about each other with Classmate or Peer Biographies! They are super simple to do and help build that sense of understanding, connection, and community in your class. Each student is assigned a partner to interview. Before interviewing, hand out or discuss a list of questions for students to ask their partners. You can come up with your own or a free download of questions can be found here!
When they are finished interviewing one another, they are encouraged to ask additional questions and write them on the back of their questionnaire. These are always the best questions from the interview! Students are such creative thinkers and come up with some pretty great questions. Once they finish the interview, I take the questionnaire answers home and underline any of the words that aren’t “dictionary spelled.” Alternatively, you can have them peer edit or ask them to circle words that they think may be spelled incorrectly.
Editing 2nd Grade Student Biography Writing
On day 2 of this activity, my students work with dictionaries to look up the underlined/circled words. Any of the words from the previous day should be corrected/checked. Depending on your state, dictionary skills may or may not be something that your students need to possess. Even if it’s not part of the state standards, I think it’s a great skill for students to have. At this point, I spot-check while they work or take them home and help with any additional corrections.
On day 3 my students are ready to make their final copy. Some years I choose to have them write their final copy onto handwriting paper, some years they type (oh hi, COVID teaching), and some years they use normal lined paper. It honestly depends on the needs of my students. If students need to build writing stamina or work on their penmanship then handwritten final copies is the course I’m taking. If typing is a need in your teaching environment then type it up and print it. Of course, before they start their final copy,s how them examples of what their sentences should look like. Both of these examples are written by me so no students are embarrassed. I love using the Writing Bulletin Board to highlight what my expectations are.
We talk about what makes them good and poor examples. These mini-lessons are really effective with my students. They carry these ideas taught from the mini-lesson into their own writings. Plus, the visual rubric serves as a reference for my students as they complete this and any other writing assignment.
Illustrate Their Writing!
Day 4 means that the writing is done (hopefully) and we are ready for our illustrations! Keep in mind, all of this is modeled for my students prior to them doing the project. It’s so important to set expectations for both behavior and the end product you’re hoping for. First, they use a pencil to draw their partner. I encourage them to use their entire 8 1/2 x 11 paper. If art stresses your students out try showing them a quick “How To Draw People” tutorial video. Some kids really need that step-by-step instruction to feel confident. Once it has been drawn, let them use watercolor to paint their picture.
On day 5 (after it’s dry), students trace over their pencils marks with a permanent marker. They will cut out their paintingg and glue those little masterpieces to a piece of construction paper. Then, tape or glue their biography writings to the bottom of the construction paper. Finally, hang them in the hallway for other teachers and students to read!
More 2nd Grade Biography Writing Activities
I love using a classmate as a starting point for biography writing because it’s high interest and gives them an automatic partner to work with. Once they have this first piece of writing under their belt and are understanding the basics it’s time to increase the complexity a bit. For me, this means giving them a little more independence and gradually more freedom.
Watercolor Self Portraits & Biography
So, we take the skills they just learned and write about themselves! Check out the Watercolor Self Portraits and Student Biographies post for an in-depth walk through that assignment.
Historical Figure Biography
This activity can be more of a biography book report, if you’d like students to conduct some of their own research. I like using Epic! or Readworks.org since they’re free and have a wide range of topics/levels. The historical figure biography is where I generally give my students a lot more freedom if I feel they can handle it. You can let them choose their own historical figure or give them a list to choose from. Then, let them read independently, listen to audiobooks, and/or watch educational videos. You make the boundaries based on your group of students. By this point, they should feel confident asking & answering questions to write their own biography. For those who need the support, brainstorm a list of questions as a group.
Just like in their previous biography assignments they can draw and watercolor or give them the freedom to use other types of media. In the past, I’ve let students print & build a collage. They’ve built 3D models using legos or paper or clay or pipe cleaners… all kinds of stuff! I’ve had students dress like their historical figure, write songs or poems, or even bring in that person’s favorite food! There’s a lot you can do with these historical figure biographies but I make sure to emphasize that the writing needs to be the best of their ability first and foremost.
2nd Grade Biography Writing
The most important things to remember when teaching biography writing are:
Biography writing can be such a fun skill to work on. Have fun and master the basics then get creative with it!