Revisiting the Biography Project with Second Graders

March 27, 2013

The Biography Project Book project

The Biography Project Book project

Last year I teamed up with second grade teachers to design a book project that supported their curriculum objective of researching a famous person. The project created a good bit of excitement, so we decided to repeat it this year. Repeating a project gives us all the opportunity to make the project even better.

Biography Book, the first spread of pages

Biography Book, the first spread of pages

The concept is this: on the first spread of pages there is a mystery figure, and a book of clues so the viewer can guess the identity of the famous person, and learn something about this person when reading the clues.

Mary Musgrove in her environment

Mary Musgrove in her environment

The second page places the person in their environment,. Here, Mary Musgrove is hunting a deer. The figure from the first page stands on her own, and can be exhibited in front of her illustrated home territory. There is an origami pocket on the left side that holds a small rubber band pamphlet, which contains a report on the person. As it turned out, having the pocketed book on the left (verso) page was a mistake: each time the page opens the little pamphlet book falls out of the pocket. Next time we will put the book on the right (recto) page.

Marco Polo Biography book, expanded

Marco Polo Biography book, expanded

The book structure itself is based on a fold which I call the Book Base, a simply folded but  adaptable structure. Here the book about Marco Polo is opened up to show that the finished book is still just one piece of folded paper.

Marco in his own century

Marco in his own century

Here’s Marco Polo book set up for show.

Both the teachers and I did some things this year that felt better all around. Last year the teachers tried to get all the research done before and during the time that I was working with the students. I saw the students for three one-hour sessions over the course of two weeks.  Trying to get all the research and writing done before my last day with the students turned out to be stressful and unnecessary. This year I asked only that the students know what their person looked like before I arrived.  This was so that, after creating the basic book structure during the first class, that the students could start creating their person with paper, popsicle sticks, and material bits. A real stick figure! My other class time with the students was spent just creating the architecture of the book: we made a graduated page book for the clues; a rubber band book for most of the other written information;  origami pockets to hold the stick figure on one page and the little book on the other: we made an origami base to for the “who am ?” piece;  a pop-up on the second spread of pages and we explored decorative options.  With all of this in place, then the research began in earnest, after my time with the students was over. I think we were all happy with this sequence.

Stick figures, dressed

Stick figures, dressed

These dressed stick figures were the last thing we did during the first class. The students loved doing this part of the project.  The teachers told me that many students opted to continue working on them during recess.


There were so many really fine pieces of work done by these students that it was really hard to pick out which ones to show here.

I happened to walk into one of the classes about 10 days after my time with the students was officially over.  The students were gathered around a student who was presenting his book about Neil Armstrong. After his presentation the second graders around him were writing.


Each student was writing what they liked about their fellow student’s book . What a lovely way to honor each other’s work! Next, there will be a presentation for the parents, where the students dress up as the person they researched! This should go well, as it will be the second dressing.

Related posts:

Biography project proposal

Biography Project decorative details

One Response to “Revisiting the Biography Project with Second Graders”

  1. Mireya Says:

    what a great idea!


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