Relatable: Using Biography to Build Community




By Amber Chandler


If you are anything like me, I tend to overthink things. However, one of my favorite “life moments” is when I make a statement about how I feel and someone (either in person or online) responds with that amazing word: same. So many times, when we declare our random thoughts and feelings, we are seeking this sentiment, wanting someone to say: “Yes, me too. I am also so tired. I could sleep for a week. I SEE YOU. I FEEL YOU. I GET YOU. We have this in common. Maybe we can support each other?” Equally as amazing is when someone puts into words an idea or emotion I haven’t expressed yet or been able to put into words. Then, I get to respond with that profound word: same. The best part of this “life moment” is that I don’t overthink things; rather, there’s a sort of transcendence of self-consciousness that happens when we find something relatable.

I’ve been spending all my time this summer writing about social and emotional learning, as well as the impact the pandemic has had on students, but also what we as educators can do to help. I think that’s where we all feel the most vulnerable—when we don’t know what action to take to make things better. Here’s the link to the lesson. The activity is relatively simple: Choose a biography no longer than 100 pages. Then, create a “relatable” slideshow where students share how they relate to the person they read about. The class can do a low-risk participation activity like “thumbs up” if you relate to the person they read about. This sets the stage for student-led discussion and peer teaching that we’ll be doing later in the year.


fram from the lesson plan

A sample form the "relatable" slideshow in the lesson plan. | Amber Chandler


With that said, here’s a quick overview of what the mini-unit will accomplish, as it addresses several things I’ve been concerned about:

  1. Students need to build up their stamina again, so the biography they read will be 100 pages or under, and I am allowing students to listen or read. I just need to engage them at this point. We can add “rigor” as their stamina increases and they reacclimate to school.
  2. Students need to feel connected to one another. The “relatable” slides will help students see these connections to their classmates in a low-risk way.
  3. Students need to re-engage with technology in a structured way that is heavy on relationship building and connecting with each other. Their slideshows are brief, I’ve modeled it for them, and they will each present these to the class. It isn’t a “bare your soul” activity, which might be too much for some students who’ve experienced recent trauma. Instead, the activity allows students to tell their peers about a person they read about and how they relate to that person’s biography. It’s a camouflaged way to get to what makes my students tick and see how they relate to each other.

The point of this activity is to build community, but it also meets English language arts standards, reinitiates students into using technology, and gives me a baseline writing sample without doing something boring. I’ll also be able to measure students’ ability to make comparisons, as well as communicate with the others in the class. Another great part of this activity is going to be reconnecting my kiddos with the librarian! My librarian, Rachel, was happy to partner with me on this activity, and we will spend two days helping students find the “just right” biography. I’m excited to see how it goes, and I’ll be sharing examples when the kids are done. I’d love to see student examples if you try this out!



Find more blogs and resources from Amber Chandler here.