Using Biographies and Historical Fiction in Teaching Children


Trial and Triumph

One of my favorite genres of reading is the biography. Not only do I enjoy this read for relaxation, I also believe it to be a great educational tool for our children. Children of all ages enjoy stories and what better story than that of a life lived?

  1. History in action. Biographies are history in action. More real life history can be captured by the reader in a biography than in a history textbook. Here you can begin your discussion of the story with Who?, What?, When?, Where? questions and can continue with Why? and How? questions. Listening to your child’s answers help you understand how he is developing in his comprehension and thinking skills.
  1. Heroes – Readers need heroes. From heroes we can learn how to live and how not to live. Not all heroes are positive examples, but many are positive in most ways. When reading a biography with your child you can ask them in what ways should he follow this character’s example and in what ways he should not follow the example.
  1. Historical Time Line – Making a timeline can help readers to see how the lives of the persons in different biographies relate to one another.
  1. Writing Prompts. Biographies provide wonderful writing prompts. For example:

These outlines work for extended paragraphs or five paragraph essays:

# 1: Compare / Contrast life of the main character and your life.

Introduction: Introduce three areas

Area #1: Main Character’s Life vs. My Life

Area #2: Main Character’s Life vs. My Life

Area #3: Main Character’s Life vs. My Life

Conclusion: Review three areas

#2: Why I do / do not admire the main character?

Introduction: Introduce the individual and introduce three reasons.

Reason #1:

Reason #2:

Reason #3:

Conclusion: Review three reasons why you admire the individual.

#3: Describe the main character’s distinguishing characteristics.


Introduction: Introduce three characteristics.

Characteristic #1 with examples from book

Characteristic #2 with examples from book

Characteristic #3 with examples from book

Conclusion: Review three characteristics.

#4: Describe the historical atmosphere in the main character’s day.

Introduction: Introduce three areas.

Area #1

Area #2:

Area #3:

Conclusion: Review three areas and your conclusion.

In addition to using these activities with biographies, historical fiction can be studied in this way. With historical fiction, students can explore which parts of the story form part of the historical setting and which parts arise from the author’s imagination. Further students can write their own biographies and historical fiction stories and books.

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