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Biography Brainstorm:
Using Word and the Web to Jumpstart Research


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Art History
    --Language Arts
    --Dance, Music
  • Social Studies
    ----U.S. History
    ----State History
    ----World History


  • 6-8

Brief Description

Students use Internet resources and Microsoft Word drawing tools to brainstorm (through webbing) questions about a person they will research and write about.


Students will:

  • brainstorm using 4Teachers' Think Tank tool.
  • include the results of the brainstorming as well as other ideas in a web created in Microsoft Word.
  • use the questions on that web to direct their library and Internet research.


webbing, biography, concept map, research

Materials Needed

  • student access to the Internet
  • student access to Microsoft Word
  • student access to a printer

Lesson Plan

It's biography time in your middle school classroom and students are looking a little shell-shocked. Why not help them get started with this tech-enriched lesson?

Prior to the lesson, students should have a basic understanding of some features of Word (Save, Print, and the top menu bars) and be able to navigate the Internet. The lesson can be modified for students as young as 4th grade or as old as 10th grade, and it can be used in any class in which students write biographies. That includes language arts, science, art, music, social studies, and so on. Finally, before beginning the lesson, students should have selected (or been assigned) a person to write about.

Middle school students often have difficulty understanding outlining and other organizational systems. Many think graphically, so using webs or concept maps to jumpstart their thinking about a biography is a great way to use their interests and skills.

This lesson requires students and teachers to use Microsoft Word's drawing tools, which can be found under the View menu (View > Toolbars > Drawing). If you or your students are not familiar with those tools, see the techtorial Create a Flow Chart in Word.

Begin the lesson at the whiteboard, chalkboard, or teacher computer and monitor. Ask students to name a famous person they would like to meet. Pick one that most students might like to meet (a rock star, athlete, religious figure, fictional character) Then, open Microsoft Word and click View>Drawing>Toolbars. Create a circle in the middle of the page and type the selected person's name in the middle of that circle.

Next, ask students what they would most like to ask that person. Write each question inside a separate circle on the Word document. When you've written 7-10 questions, use the line (or arrow) tool to connect the main circle (person's name) to the question circles.

Point out to students that they have just brainstormed to find basic questions for research. Explain that they will use the same process to complete their biography assignment. Walk students through the following steps: (Note: These steps can be completed at one or a few classroom computers, in a lab setting, or in a 1:1 environment such as laptops/tablets.)

  • Open Microsoft Word.
  • Click View > Toolbars > Drawing.
  • Draw a circle in the middle of the page and type the name of the person you are researching.
  • Type the questions you already know you want to research in smaller circles anywhere on the paper.
    It's easy for students to waste time making things pretty. Require that they create the web (person circle and all question circles) and get it approved by you before adding color and other formatting elements.
  • If you're having trouble thinking of questions, go to 4Teachers' Think Tank and follow the six steps. At the last step, you should have a list of at least four more questions that you can add to your web.
  • When you can't think of any more questions, ask two classmates to look at the web and offer at least one more question each. Add those questions to your web.
  • Review the work with your teacher.
  • If you have time, add some style to your web including
    • color (font, lines, circle).
    • different shapes or clip art instead of circles.
    • background pattern
    See the techtorial Create a Flow Chart in Word for more ideas.

At the end of the lesson, students should have fairly detailed webs that they can use as they begin the research for their biographies.


Students are assessed on their

  • ability to identify differences and similarities.
  • ability to create a Venn Diagram with correct labels.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Lorrie Jackson

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

NSS-USH.K-4.3 The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage
NSS-USH.K-4.4 The History of Peoples of Many Cultures Around the World
GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-USH.5-12.1 Era 1: Three Worlds Meet (Beginnings to 1620)
NSS-USH.5-12.2 Era 2: Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)
NSS-USH.5-12.3 Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
NSS-USH.5-12.4 Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
NSS-USH.5-12.5 Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
NSS-USH.5-12.6 Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)
NSS-USH.5-12.7 Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
NSS-USH.5-12.8 Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
NSS-USH.5-12.9 Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)
NSS-USH.5-12.10 Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the Present)

GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-WH.5-12.1 The Beginnings of Human Society
NSS-WH.5-12.2 Early Civilizations and the Rise of Pastoral Peoples
NSS-WH.5-12.3 Classical Traditions, Major Religions, and Giant Empires
NSS-WH.5-12.4 Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter
NSS-WH.5-12.5 Intensified Hemispheric Interactions, 1000-1500 CE
NSS-WH.5-12.6 Global Expansion and Encounter, 1450-1770
NSS-WH.5-12.7 An Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914
NSS-WH.5-12.8 The 20th Century


Last updated 1/11/2012