Google Classroom Teaching Materials

6 Ways to Use Biography Templates to Create Highly Engaging and Differentiated Reports with Students


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Biography Templates for Student Writing in Google Slides

Digital templates lend themselves to differentiation, creativity, multimedia, and high levels of student engagement.

As educators, we recognize the diverse needs of our students and understand that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always cut it, especially in writing.

We also know that writing is one of the subjects students resist the most, whether they don’t know what to write about or lack confidence in their writing skills.

When you use digital templates for informational writing, such as animal reports, country projects, or biographies, you have the opportunity to give students a highly engaging assignment. This allows them to be creative and use multimedia while simultaneously working on their writing skills and meeting grade-level standards.

Using digital biography templates also makes it much easier to support each of your students individually. Whether you provide them with scaffolding, prompts, or formatting guidance, you can help them meet their learning goals and achieve success. You can create different slideshows for various students or customize individual students’ directions with just a few clicks!

There are numerous ways digital templates keep students engaged, as opposed to regular pencil and paper reports, while providing the support they need to succeed. Keep reading for some of my favorite features!

Our favorite 6 ways digital biography templates keep students engaged and supported:

1. Customize the presentation to match your students' interests and class topics

The beauty of Google Slides templates is that before you give your students a copy of the presentation, you can easily tweak any of the slides to match their interests or coincide with the topics you’re studying in class (timelines, current events, character traits, etc.) You don’t have to change it on your computer, print off a copy, and then go make photocopies in the office. You can do it all with a few clicks inside your classroom! 

When you give students a digital presentation, you can also let them each pick and choose which slides they want to complete or give them the freedom to create their own slide. They’re supported with a structured template, but also given the freedom to customize it how they want.

Maybe you have students really interested in digging deeper into a historical figure’s invention or their hobbies. Maybe some students really love inspiring quotes and they want to gather all the famous quotes from their person. Whatever they’re interested in, the template can be come a canvas for expression.

By integrating student interests or what you’re studying in class, the biography report becomes a more engaging and relatable project, fostering enthusiasm and a deeper connection with the subject matter. Winning! 

2. Differentiate for your students based on their needs

One of the best aspects of using digital templates is how incredibly easy it is to differentiate for your students, aiding them in their success. There are things you can do with digital templates that can benefit the entire class, a small group of students, or customize an individual student’s Slides presentation based on their IEP or learning goals.

If you observe that a student needs extra prompts or support even after they begin working, it only takes a few seconds to access their Google Slides presentation and add the directions that will help them succeed. It’s that simple!

No more lost post-its with teacher tips or papers forgotten at home. You and your students always have access to their presentations to make any needed modifications.

Here are a few other ideas on how you can support your students with digital templates:

  • Structured vs Open-Ended: The beauty of using our biography slides is that you can pick and choose the slides you want to use for your students. It’s not intended for your students to complete all 28 slides included in the presentation. Instead, choose which slides students will complete before giving them their presentation, let them choose once they receive it, or pick your must-dos and give them the choice for their extras.

You can customize certain students’ reports with bulleted points in their text, as opposed to open-ended style paragraphs. Alternatively, you can leave it up to them.

Locking Down Sections for Scaffolding: You can also lock down key sections containing dates, names, or events to provide foundational information for your students. Locking down even features of the design can help students who struggle with using things digitally. Some students may not want the opportunity to customize and move pieces on the slide; rather, the opposite.

You can also offer a structured starting point, like a graphic organizer, for students who may need additional guidance in organizing their thoughts right in Google Slides.

Scaffold the Prompts: Digital slides also allow you to customize the directions for students and provide the writing prompts they need to complete the slides. You can go directly onto a Google Slide and type directions for all your students before giving the presentation to your class. For example:

  • Tell them exactly what you want them to include in the “early life” or “accomplishments” sections.
  • List out different hooks they can use for their introduction.
  • Use YOUR classroom lingo to connect your mini-lessons to their assignments.

Again, this can all be done in Google Slides and once students type in their text, they can just delete your prompts. You don’t have to fumble with all the chart papers you would have had to display around the room or make paper copies of hook examples. Just type them onto the slides.

You can also go into individual students’ presentations and write individual prompts for them based on their IEP or learning goals, helping to scaffold the assignment for your students.

3. Encourage students to use the star of the show = multimedia!

Okay, let’s be honest; you’re not going to have to do any encouraging for this part. Students will eat this up on their own! They absolutely love adding multimedia to their Slide presentations.

One of the main reasons I use Google Slides for research reports is that students can incorporate REAL images and videos into their presentations, which they love.

There’s no reason to include clipart in biography reports when students have a chance to see the real faces of those influential people they’re studying and the historical events they’re involved in.

Real images along with videos help students better understand the life of this person, the impact they have on the world, and what was going on in the world at the time.

Not to mention, weaving photos and videos throughout the report will engage the student’s audience much more than just a written piece, reaching different learning styles in your classroom.

Linked images and text

In addition to inserting images and videos into their reports, students also have the opportunity to link words and pictures to websites, taking their reports to the next level and leading readers to further information and understanding.

When students share their presentations with others, having these components also makes their projects much more engaging for their audience to navigate. Everyone is bound to learn more!

4. Give many opportunities for text features to come alive

Text features are one of the main components of nonfiction writing, and digital text features are a whole lot more fun!

Think a clickable table of contents, bold words that link to a glossary (with images!), real images with captions, interactive timelines, and even a ‘Meet the Author’ slide (students will love to add their own selfie).

Having students cite their sources can sometimes be challenging, but when the sources are digital (and even if they use physical books), even your youngest students can practice keeping track of the websites they used in their research by copy and pasting links and adding the website names.

Worried about students not knowing how to add links or insert rows into a table? I love putting directions for these Google skills directly onto the sides of slides. This way students don’t need to bother me or their classmates to ask how to do something! 

5. Have students share their presentations and comment digitally

Before I started using digital research projects, I always encountered some problems when it came to students sharing and giving each other feedback.

Here were my main issues before going digital:

  • It felt like it always took too much time for students to share their biographies with the rest of the class.
  • The audience seemed engaged for the first set of presentations but started to lose interest afterward.
  • Students didn’t have great visuals to keep their audience engaged, usually just a photo or two being projected with the document camera 
  • It always seemed like there were just one or two students giving feedback to the presenter, and it wasn’t that meaningful.
  • I struggled to get my students to give authentic feedback to their writing partners even before the final project.

Have you dealt with any of these same issues? Going digital resolved most of these issues.

First, I started having students share their presentations in Google Slides using the share link or by posting in our shared Google Classroom. You can assign students partners or 2-3 presentations to view. When students know they get to look at images, read cool facts, and watch videos, they’re so much more engaged and excited to view their classmates’ work. They’ll actually want to go on and read even more than just the few they were assigned.

Not only can their classmates access and view their presentations, but they can also comment on them using the comment feature built right into Google Slides.

Having students give each other feedback can sometimes be painstaking. In my classroom, it always felt like just a few students are into it, and it takes time for everyone to get feedback. Not digitally. Students LOVE IT. 

They can comment on the presentation as a whole, individual slides, or on a specific part of the presentation, even images.

What do students comment?

You can have your students give their classmates feedback before or after the final presentation.

If you want students to comment before, they can add suggestions for what they would add to the presentation. What is one suggestion you could offer your classmate that you think would make the presentation even better?

When students are ready to share their final projects, to avoid having students write only comments like ‘cool’ or ‘awesome job,’ I give my students some ideas to help when it comes to what to say, such as:

  • Pose a question about the person’s life that you found interesting or want to know more about.
  • Comment on something or someone else’s story this person reminds you of.
  • What did you find most inspirational about this person’s story?
  • What emotions did this biography bring up in you? Inspired, curious, surprised, saddened?
  • What did you specifically like about this person’s presentation?

The classmate whose presentation it is can even write back and respond using the comment feature, setting up a little mini-thread. Hello, collaboration!!

If you haven’t used the comment feature yet with students, let me tell you, they will love giving feedback!

6. Let them talk about themselves and make connections

Something that’s often overlooked but crucial is having students reflect on their own lives in relation to the individuals they’re reporting on.

This practice helps students unlock a deeper understanding and appreciation for the people they’re studying.

For instance, if students are studying a person from the past who faced tough times, they can reflect on times when they had challenges too. Ask them to imagine how their lives might be different if that person hadn’t done something brave, like changing a law.

Encouraging students to connect with the person they’re studying not only helps them understand history better but also allows them to learn more about themselves simultaneously.

Throughout this process, students don’t just delve into historical narratives; they also gain insights into their own character traits. By connecting the traits observed in the figures they study with those they’ve exhibited in specific situations, students embark on a journey of self-discovery, enriching their comprehension of both historical personalities and their own evolving identities.

Who are some interesting people for students to research?

Who should students research for their reports? Whoever they’re interested in! Give them ideas of people from history, inventors, inspiring athletes, influential woman, people that overcame obstacles, etc. 

Biographies are really great projects during black history month and women’s history month! 

Here’s a list to get you started with your students. But again, see who they’re interested in! They’ll be so much more engaged.

I highly recommend going digital with your biographies this year!

Not only will you be better able to accommodate your diverse learners, but you’ll also be giving students a highly engaging writing assignment while addressing standards and teaching computer skills.

Click here to explore our ready-to-go digital biography templates! 

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