We try to have each child read an easy book on their topic first. It gives them the big picture quickly, and it's a good place to begin taking notes without getting overwhelmed. Once everyone has a grasp of their topic, they write thesis statements. It makes a huge difference later on when they start organizing their notes if they understand what the importance of their person or topic is. After that book, we look for a chapter book, still not too difficult. Our school librarian convinced me several years ago that students get more out of nonfiction when they read material that is below their highest possible level. Once all the notes are taken, students organize them and then write a seven-paragraph report, with bibliography, which the librarian supervises.
Over the years I have collected juvenile books on many of the topics that my students choose. There are so many fascinating people from this time period, as well as other interesting topics. Of course, not every interesting person has had a juvenile biography written about them. Sometimes we find information about that person in other books, sometimes we have to go to the internet. It's a less than perfect solution, but oftentimes my students are passionate about these people.
So that is how today I found myself writing a biography of Joseph Warren. One of my 4th graders is a descendant of Dr. Joseph Warren and really wanted to research him. He is a kid who definitely needs the easier reading introductory book, so the sources on the Internet were not going to work for him. I'm still checking for chapters or section about Dr. Warren in other books (anybody know of any good sources?), but to begin, I searched the Internet and compiled a fairly reasonable biography.
|Dr. Joseph Warren|
My biography was a quick job, though I would like to develop it into something better - better researched and more thoughtfully written. I aspire to write children's nonfiction like David Adler does. His series of picture books biographies are so well-written and engaging. We use many of them as our first easy book in this research project. As I was putting together my Joseph Warren biography, I struggled with appropriate language for the age of my reader, how to give background information that is important to understanding the what the person was doing and why, how much information to give, and how to make it interesting. I love history and I love finding out all the interesting and convoluted information that aren't included in the basic histories. But, that only confuses the typical 4th grade, so I remind myself constantly to focus on the straightforward by interesting facts. I now think even more highly of David Adler.
I ended up with a decent biography that I believe will get my 4th grade student off to a good start. Maybe this summer I can do some more research and revise and polish my little biography of this very interesting and mostly forgotten man.