Introduction of Unfamiliar Genre

Genre’s Name: Biographical Nonfiction
Definition of Genre: A literary work that details true events, but is not written by the person in which the story details.
Genre’s General Purpose: To provide information to others about a well known person’s life. This genre is also used to guide students, by showing them problems and situations that others may face, and help them to find others that they may be able to relate to.
Genre’s General Audience: All student age levels, teachers, and historians.
Genre’s Conventions: Many literary works in this genre use simple sentence structure in order to ensure that the story is relatable to all people. Within this genre writers use dialogue and dialect to help the readers feel more comfortable with that person’s life. Although this genre does not require that the writer use pictures, many have already begun to use more pictures throughout their books.
Background Information on Genre: Biographical nonfiction tends to reflect the more influential people in a certain point of history. So, this genre lends itself very well to history. Writers tend to use the lives of those people who had a great impact on history as their “muse” to write in this genre. While there are numerous biographical nonfiction writers, recently there have been a few writers that have been in the spotlight more than others. These writers include: Frances Mayes and Andrew Helfer.


But with nonfiction, the task is very straightforward: Do the research, tell the story.

Annotated Bibliography


Helfer, Andrew. Malcolm X: a graphic biography. Hill and Wang: New York, 2006.
This is a graphic novel about the life of Malcolm X. While this type of novel is not typical of the genre, at this time, many authors have begun to incorporate more pictures into their works. So, I thought this book would be a good source to incorporate because it gives you a glimpse of how the genre as evolved. I chose this sample because it is different than the others that one would probably find being listed as a biography, but I think that it is important to know as much about this genre as possible. So, even though it may not be a typical biography; I do see where it might be beneficial to many classrooms, especially those classrooms that have a diverse range of achievement levels. I think this book is an amazing representation of all aspects of this genre. It allowed me to see a completely different side of biography while still being able to learn more about a person’s life.

Draper, Sharon. We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact led to Success. Penguin Group, 2006.I instantly fell in love with this novel, although it is a small bit autobiography. The three doctors did have a part in writing this book, but most of the credit is given to Sharon Draper so that is why I included it. I think it is a great mixture of the “old-school” biography and the “new-school.” By this I mean, the old school is just words on a page, but the new school is those words accompanied by several pictures throughout the book. The book is divided into several chapters per each doctor. The reader is taken on a journey of each doctor’s life and then eventually how they met each other, and how meeting one another changed their lives. I have used this book in my class with both freshman and sophomores and both classes loved it. My students related to this story in so many ways, that there was no way that I could have left this out.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Little, Brown and Company, 2007.At first glance, one might think that this book is yet another young adult novel that does not have a substantial story; however, this is not the case. The author combines the elements of biography along with pictures to represent the story of a young teenager. Alexie intertwines his own life experiences, but puts them into the life of Junior making this a biography. This book is written in the language of a teenager, so it is much easier for students to understand (and it has curse words, too).


Teaching Resources
Role Playing- A lesson that uses role playing to help students understand the concepts of biography.
Interactive Cube- An engaging lesson that allows students to use hands-on method to demonstrate understanding of biography.
Research Project- A project that provides the foundation of biography for students, can be adapted for any grade level.


Samples of Instructional Units

Additional ResourceHere is a How-to book that gives specific directions that will help students write in the Biography Genre.

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