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Famous Americans


Social Studies  


9, 10, 11  

Famous Americans – Biography Project

by Sandy Staiger

General Goal: enables students to choose a famous American (in the timeframe of the course) and read a biography of that person to become the class “expert” on that person. Students will also produce a brochure entitled “The Lesser Known Facts about…” and take a final short answer quiz upon completion of the book & brochure.

Standards: PA History 8.1.9.A,C,D; 8.2.9.A (for PA individual) OR 8.3.9.A (for person in timeframe 1787-1914) OR 8.3.12.A (for person in timeframe 1890 – present)


  1. Students will learn and subsequently analyze the significance of this person in American History.
  2. Students will practice careful, critical reading skills.
  3. Students will produce an accurate and creative brochure regarding this person.
  4. Students will be assessed on their knowledge of this person in American History.

Required Materials: access to biographies of famous Americans in history either through school and/ or community libraries or from iBooks if using iPads; instruction sheet for project; final short answer quiz; Wi-Fi if allowing students time to work on brochures during class; rubric for brochure that can be found at and then in the box for “Go to a Saved Rubric” use #2549806

Lead in: This project can be assigned at any point in any US History course. While the attached document here is for Modern US History, it can easily be adapted to Early American History or for a survey course. Note: the allowance of time in this assignment may be considered lengthy for some and can easily be changed to one’s own needs. I allow for a full two months on this project as the students at my high school read approximately a book per month for their English classes.

Step-by-Step Procedures:

  1. On Day 1, introduce the students to the project and review the instructions and requirements. This should take approximately 20 minutes. Stress the two due dates, the first one with the bonus points and then the final due date. Students not going for the 1st due date should use that class to read. If you wish, this would be a good time to show a sample of the brochure and provide the rubric for the brochure. I encourage students to discuss the project with family if they have no idea where to begin self-selecting a famous American. Stress that as the teacher, you must approve of their selection. (Suggestion: watch for books that are classified as biographies but are actually collections of essays – often they do not give the whole story; also watch for Presidential biographies that may only address that president’s time in office; finally consider the book’s style of writing – there is an excellent autobiography on Benjamin Franklin but it contains significant amounts of “Old English” and my students have struggled with it in the past.
  2. On the 2nd day (and it can be a few days later), take the students to the library to browse the biography collection. Hopefully, your school librarian can assist you with this too. As they check out the books, allow them the rest of the period to begin reading. Set a deadline date no later than the following week for some students who are indecisive to show you their selection. Students using iBooks, still need to show you what they have selected.
  3. Provide weekly reminders to encourage students to steadily read and not save it all for the last minute. If you wish, set aside some in-class time for silent, sustained, reading (SSR). This can also be useful if a substitute covers a class period.
  4. On the first due date (in my case approximately 6 weeks later), provide the students who are ready (and have brought the brochure to class) with the quiz that the teacher has prepared in advance for each student. (See note) The rest of the class should use the class period to read silently. (Note: the most time consuming part of this project for the teacher [and it gets easier the more times you repeat it] is to set up each individual quiz. As you will see in the attached document, each quiz is open ended so students can answer the first 10 questions no matter what person they have read about. The final question is up to the teacher to tailor to each person in history. I try to make that final question a challenging one so I can attempt to establish if the biography was actually read or not. Keep a file of the questions as you create them to use later.)
  5. On the final due date (in my case about 2 weeks later), provide the remaining students with the quizzes. Again, time will have to be taken in advance to prepare these. I suggest rewarding students who earned the bonus with free time, provided the room remains silent while the others take the quizzes.
  6. A final step to consider is time to share the brochures on another day. I have found that most of the students excel in producing these both using technology and/ or artistic skills.

Modifications/ Adaptations:

Timeframe – you can easily adjust the timeframe to match the timeframe of your course

Lower levels/ struggling readers – the attached instruction sheet is from my upper level class, I have often adapted the assignment for other levels. Consider allowing students to read biographies less than 200 pages in length. In this case, their due date should be the 1st one with no option for bonus. Struggling readers and IEP students could be granted the 2nd due date as an additional modification.

Enrichment: include the requirement of a bibliography for the biography and additional sources to produce the brochure (including any pictures used)

Cross content connection: consider encouraging students to see if another teacher will grant credit or add a component based on the person selected (science, music, art, etc.) If students can self-select a novel for English class, suggest that students discuss this with the other teacher involved.


Biography project- level 1 2014

Attachment description: instruction sheet for this project


Biography quiz

Attachment description: open-ended short answer quiz for teacher to prepare for each student in advance of the due dates

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Biography quiz  [DOWNLOAD], Biography project- level 1 2014  [DOWNLOAD]