Adult Ed

Individual Legacies: Biography Writing Projects for Self-Discovery

Overview | Activities

Introductory Activities | Learning Activities | Culminating Activity
Cross-curricular Extensions |

Introductory Activities - Building research skills in language arts

  1. What is a legacy?

    Ask students to consider what the word "legacy" means. First, write down single words that have or imply the same meaning. Then ask students for a full definition of the term. Provide students with either a dictionary or a thesaurus. Ask students to record the definition and a list of at least two synonyms for the term.

    A legacy is something handed down through several generations or from someone in the past. Implied in the term is a notion of value-leaving a legacy is like making a significant contribution to those who will come after you. A list of other terms synonymous with this meaning include: gift, inheritance, tradition, endowment, award, benefit. If reference books are not available in the classroom, feel free to access similar information online at or

  2. Whose legacy is shaping your life?

    Ask students to think about two people who have helped influence their goals or their life choices. Encourage your students to think about someone who is famous and someone who may not be so famous (example: grandmother, friend, local leader). Once students have identified their two people, THINK-PAIR-SHARE the lists in the class. Monitor small group discussion by asking students why they chose particular people.

    Think-pair-share is a technique used for promoting collaboration in an active classroom. Students write down their responses to the task individually before discussing their responses in pairs or small groups.

  3. Ask students to log onto the Who What When Web site.

    Visit the Who What When Web site at to gather more information about the influences that may have affected the lives of the people they have chosen. Instruct students to type the last name of their famous person in the "Name" box (on the left side of the page) before clicking "Go". Once the request for information has been processed by the site, the search results will be included in a "Results" frame. Click on the "Timeline" icon to get a full perspective of the person's life: the time period in which they lived, other people who lived around the same time, world events during the person's life span and/or specific influences that may have affected that person's life. Use the drop-down menu next to the "World of" tab to access various categories.

    Instruct students to make a list of at least four people from each of the timeline categories associated with their person. Each student can record his/her responses on the LIFE SPAN HANDOUT.

    Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify the difference between life spans listed in amber frames and those listed in light green frames.

    The names listed in amber frames represent the deceased whereas those names listed in light green frames are people who are still alive. Under the crime category, students can discuss negative legacies as well. This exercise will allow students to pick up clues about Web-based research and begin to help them recognize nuanced differences between the kinds of information that can be retrieved online.

Learning Activities - Writing a biography

  1. Explain to students that biographies are nonfiction narratives that tell stories about the lives of people. There are two types of biography: those written about someone other than the author and those written by and about the author. The second type is called an "autobiography." Instruct students to log onto the "How to write an autobiography" Web site ( Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify what three questions a writer should ask himself when he sets out to write a story about a person.

    The key questions listed on the site are: "Who am I in life?" "What is my outlook on life?" and "What does life mean to me?" These questions should be used to guide the development of the story whether the piece of writing is about the author (autobiography) or someone else (biography).

  2. Instruct students to write down a list of biographical information describing the person they plan to write about (this may include gathering data about themselves). Explain to students that biographical information should be recorded prior to the actual writing task. Ask students to identify which step in the writing process this activity could be classified. [Making a list of information, brainstorming, gathering data and organizing it are all strategies useful in the pre-writing stage of the writing process.] Possible biographical information to include on the data list:
    • Name*
    • Birth date and death date (when applicable)
    • Birthplace
    • Place where person does most of their work*
    • Description of person's work/interests*
    • Personal motto/philosophy
    • Reason why person is being studied*
    • List of accomplishments
    *Indicates required data

  3. Help students to develop a thesis statement as a way to start their narratives. Instruct students to use either the person's motto/personal philosophy or the reason why person is being studied, from the list, to help them make a definitive statement about the person's importance as a personal influence. Instruct students to write at least three additional sentences to support their statements. These three sentences will be used to form the support paragraphs in the biography. Refer students back to the "How to" Web site ( as they work to develop their narratives further.

Culminating Activity - Writing revisions and editing

  1. Once students have written the first draft of their narrative, show students how they can organize their draft to make it more clear to their readers. Access the "Mini-Lesson strategy" video from EdVideo Online. Ask students to view the short video-clip. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify three different things writers may need to do in the revision process.

    [According to the teacher in the clip, students may have to add information, cut information or rearrange information in order to make their writing more cohesive.]

    Instruct students to PAUSE the video segment when t=0:52. Point out to students that "LSU" appears in the first paragraph and in the third paragraph of the letter but not in the second paragraph. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify if this is a strength or a weakness in the flow of the writing. [This lack of continuity suggests a weakness in the writing.] RESUME play of the segment. Discuss with students what the teacher suggested should be done to strengthen the letter. [The teacher suggests moving the text related to LSU in the third paragraph closer to the text in the first paragraph.]

  2. Allow students to review their narratives making sure that they have answered the guiding questions listed earlier and reorder if necessary any information that is illogically placed in the body of the text.

  3. Once students have finished revising their essays, pair students for peer review.

Cross-curricular Extensions --- Nonfiction writing-Connecting Language Arts and History

National Heroes
In most countries, many national heroes are honored by having their images on currency or postage stamps. Research the life/work of national heroes from the United States or other countries by first finding out who these men and women are and then finding out why they were important. In the United States, you can choose from national heroes including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Franklin, Sacajawea, John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt or Thomas Jefferson.

Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks
The Teaching Tolerance organization produces instructional video and distributes whole curricula to schools and teachers at no cost. There are links to lesson plans related to the life and work of Ms. Rosa Parks as well as order information for curriculum kits useful for teaching students at all grade levels in a multicultural, transformative, participatory way.

Video segments of Mrs. Parks' funeral
Several media outlets broadcast Mrs. Parks' funeral. This local news station, has posted video links to some of the memorial service speakers on their Web site. After viewing a few segments, write a short description of the connections between personal legacy and social history.

GED Connection to Writing: Process and Questions
On pages 40-41 of the Language Arts/Writing workbook, students can review the steps of the writing process. This lesson was an example of nonfiction writing. Practice recognizing the main idea of a nonfiction piece with GED Connection, Program 12 or use the workbook (pages 253 and 255). Workbooks are $25.00 per set of three (Math, Language Arts/Writing, Science/Social Studies) and may be ordered by sending a money order ONLY to:

Thirteen/WNET New York
Adult Education Department - Literacy Center
450 West 33rd Street, 7th floor
New York, NY 10001

For additional information about GED Connection, please call (212) 560-2831, and/or (212) 560-6937.