Alphabiography Project by no8EI2


									Alphabiography Project: Totally You
Submitted by
Tracey Paramore


Estimated Lesson Time
Two 50-minute sessions

Throughout their school years, students are often asked to research and write biographies of famous
people. Sometimes, they are even assigned autobiographies. In this lesson plan, however, the
traditional autobiography writing project is given a twist as students write alphabiographies—
recording an event, person, object, or feeling associated with each letter of the alphabet. After the
entry for each letter in their alphabiographies, students sum up the stories and vignettes by recording
the life lessons they learned from the events. Since this type of autobiography breaks out of
chronological order, students can choose what has been important in their lives. And since the
writing pieces are short, even reluctant writers are eager to write!

From Theory to Practice
To engage adolescent learners, teachers must create classroom environments that are stimulating,
varied, and most importantly, that connect to students’ daily lives. The importance of these
connections is reiterated in the NCTE Guideline on Adolescent Literacy, which states: “All students
need to go beyond the study of discrete skills and strategies to understand how those skills and
strategies are integrated with life experiences. Langer, et al. found that literacy programs that
successfully teach at-risk students emphasize connections between students’ lives, prior knowledge,
and texts, and emphasize student conversations to make those connections.” This lesson plan invites
students to write about what they know—themselves and their lives. In this way, the lesson focuses
on the one subject that is most likely to generate successful student engagement and learning.

Further Reading
NCTE Guideline: A Call to Action: What We Know About Adolescent Literacy and Ways to
Support Teachers in Meeting Students’ Needs.

   write an autobiography using the letters of the alphabet.
   describe significant life events and interests.
   apply summarizing skills to their entries.
   assess their entries using a checklist.

      Example Self-assessment Checklist
      Example Alphabiography Entry
      Alphabet Organizer
      Totally Joe by James Howe
      Writing materials

    Totally Joe by James Howe
    Example Alphabiography Entry
    Writing materials, such as a writer’s notebook, pens, pencils, etc.
    Example Self-assessment Checklist
    Alphabet Organizer or writer’s notebook

    Review the book Totally Joe by James Howe, about a boy named Joe who deals with many
      adolescent issues—friendships, school, and coming to terms about his homosexuality. The
      book is a follow-up to Howe’s book The Misfits.
    Decide whether the students will be reading this novel independently, as a read aloud, or in
      literature circles. This lesson can easily be implemented using one copy of the text as a read
      aloud. Adjust the lesson plan as needed to match with how the text is shared with the
    Make appropriate copies of the Example Alphabiography Entry and Example Self-
      assessment Checklist.
    Test the Alphabet Organizer on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and
      ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the
      technical support page. For this activity, Option 3 on the Alphabet Organizer is the best

Instruction and Activities
Session One
   1. Begin the session by asking students to share what they know about biographies and
       autobiographies. Try to make connections to any texts that have been covered in class.
   2. Next, share the word “alphabiography” with the class by writing it on the board or on chart
       paper. Invite students to share their reactions to the term, encouraging them to break the
       word into two parts to determine its meaning.
   3. Follow up the discussion by reading the letter that Joe writes to his teacher Mr. Daly before
       he shares his alphabiography in Totally Joe.
   4. After sharing Joe’s letter, tell students that they will also be crafting their own
       alphabiographies, writing about a person, place, thing, or event for each letter of the
   5. Explain that after the entry, students will sum up the life story by recording life lessons
       (what they have learned from the experiences). Share details from the last question in the
       Teaching Tolerance interview with author James Howe, “Totally James,” to provide the
       author’s commentary on the life lessons in Totally Joe.
   6. Read a few of Joe’s alphabiography entries with students; or if there are multiple copies of
       the text available, ask students to choose examples to share with the rest of the class.
   7. Pass out copies of the Example Alphabiography Entry, and read the model with the class.
   8. Discuss the voice and tone of the entries in Howe’s book and the Example Alphabiography
       Entry with the class. Note that both authors use very informal style and that this tone and
       voice is fine for their own writing as well.
   9. Once students have experience with an alphabiography, work together as a class to discuss
       what the requirements of the project should be. You can begin the discussion by creating a
       guideline for the tone and voice of the entries.
   10. As you create the class list, be sure to answer questions such as “What should be included in
       each entry?” and “What should we do if they cannot think of anything for a letter of the
   11. Record the requirements and tips on the board or on chart paper; and use the information to
       create the students’ self-assessment checklist to be shared at the next session. Alternately,
       customize the Example Self-assessment Checklist to incorporate students’ observations and

Session Two
   1. Pass out the self-assessment checklist that students helped to create in the previous session,
       or pass out your customized version of the Example Self-Assessment Checklist.
   2. As a class, decide how often assignments will be turned in. Will students turn in a letter or
       two per week, or wait and turn in the entire project as Joe did?
   3. Once a deadline has been determined, provide time for the students to write in class and as
       homework. Students can write their alphabiography in a notebook, or they can use the
       Alphabet Organizer as a means of publishing. Suggest that students choose Option 3 in the
       Alphabet Organizer, as it best fits the entries they will compose.
   4. Remind students that they do not have to write this alphabiography in a linear fashion: A, B,
       C, and so forth. They can write entries as they think of them and then relate their entries to
       the appropriate letter of the alphabet.
   5. In the same vein, students can publish when they have entries done, or when their entire
       alphabiographies are completed.

Final Session
   1. When students have completed all entries of their alphabiographies, re-read the letter that
       Joe writes to his teacher Mr. Daly to the class.
   2. Ask students to write similar letters to the teacher, which will serve as an introduction to
       their alphabiographies. For more strategies on composing these letters, explore the “Draft
       Letters: Improving Student Writing through Critical Thinking” lesson plan.
   3. If there are students who would like to share an entry or two from their alphabiographies,
       allow time for them to do so.
   4. Provide time for the students to assess their alphabiographies, using the criteria set by the
       class or using the customized version of the Example Self-Assessment Checklist.

      Adapt this strategy as a book report alternative, asking students to write alphabiographies
       from the point of view of a character in a book they have recently read.
      See the lesson plan activity in “Totally Us,” from, for additional alternatives
       for composing alphabiographies with students.

Web Resources
“Totally James”
        In this interview from Teaching Tolerance, James Howe, author of Totally Joe, discusses
        tolerance, diversity and the parallels between his own life and his literature.

Draft Letters: Improving Student Writing through Critical Thinking
        This ReadWriteThink lesson plan introduces students to draft letters, asking them to think
        critically about their writing on a specific assignment before sharing their work with a
        reader. The lesson explains the strategy and provides models for the project, which can be
        adapted for any grade level and any writing project.

Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
        This Web site provides supportive educational resources and curriculum tools as well as
        links to online publications. There are also sections of the site specifically devoted to student

Student Assessment/Reflections
Review the work that students complete during this project on an on-going basis for the
thoroughness and completeness. As students work on their entries, talk to them and observe their
work. Pay particular attention to the connections they make from their life to their writing. Collect
completed self-assessments when collecting the finished alphabiographies, and use the checklist to
provide feedback on students’ work. As you review the artifacts, look for evidence that students’
assessment accurately reflects their performance in the alphabiographies. Focus feedback on places
where students’ understanding of the requirements seems lacking and/or where their performance
does not match the assessment they completed.

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