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Are they REALLY that different?

Biographies are an under-utilized genre of literature within the School District of Philadelphia’s fifth grade reading curriculum. The emphasis instead has been placed more on other non-fiction genres and topics such as narrative and explanatory nonfiction.  The demands of the Common Core make this understandable, however, students are being short-changed of an opportunity to learn while peeking into someone else’s life, while possibly being inspired by their challenges and potentially seeing themselves in the person whom they are reading about. Biography, like most genres, can allow students to demonstrate comprehension skills while challenging their views of themselves and the past. 

     This unit will allow students to delve into the lives of two well known men from opposing sides of the Revolutionary War- Benjamin Franklin and King George III. They will read “What’s the Big Idea Ben Franklin?” and “Why Can’t You Just Make Them Behave King George?” both by Jean Fritz. Students will first be tasked with completing a number of activities with the texts given. They will begin with reviewing skills such as sequencing, poetry writing and inferencing. After they have analyzed the biographies for these concepts, students will compare and contrast the lives of the two men themselves and their roles and viewpoints on the Revolutionary War. These passages offer information on this historical event from two different and contrasting points of view.

     Students will then show their understanding of the unit in their culminating project. This project will require students to create a board game that opposes the men against each other. These men were on opposing sides of the war and, although their motivations and goals varied, they both wanted what was best for their respective countries.

     The objectives for the unit will be as follows:

  • Students will gain a deeper understanding of literature, specifically biography.
  • Students will apply a variety of comprehension skills to the biography passages.
  • Students will analyze texts for comparisons and contrasts.
  • Students will create a board game to show their understanding of the material.

     In Part I of this unit, the first biography will be read with the class as a read aloud. The teacher will then use this biography to model the skills that students will be reviewing with the unit (sequencing, comparing/contrasting, poetry writing, inferencing).

     Part II will involve students working with a partner on the second passage. They will read the story with the partner, then complete the same activities to review the above skills independently or with their partner.

     Next, in Part III, students will compare various aspects of the two passages. They will look at things like each man’s duties relating to the war, what type of men they were, how others viewed them and what they saw as the reason for the war. They will compare them using a Venn Diagram.

     Finally, in Part IV, the culminating activity for this unit will be students using the information they have gained from the passages to create a board game. This game will require them to use their knowledge and creativity to design a game that fits the criteria set forth, is fun and makes sense.

Nicole Flores
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