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Suggestions for Using Biographies

Jewish Heroes Playing Cards (4th to 8th grade)

Create stations with several copies of each biography, art supplies (markers, pens, colored pencils), and blank index cards. Each student should read the biography and then write one or two facts about the labor leader on one side of the index card. On the other side, students can draw a picture of the person or write his or her name. After each student has made a set of cards, students can trade with one another, use the cards to play a memory type game, or add the cards to a larger “deck” of Jewish heroes discussed in your classroom throughout the year.

Comic Strip or Picture Book (4th to 8th grade)

Allow each student to choose a specific labor leader to study. Using the biography, and other resources on jwa.org or the web, encourage the student to explore the leader’s life, or one particular event. Then, the student should create a comic strip, picture book, or short story chronicling the story they have chosen to explore. Encourage students to use the language of storytelling rather than academic language they would use in a report or research project. Here are some guiding questions you can use to help your students build a strong narrative arc:

  • Where does the story begin?
  • Who are the main characters in the story?
  • What is the major conflict or struggle in the story?
  • How is the conflict/struggle resolved?
  • How does the story end?
  • What should the reader learn from this story? What is the lesson that this person’s life can teach us today?

Wax Museum (4th to 7th grade)

Allow each student to choose a specific labor leader to study. Using the biography, and other resources on jwa.org or the web, encourage the student to explore the leader’s life. Then, have students write a brief description of the leader as a “label” for their statue. Students can then dress up as the leader they studied and pose as a statue for a museum exhibit. You can invite parents, community members, or other classes to your museum, or simply have students take turns as viewers/visitors and statues. Students might also give a short, explanatory speech in character to visitors as they walk by, or take turns being docents, learning about other leaders and describing them to people visiting the museum. Students should include the following information in the museum label or speech:

  • Date and place of birth, death
  • Description of life as a child/young adult
  • Description of the accomplishments and struggles the labor leader overcame.
  • An explanation of what museum visitors can learn from the labor leader or how that leader can inspire us today.

Write an interview (6th to 12th grade)

Allow each student to choose a specific labor leader to study. After reading the biography, have the student write a brief set of interview questions—questions they would ask the labor leader if they could speak with him or her today. Students can use “How to Ask Great Questions” page from the Family History Tool Kit on JWA's MyBatMitzvahStory.org to formulate both closed and open questions. After constructing 5-10 questions, students should write the answers as if they are the labor leader being studied. For some questions, like “When were you born?” students will be able to find the answer in the biography text. For others, such as “Why did you choose to become a union organizer instead of a teacher?” students will have to draw some of their own conclusions based on what they have learned about the person they are studying. Students may choose to do further research on jwa.org or the web. Completed interviews could be put in a class newspaper or magazine, a school newsletter, or up on a class or school blog to share the information with the larger community.

Match them to Biblical heroes (4th to 12th grade)

Throughout the year, many educators teach about Jewish heroes from the Torah. Biblical characters like Miriam, Isaac, Esther, and Moses offer interesting parallels to modern Jewish leaders. Have students list people they know from the bible, and a few facts about the characteristics, accomplishments, and struggles of each person. Then, students should read the labor biographies (or excerpts of the biographies) and decide which biblical hero the modern-day labor leader is most like. Students can do this by listing pairs on a worksheet or piece of paper, using sticky notes to post names of labor leaders next to signs with the biblical characters names, or by having in person debates with one another. Be sure to encourage students to give reasons why they think a leader is or is not like a biblical hero.

Who is someone like this person and why? (4th to 12th grade)

Assign each student a biography to read, or allow students to choose one person on which to focus. After reading through the biography, encourage students to retell the story of the labor leader in a short paragraph or out loud to a friend. Then, ask the student to write (or share with a partner) the answers to the following questions:

  • Think about the people you know—in school, in your community, your friends and your family. Who is someone that reminds you of the labor leader that you studied? How are they similar to one another? How are they different?
  • Think about politicians or celebrities you have heard of. Are there any that are like the labor leader you read about? How are they similar or different from one another?
  • Now think about yourself. Are there any things you have in common with the labor leader you read about? What are they? What issue or problem do you see in the world that needs a strong leader to make change? How can you start working for that change now?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Suggestions for Using Biographies." (Viewed on October 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/biographies-guide>.

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