Elements Of Biographical Essay

(Genres and Their Characteristics):

Students combine the rhetorical strategies of narration, exposition, persuasion, and description to produce texts of at least 1,500 words each. Student writing demonstrates a command of standard American English and the research, organizational, and drafting strategies outlined in Writing Standard 1.0.

2.1 Write biographical or autobiographical narratives or short stories:

a. Relate a sequence of events and communicate the significance of the events to the audience.
b. Locate scenes and incidents in specific places.
c. Describe with concrete sensory details the sights, sounds, and smells of a scene and the specific actions, movements, gestures, and feelings of the characters; use interior monologue to depict the characters’ feelings.
d. Pace the presentation of actions to accommodate changes in time and mood.
e. Make effective use of descriptions of appearance, images, shifting perspectives, and sensory details.


Download standards & objective as handout

Focus Questions: What are the elements of biographies and autobiographies? How are they alike and how are they different?

Part 1

Say, “Today we are going to look at biographies. What is a biography?” (the story of a person’s life written by someone else)

Assign one short biography for each student or group of students to read. Ask students to make notes about the kinds of information about the person that are included in the biography. Have students discuss their notes with a partner.

As a class, discuss the elements of a biography. Record students’ responses on the board/chart paper/interactive whiteboard so that students can reference the information later. Key details and events should include the following:

  • date and place of birth
  • information about family and childhood
  • achievements
  • major events in his/her life
  • why s/he is important

Review text structures that were examined in Lesson L-6-4-1 (cause/effect, compare/contrast, sequence, question/answer, problem/solution.  Ask, “What text structure is generally used in biographies?” (sequence)  Have them search for evidence that shows the biography is presented in sequential order. Ask, “Why do you think an author uses sequence in a biography?” (to tell the events of a person’s life in order)

Review point of view and discuss its use in a biography. Lead students to discover that biographies are written in third person. Have students cite evidence of third-person point of view from the biography they read (i.e., use of pronouns he, she, or they).

Have students trade biographies with someone who read a different one. Ask students to read the new biography and fill in the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer (L-6-4-3_Biography Autobiography Graphic Organizer.doc). Then have students compare answers and revise if necessary.

Part 2

Ask students, “What is an autobiography?” (the story of a person’s life written by the person)

Read aloud a short autobiography or an excerpt from a longer autobiography, such as Knots in My Yo-yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid. Ask, “What difference do you notice between an autobiography and a biography?” (An autobiography is written in first person.) Have students cite evidence from the reading to support their answer (i.e., use of pronouns I or we). Guide students to see how the first person point of view in an autobiography helps readers understand how the narrator feels about events. Ask them to find evidence of this in the autobiography.

Have students work in pairs or small groups to read an autobiography and fill in the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer (L-6-4-3_Biography Autobiography Graphic Organizer.doc).

Discuss the similarities between biographies and autobiographies. (Both have the same kinds of information, such as dates, information about childhood and family, achievements, and major events.) Help students see that both use the same text structure, sequential order.


For students who need additional practice differentiating biographies from autobiographies, provide scaffolding, such as “Is the book written from the first-person or third-person point of view?”

Students who need additional opportunities for learning may do one of the following activities:

  • Work in a small group to identify the elements of a biography in one of the books from the Materials list or another biography from the classroom library. Use highlighter tape or sticky notes to mark the elements in the book.
  • Use the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer to gather information about a classmate’s life. Then write a short biography of the classmate based on the information.

Students who are ready to go beyond the standards may do one of the following activities:

  • Research a famous person and write a biography about that person, using the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer to gather and organize the information.
  • Write an autobiography, using the Biography/Autobiography Graphic Organizer to collect and organize the information.

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