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Literary Nonfiction: what’s important in a biography?

Our big focus for reading this year has been to identify the important characteristics of a genre in order to help our students know what to look for in each genre. 
Our current unit of study is about Literary Nonfiction. We are teaching most of the unit through biographies and autobiographies, because they meet the criteria of literary nonfiction: text that provides information but uses literary devices, such as descriptive language or a narrative story structure.
This can be a difficult concept for readers who are new to this genre! It’s a crossover genre, and it contains characteristics of more than one genre we are familiar with.

In the upper grades (2-5), we planned a unit in which the teacher reads several literary nonfiction texts and looks for specific things in each one, and then adds them to a matrix to help students make connections across texts.
This is the way our matrix looks in third grade:
In case you can’t read the questions, they’re
– Who is the subject/main person?
– What are their traits?
– What are their motivations or goals?
– What challenges does he or she face?
– How do they overcome the challenge?
– What lesson can we learn from their life?
We chose to read…
and Snowflake Bentley – one of my favorites!
It’s especially difficult for kids to understand and decide on a lesson, moral, or theme for the text. Our teachers worked on the theme as the learning that the character does or the reader can do as a result of how the problem is solved (or challenge is overcome).
Question for you: Which biographies do you love to read with kids? Which have the best messages for us to learn?

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