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From History to Today: Exploring Biographies with Text Sets

For as long as I can remember, I have been a huge fan of biographies. As a young reader, I appreciated how they exposed me to history, and how their subjects provided examples of lives lived with purpose. As a teacher, I find them to be versatile teaching tools. Whether my aim is to build community through discussions about the real world, teach character traits, or study craft moves, biographies are so often at the top of my list of texts to read with my third graders.

As part of my M.Ed. program at Lesley University, I took a number of courses with Mary Ann Cappiello, whose work with Erika Thulin Dawes on the topic of text sets inspired me to think deeply about the ways picture books and other media can work together to help students explore concepts. A text set can include so many things: videos, articles, audio recordings, images, fiction texts, and more. Text sets allow students to build critical thinking skills as they look for connections across texts, weaving a thread from events of the past to the world of today.

Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote

This year, I had the pleasure of designing a text set to accompany Barb Rosenstock’s new picture book biography Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote. This energetic biography follows the timeline of Alice Paul’s persistence in pursuit of women’s suffrage in the early 1900s. As this year marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, Fight of the Century is the perfect text for the moment.

The full text set for this book is available here.

In thinking about the types of texts students might like to explore alongside this book, I knew that I wanted students to discover that Alice Paul’s advocacy is part of a centuries-long battle for voting equality that continues today. In the text set, I included an article from 1908 that described the era’s victories for women’s suffrage around the world, as well as a recently published timeline showing the evolution of voting rights in America for different groups over the course of 242 years. Of course, it is also crucial to provide students with information about how women were included or excluded from suffrage based on race.

Text sets also afford us the opportunity to let students explore a topic through visual and auditory exploration. Radio segments and videos allow students to access information through different modalities.

Picture book biographies can also stand alongside other texts – fiction, nonfiction, picture book, middle grade, graphic novel – to deepen the exploration of a subject. In this way, many classroom library book bins serve as text sets, allowing students to explore a range of human experiences that reflect a certain theme.

My full text set for Fight of the Century is available on Barb Rosenstock’s website at this link – just scroll down and click “Text Set.” If you’re looking to build your own text set to accompany a book you are using in your classroom, here are some questions to consider:

  • Are there images that might match this topic? Could students engage in a See/Think/Wonder routine to activate interest in a topic before reading?
  • Are videos available that discuss this topic in more detail? Could we use a digital tool like EdPuzzle to help students think critically while watching?
  • Are there primary sources that would allow students to explore this topic in more detail? (The Library of Congress website is a great place to go.)
  • Are there oral history interviews or radio broadcasts that would allow students to explore this topic through a listening experience? (NPR has many recorded broadcasts available.)

Happy reading and exploring! 📚

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