Barack Obama: A Nonfiction Approach to Reading in the "Reel" World through Documentary, Political Images, and Speech

byStacia D. Parker

Introduction / Overview

The goal of this unit is to teach students how to "read" documentary films, Barack Obama's biography, and graphic images. Each of these sub categorical texts will support students learning how to read nonfiction. Biography will be used as the primary text for engaging students in the lives of others, and as a means to persuade them to reflect on their own lives. Although there are many types of nonfiction such as journals, essays, and journalism, biography, is the only type of nonfiction to give in depth coverage of a subject. Thus, students are able to acquire nonfiction writing skills/strategies, via political image analysis, and extensive reading of nonfiction texts. This approach is designed to shift students' view of nonfiction as dry text with "real" facts. Astonishingly, some English teachers partially share this view because English teacher training has been primarily in teaching fiction and teaching writing in response to reading fiction. To underscore this point, when many teachers and students read biography, their focus is limited to recalling the chronological facts and events from one's life. What a boring approach to the genre of nonfiction, particularly biography. To expand this limited approach, students will primarily learn that biographies and documentaries are rich in discussion topics and writing ideas that can enable them to explore the real world. As students begin to see and feel biographies as a compelling type of nonfiction to be responded to, the more active their wonder will become in learning about someone else's narrative. Furthermore, compelling biographical texts can help students and teachers in a myriad of ways. For example, well -written nonfiction can improve students' civic awareness, strengthen their critical thinking skills, increase students' appreciation for how factual detail informs the truth, and motivate students to carefully consider the artistry of beautifully designed informational texts. Guardedly, I would add that nonfiction texts may even improve students' scores on standardized tests by helping readers become familiar with the types of nonfiction passages that regularly appear on "high stakes" tests.

A stark reality in public education is that students spend an enormous amount of time reading fiction from first through twelfth grades. In fact, in grades one through four, fiction is primarily used to teach students to read. However, in fifth through twelfth grades students are instructed to read to learn. This conversion of reading presumes that students have mastered critical reading skills such as being able to: identify facts, draw inferences and conclusions, form judgments, and support opinions. While some students have mastered these skills along with the phonics of reading, many students have not. Not only have students not mastered these skills; they have barely learned the basics of reading. Hence, many students arrive in high school with a rudimentary understanding of fiction and a severely limited understanding of nonfiction. Nonfiction is simply characterized by many students as being "true." Many students mistakenly believe that "reality TV" is real and everything true must be "objective." They have not learned the ways in which nonfiction texts such as: documentaries, biographies, images, and even autobiographies can prejudicially construct or reconstruct the truth. So while students are overwhelmed with nonfiction media in and outside of school scant in-depth instruction is given to teaching them to ask critical questions like: how is this text constructed, for what purpose, and from whose point of view?

Another stark reality in public education today is that students spend an enormous amount of time taking "high stakes" standardized test. Surprisingly, I have observed the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) routinely ask students to respond to 50% of nonfiction questions. This presents an inconsistency for teachers in states which prescribe heavily scripted curriculums. English Curriculums usually interweave nonfiction texts into anthologies, canons, and lesson plans. The study of nonfiction is usually limited to a few autobiographies, essays, and letters that are taught throughout the school year. The scarcity of nonfiction learning opportunities in scripted curriculums denies students the chance to master the in-depth analysis, synthesis, and evaluative reading and writing skills universally associated with understanding nonfiction. Hence, if teachers are scarcely teaching nonfiction texts; then students are scarcely learning to read, know, and understand the very material that will demand 95 percent of their attention once they leave secondary education.

Studying biography is the perfect antidote for this malady. Although maligned by some as having no rules; biography is the nonfiction genre most likely to spur students' passion for learning about others and themselves. Passion and wonder are contagious and blend seamlessly into a narrative that makes abstract pivotal moments concrete in one's life. In the process students will eventually understand the essence of nonfiction is to discern the use of fact, inference, judgment, and opinion.

Ultimately, students will keenly discern the differences between reading fiction and nonfiction and develop an efferent approach 1 when reading nonfiction. Educational theorist Louise Rosenblatt asserts the efferent reading stance pays more attention to the cognitive, the referential, the factual, the analytic, the logical, and the quantitative aspects of meaning. Thus, in teaching students about the three main elements in a documentary: visual, sound, and text tracks and the elements and structure of biography this approach will enable students to engage these nonfiction texts on levels far beyond their entertainment value. In fact, requiring students to read film, text, and speeches shapes their understanding of knowing which strategies and graphic organizers work best (plot diagram or Venn diagram) to write effectively about real people in real situations.


If we want students to understand and connect information they find in their research, then we must provide multiple opportunities for students to present, publish, and preserve their findings. Biography is the ideal text for entrance into the nonfiction realm; followed closely by documentary. Together, these literary forms enable adolescents to experience the lives of others who have made a significant difference in the public arena. Surely, students will learn of the private and public lives of unconventional and heroic figures. Conversely, these texts may take students where they often complain, into the lives of people with whom they have little in common, knowledge about, or interest in. Yet, a powerful documentary or biography teaches students about the troubles, joys, pain, and circumstances outside of their own limited experiences while giving them the opportunity to reflect back on their own lives. Perhaps, by holding up a mirror, students will see a world that looks just like their own yet find something they did not know was there. Until this revelation occurs students are just skimming the factual surface of other people's lives. The study of biography forces one to confront assumptions about nonfiction, while carefully considering what one does not know, before adamantly asserting what one does know. In order to become skilled in reading and understanding biography students need to critically consider the following:

  1. What is the biographer's relationship/attitude to the subject?
  2. At which points in the text is the biographer present?
  3. How does the biographer shape our perspective on the subject?
  4. What role do, diction, tone, and voice play in providing deep insights about the biographer for the reader?

The answers to these questions are multilayered and open-ended. To explore these complex relationships requires a deep and intimate knowledge of a subject as well as a few standards for writing biography. Another facet for students to consider is one's purpose for writing a biography, and ultimately to decide what a reader is meant to experience at the end of the story. An example of this is found in Biography: A Very Short Introduction, where, Hermione Lee asserts that biography raises moral issues and can teach one how to live our life or "open our minds to lives very unlike our own" 2 thus providing history and knowledge of self. Students and their lives are potential history makers and can examine their family history against the blueprint of a real person they encounter in reading biographies. This examination can catapult students to say, "wow, I did not know that could really happen!" It is my hope that each student will experience an "aha" moment when they understand that an adolescent Obama struggled with the same issues of wanting respect, being accepted by a peer group, and defining himself as an "individual" as they do. These are universal themes in the life of every adolescent which transcend race, geography, and time. How valuable it would be for adolescent students to read nonfiction texts and film and to experience the lives of others who have made a difference in the public arena. And what could be better than a nonfiction text written and documented for students to learn of the public lives of unconventional and trailblazing characters—both male and female. Students will study and learn from the biographical journey of Barack Obama and his experiences while searching for a racial identity, a community, a faith, and a partner. In viewing Obama biographical documentaries, listening to his speeches, dissecting Obama political images, and reading Obama political biographies and his memoir Dreams from My Father, students will gain deep insight into Obama's personal struggles to figure himself out as an adolescent black kid in a world dominated by whites. Obama poignantly expresses this point: "I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds, understanding that each possessed its own language and customs and structures of meaning, convinced that with a bit of translation on my part the two worlds would eventually cohere." 3 Obama's search for roots and racial identity would plant the seeds for a journey that began with him reading African-American writers who had the same questions. In high-school Obama independently read Richard Wrights, Native Son, poems of Langston Hughes, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Souls of Black Folks, the essays of James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man 4 to see what his great predecessors had to say about the ubiquitous question of race, identity, and an African-American male's place in a racially polarized society. Biography definitely has the ability to cause one to closely examine a life unlike one's own; however, with a caveat: one must know that the life being lived must be shaped into an identity. The quest for identification is still the Holy Grail in the adolescent African-American community as adolescents assert their manhood, attempt to define their womanhood, and consistently define and redefine their self-worth.

Inextricably linked with the journey for identification is the question of conformity which influences the life of every adolescent in high school. Unfortunately, sometimes students will conform to self-destructive behavior in the belief that they are doing their own thing. This fact is revealed in Philadelphia where a startling landmark study 5 revealed that half of all incoming freshmen drop out of high school between their freshmen and sophomore year. Of the half that remains, many conform to a culture of no disrespect, no snitching, and no tomorrow; just today. The results have been deadly, both figuratively and literally. Like Obama Philadelphia students frequently engage in journeys for respect, for an absent father, for a community, and ultimately for their role in a large urban school community and city. The results of their perilous journeys often leave them with more questions than answers and causes them to believe that others (present and absent) are responsible for the ills in their life. To challenge this assertion about "others" students will interview a matriarch or patriarch in their extended family to understand how much they have been shaped by their family's past, and present circumstances. Moreover, students will confront their daily subconscious choices that reflect their family values, standards, beliefs, and traditions. The awareness of such choices is critical knowledge for students to have so they can contemplate the consequence of each choice. Students will then write a biographical sketch which illuminates values and practices specific to their family.

Unfortunately, conformity to this code of conduct means not conforming to the universal maxim that education is a passport to opportunity. In fact, this type of nonconformity stands in sharp contrast to Dr. King's view that "the world's hope lies with the hope of a secure and livable world, lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood." 6 Apparently, Barack Obama agreed with Dr. King by aspiring to create an exemplary life and not conform to society's rhetoric about African-American males growing up in single- parent families or living exclusively in a black world or white world. Obama, in fact, transformed conformity and became an exemplary nonconformist. Obama longed for racial identity and experienced racism, he lived abroad in impoverished communities but was not poor, and he felt isolated and lonely living in an all-white world yet feeling loved, and pursued a broad range of political and academic interests. These circumstances and his personal attributes make Obama an ideal candidate for intensive study in biography. Additionally, what's critical for students to understand is that each time Obama consciously chose to "not conform" to the status quo he was closer to reconciling all his different "selves" into the person he would ultimately become. Hence, the majority of his choices created a rich legacy that prominently displays his unique philosophies, gifts, and talents. So, the primary objective of this unit is: to have students learn invaluable lessons from Obama's journey, learn from African- American writers who have chronicled similar experiences, and understand that their lives have value in and outside of their families. Ultimately, this unit is designed for students to open their minds and discover, they too, can make a significant difference in the public arena. Hopefully, when students discover what price is paid for conforming to expected commonplace behavior, versus what can be gained by "not conforming" to the bandwagon, they will experience epic pivotal moments and challenge themselves to create change that will fill them with hope and pride.

Students will begin to see themselves as having unfolding life stories, which can be created through positive life choices. Students will no longer believe that things just happen or that their life stories have been predetermined by the neighborhood they are growing up in or the schools they are attending. This realization will reveal that their life has value and they can have lives which contribute greatly to humanity.

Background Information

Students in 10 th grade are ecstatic when I start with text- to -self connections as a way of introducing literature. Classrooms come alive when the discussions and readings revolve around their interests. So, I have found that that a first narrative is the genre that can engage students the most. To introduce the topic of biography, I will read from Voices from the Future, 7 a series of interviews of teens by teens, subtitled "our children tell us about violence in America." The text deals with mature issues and I will read sections aloud to the class. Students will then write responses and we will discuss reactions to the material and to the people in the interviews. In groups, students brainstorm what they would like to know and what they would like to tell others about the subject of the interview. Some of the discussion topics will also be supplemented with a video or short piece of nonfiction on the same topic. Students will then compare the video or text depiction to what we read Voices from the Future to see how realistic the stories are compared to what they know personally and their knowledge gleaned from reading other student's interviews on a particular subject.

The next component of the unit is to increase student awareness about the structure, stylistic devices and content that pertains to biography. Accordingly, students will read the section of Langston Hughes biography where he travels to Mexico to live with his father. This passage reveals the complex relationship Hughes had with his father and reflects his growth as a writer and as a young man. Students will use this passage as a model to write a detailed description of an impactful incident that occurred between a parent and grandparent or sibling. This description will later be included in the student's family biography. All too often students do not have family artifacts, mementos, or traditional milestone markers that would enable them to tell their stories. Thus, student's family biographies will serve as an artifact that preserves a piece of their family history through photos, text, and sound in digital storytelling format. This process will help them enlarge their thinking about telling someone's story. This expansion is necessary because when students reach 10 th grade English, most of them regard writing a sketch or biographical narrative as recycling their middle school "famous person" report and turn in a chronologically predictable narrative.

Oral histories provide an invaluable opportunity for students to examine primary documents, hone interviewing skills, and transcribe the information digitally. Furthermore, students will begin to debate whether small details or large patterns or dramatic actions should be used to present the subjects information to engage their reader. Combining oral and written modalities, I believe, is one of the best ways to incorporate comprehensive language arts skills while giving students an indirect approach to reading and analyzing nonfiction. Not only will my students learn to successfully portray a person whom they admire—by using narrative writing techniques such as vividly detailed descriptions, clear purpose, using appropriate tone —but they will also gather primary data through interviewing, researching family histories, and interpreting verbal and written photographs or other primary sources. In the process, many students will gain strategies for nonfiction reading and vice versa.

While reading and researching information on biographical writing, I found this genre of writing to involve a variety of forms: biography, memoir, biographical narrative, biographical essay, biographical sketch, oral history. For clarity I will use the terms biographical sketch, which I see as a shorter, more focused piece that can be done in less time, and biographical narrative, which contains more details and requires more development. The oral history project or essay is a biographical narrative. Unlike fictional narratives, biographical narratives must deal with factual events, accurate memory, and written documents that must be presented in a logical arrangement to make the writer's voice clear and distinct.

The well-written biographical narrative has the following characteristics

Characterization- the writer maintains a consistent attitude toward the subject.

Supporting Incidents- Incidents are specific rather than generalized occurrences.

Significance – the writer provides readers an understanding of the subject's importance to him/herself.

Tone- the writer establishes a tone that clearly and consistently reveals his/her attitude toward the subject.

Organization – the writer integrates the incidents, descriptions, and significance in a way that best conveys the intent of the essay.

In addition to the oral history, where the writer explores both the subject and himself, students will learn that writing biography is not akin to reality TV, YouTube, or social networking sites (Facebook/MySpace) where factual information is shared in real time. Rather they will learn to write biographical sketches of the protagonist and antagonist using contextual information for several required 10 th grade reading novels. Writing biographical sketches for fictional characters is a skill that will provide practice in the use of evidence, quotations, and carefully selected facts.

Finally students will research three significant events (think 9/11) which have shaped historical, political, and cultural events in the first decade of the 21 st century. The discussion of such events will enable students to include powerful descriptions in the mini biographies they will write about each other as their culminating project. In studying the style of writing the author used to convey to the reader the personality, appearance, actions, and beliefs of each event students will have a model upon which to base their writings. A challenge to the student writer lies in interpreting, examining, and relating the significance of the event to another student's life. Yet, each biographer must strive diligently to make the connection between their subject, their subject's pivotal moments, and certain events that had a lasting impact on their subjects' life.

Historical Background Information — Barack Obama

"There's no question that in the next thirty or forty years, a Negro can also achieve the same position that my brother has as President of the United States," 8 Robert F. Kennedy.

What a prophetic statement, which came true 40 years after the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One month after formally declaring his candidacy for President, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois arrived in Selma, Alabama, at Brown Chapel, to speak. This was not just a run of the mill campaign speech; it was a speech designed to tell his story to the American people, challenge Hillary Clinton, who held the Democratic lead and the lion's share of the African-American vote, and garner the endorsements of prominent civil rights leaders.

Obama's speech "brought himself into the narrative and as he explained the particularity of his background, insisted on a place in the story: my very existence might not have been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today… I stand on the shoulders of giants." 9 In Selma, the message was specifically directed at African-Americans; every speech afterward was enlarged to include people of all races and creeds. This moment demonstrates that Obama was determined to be an individual with an African-American identity but a politician with a broad vision and purpose. This purpose gave way to his birthright as a descendant of the Joshua generation. Joshua 6:20 reads, "When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed….and they took the city..." 10 This powerful account of a city being overtaken was written after the conquest of Canaan which took place between 1406 and 1375B.C. for future generations of God's people to give them a record of God's mighty acts. On November 4, 2008, God acted mightily, when Barack Obama became the 44 th President of our nation and mighty shouts went out from Chicago, Kenya, Hawaii, and all across the world! God had delivered on his promise and President Obama will deliver on his promise of change; yet President Obama's life wasn't always so full of hope, perseverance or determination.

In Dreams from my Father, we immediately encounter Obama as a young adult who receives the news that his father has just been killed in West Africa in a car accident. His father had been present only in memory since he had visited Obama just once in the past 20 years of his life. John Amos 11 suggests that Obamas identity as a black man is in question as a result of his father's absence. In an attempt to understand his racial heritage Obama chooses to see himself as a black man experiencing global themes: relationships between fathers and sons, the promise of fulfilling the American Dream, struggles associated with coming-of-age, and struggles of the working class. These struggles are understood by all Americans and resonate loudly with young Obama during this period of his life. Interspersed among the universal themes is a dominant theme that Obama cannot change: the impact that fatherlessness has on the construction of male identity. A major factor that can make any level of success unappreciated when questions persist on a personal level that ask Who am I? and Where do I belong? Since Obama, was without a father and had an idealistic mother, no family member was available to help Obama develop an understanding of African-American life, African- American culture, or manhood, &mdash he was left alone to determine all the above while searching for his identity.

Obamas teen years mark the point when he began his search for a racial identity and formed a liaison with a small cohort of African-American males in Hawaii. Obama 12 admits, "I was living out a caricature of black male adolescence, itself a caricature of swaggering American manhood" and from black athletes he learned how to exhibit an "attitude" that was about earning respect, not who your father was. Obama also learned on the basketball court to intimidate an opponent and to never, ever let anyone see you "sweat" which is see you express feelings of vulnerability. Obama transferred those skills to social settings when he confronted anyone who appeared racist or made racist remarks. In Obamas world "white folk" dominated his conversations with his cohort of males and all their past and future transgressions towards blacks. Obama had become what America feared the most: an angry black male. "Our rage at the white world needed no object 13," he calmly states while driving home from a party. Implicit in his behaviors at this time is the belief that his possession of rage is typical of young black males.

Nonetheless, for all of Obamas rage he does not develop or trust the identity he's been searching for. Obama 14 states, "you couldn't even be sure that everything you had assumed to be an expression of your black unfettered self-the humor, the song, the behind-the-back pass-had been freely chosen by you." Subsequently, the only choice was to withdraw and to recognize that "being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat. 15" After searching for a father, after searching for a racial identity, after searching for a community a teenage Obama is left feeling the opposite of the empowering experiences he was seeking: powerless. He still must find a way to combat his powerlessness without conforming to the stereotypical image of black male adolescent anger.

Obama had not conformed to the image of a typical black male but he did stray into using drugs which is considered a typical phase in teenage development. Obama 16 made no such distinction and acknowledges that he was on a slippery slope as he recalls taking drugs, "junkie. pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. Except the highs hadn't been about me trying to prove what a down brother I was…I got high to push questions of who I was out of my mind, something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart…." Recognizing that her son was adrift, Ann Dunham, his mother prodded him about his grades and getting accepted to college. A turning point came when Obama realized to make some sense of his life he would have to leave Hawaii. Obama entered Occidental College in California but graduated from Columbia University in New York. Obama was on his way to finding an identity, a community, a purpose, and great success.

The following political images represent pivotal moments in Obama's political pursuits



Classroom Strategies


This strategy asks students to analyze the significant elements of a text individually by using the acronym SOAPStone that refers to the Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, and Tone. This strategy can also be used as a prewriting strategy, in which students have to consider their purpose, audience, and tone before they begin writing. This strategy also works with students who don't have much of a background on analyzing documentaries or nonfiction texts. The diagram below poses some questions to guide students through the text.


How can you paraphrase the text in a sentence or two?


What are the larger historical issues that inform this piece as well as the
immediate need to speak at this time?


To who is the piece directed? How do you know?


What is the point or message of this piece?


Who is the speaker? What can you say about the speaker's situation, social
class, age, etc.


What is the attitude of the speaker to the subject? What words and phrases
reveal this?


Choose one or more of the elements above and explain them with supporting
examples and/or contrast them with another text or similar subject.

Interactive Student Notebook

Many student notebooks are scantly organized repositories of information filled with uninspired, unconnected, and poorly understood ideas. Interactive Student Notebooks, however, allow students to record information in an engaging way. As students learn new ideas, they use several types of writing and innovative graphic techniques to record and process them. Students use critical-thinking skills to organize information and ponder historical questions, which promotes creative and independent thinking. In Interactive Student Notebooks, key ideas are underlined in color or highlighted; Venn diagrams show relationships; cartoon sketches show people and events; timelines illustrate chronology; indentations and bullets indicate subordination; arrows show cause-and-effect relationships. Students develop graphical thinking skills and are often more motivated to explore and express high-level concepts.

1. Make sure students have appropriate materials.

To create Interactive Student Notebooks, students must bring these materials to class each day:

  • •an 8 1/2-by-11-inch spiral-bound notebook, with at least 200 pages
  • •a pen
  • •a pencil with an eraser
  • •two felt-tip pens of different colors
  • •two highlighters of different colors
  • •a container for all of these (purse, backpack, vinyl packet)

2. Have student's record class notes on the right side of the notebook.

The right side of the notebook—the "input" side—is used for recording class notes, discussion notes, and reading notes. Typically, all "test" information is found here. Literature background information can be organized in the form of traditional outline notes.

However, the right side of the notebook is also an excellent place for the teacher to model how to think graphically by using illustrated outlines, flow charts, annotated slides, T-charts, and other graphic organizers. There are many visual ways to organize information that enhance understanding. The right side of the notebook is where the teacher organizes a common set of information that all students must know.

3. Have student's process information on the left side of the notebook.

The left side—the "output" side—is primarily used for processing new ideas. Students work out an understanding of new material by using illustrations, diagrams, flow charts, poetry, colors, matrices, cartoons, and the like. Students explore their opinions and clarify their values on controversial issues, wonder about "what if" hypothetical situations, and ask questions about new ideas. And they review what they have learned and preview what they will learn. By doing so, students are encouraged to see how individual lessons fit into the larger context of a unit and to work with and process the information in ways that help them better understand history. The left side of the notebook stresses that writing down lecture notes does not mean students have learned the information. They must actively do something with the information before they internalize it.


Here is a simple example of the right-side, left-side orientation of the Interactive Student Notebook in action. The student began by taking class notes on late nineteenth-century industrialism on the right side of her notebook and then, for homework, completed a topical net on the corresponding left side using information from her class notes.

Concept sketches

Concept sketches (different from concept maps) are sketches or diagram that are concisely annotated with short statements that describe the processes, concepts, and interrelationships shown in the sketch. Having students generate their own concept sketches is a powerful way for students to process concepts and convey them to others. Concept sketches can be used as preparation for class, as an in-class activity, or as an assessment tool.

Classroom Activities

Lesson One – Who Am I

In this lesson, students will explore the idea of memory in both large- and small-group settings. Students access pivotal moments in their own life experiences and then discuss family stories they have heard. After choosing a family member to interview, students create questions, interview their relative, and write a biographical narrative that describes not only the answers to their questions but their own reactions to these responses. These narratives are peer reviewed and can be published as a class magazine or in a wiki space.

To prepare students for this lesson the teacher and students will read: Mixing Memory and Desire: A Family Literacy Event" by Mark Faust and Stories of the Family by Christine Brems. These essays provide excellent background on the significance of memory that will help them begin their interviews.

Anticipatory Set: Students will write briefly about an event that was memorable to them and why they remember the specific event. In small groups students will discuss their event using the following questions:

1. How have their memories of these events been affected over time?
2. Could they envision discussing these events in ten years? Twenty? Forty?
3. What could someone learn about them as individuals by hearing these stories?

Direct Instruction: Read aloud the first three paragraphs of the Introduction: A life remembered section of Memory and Desire and have students use Cornell Notes to record their reactions to the following questions: Why interview a relative about his past? What was the subject of a family story they have heard in the past? What sense do you have about your parents or grandparents life at your age? What can you learn by interviewing a grandparent or aging relative? What purpose does a family story serve? As a class you want to read a section of Langston Hughes biography and then ask students to define a biographical narrative. Then using a passage from Hughes as a model students will write a biographical sketch of an important memory that occurred in their family. Tell students they will have time to revise their sketches after it has been reviewed by two peer reviewers.

Activity: In groups of 4 have students interview each other about the process of interviewing their relative. Students will record their responses in a K W L graphic organizer or a concept sketch to process the procedures, process, and outcomes of conducting an oral history. Have each group combine their responses and transfer the group response to chart paper. Post each groups charts around the classroom so students can do a gallery walk. While walking students should make note of any unique techniques that were discovered in their discussions.

Assessment: Student's write a bio-poem about the relative that was interviewed

Lesson Two- Make Me A Picture

Students will use Comic Life software to apply their research on biography and President Obama to the graphic novel structure. In synthesizing this information students will develop their writing skills for different audiences through adapting their research to the graphic novel format

Anticipatory Set: Give each student a comic strip and ask them to do a think-pair-share with a partner to determine what features make a comic different from a novel, and a newspaper. Using chart paper and markers compile a master list of comic book features generated from the students' discussion and leave it posted for future use.

Direct Instruction: Teacher will read aloud Presidential Material: Barack Obama ( Students will focus their attention on Obamas thoughts, feelings, and actions. Then student's sketch out the series of significant events that occur in Obamas story, using comic strips as traditional storyboards. By consciously structuring the segments of their biographical narratives in this way, students are encouraged to make connections between events so that their significance to the story is obvious. In class students will generate questions about Obama they would like to have answered, and each student will create a comic strip about Obama as President and a graphic novel Obama as an adolescent. So, it is necessary that students use different sources to create each strip. Explain to students that all graphic novels must include a title page, an introduction with a pivotal moment, seven to ten frames that include images, speech excerpts, and supporting information, a bibliography page.

Activity: Students will practice using levels of questioning strategy to engage with text independently. By teaching students how to write strong and varied questions, all students are able to access any text regardless of their reading level. To introduce this strategy students will be presented with Obamas Speech: A More Perfect Union, they will identify one question at each level, and then solicit more questions from each other, by exchanging notes. The three levels of questioning are as follows:

1. Level 1: Questions of Fact — These are questions that cannot be debated and the answers are found directly in the text.
2. Level 2: Questions of Interpretation — These are debatable questions that can be answered only after analyzing the text closely. The answers are sometimes explicit or implicit.
3. Level 3: Beyond the Text — These questions have their roots in the text, but the answers are found outside the text and are debatable. However, the textual evidence to support the answers is not debatable,

Students should end up with a minimum of five questions under each level of questioning. The questions should be answered in student's comic strips and graphic novels.

Assessment: Assess student's participation and contributions in the questioning process. Ask student's to write an essay about the process of connecting biographical events to be represented in the comic life form.

Lesson 3-Digital Stories

Please Note: Teachers should consult with their districts internet policy before publishing student's names or photos for this lesson. A school based website is the best location to protect student's privacy.

In this lesson students will use the digital storytelling process to visually represent their mini biographies that they have written about each other. They will learn how to make art and text work together, and how to use technology in creative ways. Writing a script, based on their biography, is the most important part of the process for students because it forces them to think through how the words will explain the images.

Anticipatory Set: Read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! "as told" by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith(1989) where the story is narrated by the wolf instead of the pigs. The wolf's actions are interpreted differently from the original version. Ask students to think about how the point-of-view in this version changed the details that were emphasized in the story. Ask students to consider what piece of their biography they are going to tell and from what point-of-view.

Direct Instruction: Remind students that their digital story is only 7-10 minutes in length so they have to pick a compelling part of their biography to digitize. Have them identify a singular theme or meaning to build their story around. Begin by having them look at picture books so they can see that they only need a few words to accompany their pictures. Stress that although the words are a few they must represent the image in an impactful manner. Then have students write a few short paragraphs to turn into a script with no extraneous words or ideas. Next have students read their own stories out loud so they can be recorded. There is power in students hearing their voices and they are placing their personal stamp on the tone and mood for their story. Finally, students can add their digital photos they took when they interviewed a family member. If photos are not available students can download clipart or photos from the Internet to tell their story. Finally, students can use Digitales; the Apple Learning Interchange site to see examples of digital stories. Digital stories can be published using Mac OSX-I Movie or Windows XP- Moviemaker

Activity: Set up links for students

To browse and see online examples of digital storytelling at www.

To discuss storytelling elements many digital stories have in common and view the elements in action at:

To select art resources at

Assessment: Ask students to answer the following questions about their biographers' digital story.

What do they like about a particular digital story? /Are there any surprises in the story?

What do they not like and why? /Is the story interesting?

Does the beginning grab their attention? /Does the ending fit the story?

Are there any questions the writer does not answer but should?

Comments (1)

    Elie fabs Fabss (wisconsin school, wisconsin, VA)
    Subject taught:
    Informative comments . I was enlightened by the facts - Does anyone know where my business could obtain a blank Scholastic Plot Diagram copy to work with ?

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