Stories Unlocked

The Biography Project

Libraries are full of wonderful biographies and memoirs written for children and teens—let’s get kids to read them. The purpose of the Stories Unlocked Biography Project is to help K-12 students search for answers to big questions by curating a variety of quotes and insights from real people’s lives and stories.

Teachers know how challenging it is for students to develop focused research questions. But before students can become specialists, they need to become generalists. Put another way, students need enough general knowledge about a topic to know what questions to ask.

The Biography Project starts with students’ big questions, the kind that can never be fully answered — “What were schools like in the past?” “What happens when there’s a famine?” “Why do countries go to war?” — and looks for answers in human lives and stories.

Teachers of any grade level can introduce students to three simple steps.

Wonder about a big question.

Quest for clues in hard copy memoirs and biographies, writing quotes by hand on index cards and citing sources.

Curate a display of many diverse answers to the big question, creating a nuanced and multi-faceted response grounded in human lives and stories. Curations can be used as platform for discussion, a foundation for essays or creative writing, or to support other analytical or synthetical learning activities.

The Biography Project can be adapted across grade levels to meet diverse interests and learning needs. Students may work alone or in groups.

In the quest, it is important that students know they are free to set aside books that don’t work for them. Students can browse, scan, and use headings and chapter titles to guide their search—just like professional researchers do. Some books will captivate them enough to slow down and read every word.

Don’t forget to celebrate. Curations can take any creative form: wall art, spoken word performances, a history fair. We recognize that many teachers will desire to offer a digital display option. We encourage you to read the research on hard copies, handwriting, and embodied learning. At Stories Unlocked, we believe that students have ample opportunities to engage with the digital world, but are losing opportunities to practice oral reading, fine motor, and other print literacy skills. Consider keeping this project analog—and enjoy literacy that engages the senses!