Assignment Biography: Student Criteria and Rubric for Writing

Researching an Individual Aligned to Common Core Writing Standards

Writing a biography means a student has to tell an individual's life story. Imagezoo/GETTY Images

The genre of biography can also be categorized in the sub-genre of narrative nonfiction/historical nonfiction. When a teacher assigns a biography as a writing assignment, the purpose is to have a student utilize multiple research tools to gather and to synthesize information that may be used as evidence in a written report about an individual. The evidence gained from research can include a person’s words, actions, journals, reactions, related books, interviews with friends, relatives, associates, and enemies.

The historical context is equally important. Since there are people who have influenced every academic discipline, assigning a biography can be a cross-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary writing assignment. 

Middle and high school teachers should allow students to have a choice in selecting the subject for a biography. Providing student choice, particularly for students in grades 7-12, increases their engagement and their motivation especially if students select individuals they care about. Students would find it difficult to write about a person they do not like. Such an attitude compromises the process of researching and writing the biography.

According to by Judith L. Irvin, Julie Meltzer and Melinda S. Dukes in their book Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy:

"As humans, we are motivated to engage when we are interested or have real purpose for doing so. So motivation to engage [students] is the first step on the road to improving literacy habits and skills" (Chapter 1).

Students should find at least three different sources (if possible) to make sure the biography is accurate. A good biography is well-balanced and objective. That means if there is disagreement between sources, the student can use the evidence to state that there is a conflict.  Students should know that a good biography is more than a timeline of events in a person's life.

The context of a person's life is important. Students should include information about the historical time period in which a subject lived and did her/his work. 

In addition, the student should have a purpose for researching another person's life. For example, the purpose for a student to research and write a biography can be in a response to the prompt:

 "How does this writing this biography help me to understand the influence of this person on history, and quite possibly, this person's impact on me?"

The following standards-based criteria and scoring rubrics can be used to grade a student-selected biography. Both criteria and rubrics should be given to students before they begin their work. 
 

Criteria for a Student Biography aligned to Common Core State Standards

A General Outline for Biography Details

Facts
-Birthdate /Birthplace.
-Death (if applicable).
-Family Members.
-Miscellaneous (religion, titles, etc).

Education/Influences
-Schooling.
-Training.
-Work Experiences.
-Contemporaries/Relationships.

Accomplishments/ Significance
-Evidence of major accomplishments.
-Evidence of minor accomplishments (if relevant).
-The analysis that supports why the individual was worthy of note in their field of expertise during his or her life.


-Analysis why this individual is worthy of note in their field of expertise today.

Quotes/Publications
-Statements made.
-Works published.

Biography Organization using the CCSS Anchor Writing Standards 

  • Transitions are effective in assisting the reader to understand shifts.
  • Ideas within each paragraph are fully developed.
  • Each point is supported by evidence.
  • All evidence is relevant.  
  • Important terms are explained to the reader.
  • Purpose of each paragraph (introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion) is clear.  
  • Clear relationship between topic sentence(s) and paragraph(s) that came before is evident.
 

Grading Rubric: Holistic Standards with Letter Grade Conversions

(based on extended response Smarter Balanced Assessment writing rubric)

Score: 4 or Letter Grade: A

Student response is a thorough elaboration of the support/evidence on the topic (individual) including the effective use of source material.

The response clearly and effectively develops ideas, using precise language:

  • Comprehensive evidence (facts and details) from source materials are integrated.
  • Relevant, and specific clear citations or attribution to source materials.
  • Effective use of a variety of elaborative techniques.
  • Vocabulary is clearly appropriate for the audience and purpose. 
  • Effective, appropriate style enhances content.

Score: 3  Letter Grade: B

Student response is an adequate elaboration of the support/evidence in the biography that includes the use of source materials. The student response adequately develops ideas, employing a mix of precise and more general language:  

  • Adequate evidence (facts and details) from the source materials is integrated and relevant, yet the evidence and explanation may be general.
  • Adequate use of citations or attribution to the source material.  
  • Adequate use of some elaborative techniques.
  • Vocabulary is generally appropriate for the audience and purpose.
  • The style is generally appropriate for the audience and purpose.

Score: Letter Grade: C

Student response is uneven with a cursory elaboration of the support/evidence in the biography that includes the uneven or limited use of source material. The student response develops ideas unevenly, using simplistic language:

  • Some evidence (facts and details) from the source materials may be weakly integrated, imprecise, repetitive, vague, and/or copied.
  • Weak use of citations or attribution to source materials.
  • Weak or uneven use of elaborative techniques.
  • Development may consist primarily of source summaries.
  • Vocabulary use is uneven or somewhat ineffective for the audience and purpose.
  • Inconsistent or weak attempt to create the appropriate style.

Score: Letter Grade: D

Student response provides a minimal elaboration of the support/evidence in the biography that includes little or no use of source material. The student response is vague, lacks clarity, or is confusing:

  • Evidence (facts and details) from the source material is minimal, irrelevant, absent, incorrectly used. 
  • Insufficient use of citations or attribution to the source material.
  • Minimal, if any, use of elaborative techniques.
  • Vocabulary is limited or ineffective for the audience and purpose.
  • Little or no evidence of appropriate style.

NO SCORE

  • Insufficient or plagiarized (copied without credit) text.
  • Off-topic. 
  • Off-purpose.

 

 

 
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Bennett, Colette. "Assignment Biography: Student Criteria and Rubric for Writing." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2018, thoughtco.com/biography-assignment-criteria-and-rubric-4083704. Bennett, Colette. (2018, February 28). Assignment Biography: Student Criteria and Rubric for Writing. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-assignment-criteria-and-rubric-4083704 Bennett, Colette. "Assignment Biography: Student Criteria and Rubric for Writing." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/biography-assignment-criteria-and-rubric-4083704 (accessed May 26, 2018).