Women's History Biography Project: Great Bulletin Board Display Leading By Example
Today I am super excited to have Joely here to share about how she has used my Women’s History Biography Research Pennants in her classroom. You’ll see how these can be used for your biography project with your upper elementary, middle school, or high school classroom or home school students. The best part about a biography project like this one is that the selection of notable women all “lead by example.” For educators promoting a growth mindset in their classrooms, a biography study such as this one is ideal. The women have all lead an extraordinary journey with challenges, obstacles, criticisms, controversy, achievements, and notoriety.
In my classroom, an inner-city district in Northern New Jersey, I want my students to be proud of who they are, whether that be as young women, as part of the Hispanic culture, as athletes, or as future leaders.
When I came across Danielle Knight’s Women’s History Biography Research Pennants, I knew that this project would spark my student’s interest, open their eyes to some very accomplished women in our country and from their own cultural background, and teach them about women that they’ve yet to encounter. And they could have fun doing it! Who would’ve thought? So the printing of the pennants and the planning for our biography project began.
Meaningfully Pairing Students
I think the most important part of this biography project, and perhaps the hardest part, was giving out the distinguished women to my students. Was there a method? Several people have asked me this question. While some teachers might randomly hand them out and others let their students choose, I put a little more thought into it. I thought of it this way, “If all of these notable women attended my school as 7th graders, who would they be friends with?”
My thinking was if my students knew that they had something in common with their designated woman, they wouldn’t just do the research and complete the biography project for a good grade, they would do the research and complete the project because they genuinely were interested. I wanted to promote a growth mindset in my students by pairing them strategically.
And so like a matchmaker connecting a couple, I started to pair my students with one of the women from the pennant activity. Reluctant readers and at-risk students showed a genuine interest when paired with someone who had a commonality with them.
One particular student of mine, let’s call him Steven, has a love/hate relationship with me, and in that I mean he loves to hate me. Steven’s life revolves around basketball, so I made sure to pair him up with Pat Summit, a college and USA basketball coach. I wanted to spark his interest from the very beginning. I wanted him to WANT to do this assignment and learn that success takes a lot of hard work.
When he saw Pat Summit’s picture holding a basketball, he said, “Ohh! I don’t know who this lady is, but she’s holding a basketball.” I thought, “YES! I got him!” He completed his work and did it well. It is those moments when we know, as teachers, that we won.
This painting was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe in that it has a blue curtain, which was her favorite color, and the student artist included nature outside the window, which Georgia O’Keeffe is known for.
I continued to pair up students. Georgia O’Keeffe was matched with an art student, who later painted a picture inspired by her. Indira Gandhi was paired with a new student from India, who jumped out of his chair with excitement when he saw her name. A die-hard Trump supporter was paired with Hillary Clinton, giving all of us a good laugh, and I matched up a boy with Gloria Estefan because he posts amazing video clips of himself dancing on Instagram; they’ve both got the moves!
While the students were doing the research on these authors, I casually placed the books on their desks. They were very excited to see that I had the books written by the authors they were researching. They were paired with authors because they have a love for reading and writing so it came very natural for them to just pick it up and start reading, especially after getting to know the authors.
I also paired my best readers and writers with some great noteworthy authors, and the effects were astounding! One girl is now reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings because she became enamored with Maya Angelou after researching her. I matched two of my best writers with exceptional authors from their same cultural background. On their own, these girls are now reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Are there some students that don’t seem to have anything in common with one of these important women? YES! But even something so simple will spark their interest. For instance, I was having trouble assigning a woman to one boy, but after looking at his recent report card, I realized he had the highest average in Science in the 7th grade. Lightbulb moment! I gave him Marie Curie, a scientist, and I told him why. He was glowing for the rest of the day.
Watch the Magic Unfold
Once all of my students were paired up with their designated women, the rest was easy. A chromebook for each, some crayons and markers, a spool of ribbon, and a sprinkle of inspiration, and a small activity grew into something so much more. My students fully embraced it; they were interested, inspired, and having fun!
My students didn’t just learn about the woman they were assigned; they were inspired by women of their same ethnicity, by women who have the same passion as them, and by women who they want to be like. And I learned more about my students, which is the best lesson a teacher can ask for. Who would have thought a simple biography project could elicit such results?!
Joely Serios is a 7th grade ELA teacher in inner-city New Jersey. She’s been teaching for 15 years and has experience with Special Education and ESL students. Always looking for new and innovative strategies to experiment with in the classroom, Joely has written curriculum and given professional development on literature circles. She also has a passion for anti-bullying and kind classrooms.
When she’s not bouncing teaching ideas around with her special education teacher husband, Joely loves to read and write. She also has two mini dachshunds that keep her busy, and she loves traveling to tropical places. Visit her on Instagram to see an inside look at her classroom, or follow her on Pinterest.
I grouped them and hung them up by category. The categories included: Historical Heroines, Prodigious Presidents, Accomplished Authors, Grand Government Workers, Sharp Scientists/Doctors/xzcNurses, Awe-inspiring Athletes, Aesthetic Artists, Awesome Activists, Enchanting Entertainers, & Fetching First Ladies.
I’m so glad you are here! My name is Danielle. I am passionate about helping teachers and homeschool parents promote critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication with their students.