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Discovering Great People
Researching the lives of historical figures provides students with an engaging way to become more critical readers and researchers. In this lesson, students select notable people from the past and present to research, create timelines, and then design and present a panel presentation where they role-play as the people they chose to research.  [NOTE:  This is a multi-session plan]
Goals & Objectives:
Students will:

  • Learn about notable people of the past and present by researching their lives and sharing research with the class.

  • Develop research and inquiry skills by researching a person's life, examining the impact of culture on the person's life, and evaluating biographical material for bias and accuracy.

  • Enhance their use of research materials by using the Internet, encyclopedias, and various print resources to create an essay and a role playing presentation.

  • Improve their critical reading skills by evaluating resources or accuracy and selecting information to include in their presentation.

  • Learn new attitudes and behaviors and promote an appreciation of diversity (by providing role models).

Materials & Sources:

  • Student sign up sheet or students to use when selecting their notable person. Each student will need to select a different person. The sign up sheet will help avoid duplication.

  • Instructional hand out to be distributed to each student, outlining the expectations and assessment rubric.

  • Samples of effective resources so the students have a good idea about where to begin (i.e. biographies, encyclopedias, web pages)

  • K-W-L-S Chart for students to use when researching their topics -


  1. Introduce the project to the class, giving them the instructional handout including the assessment rubrics and providing them with due dates and an overview o the expectations.

  2. Have the class brainstorm names of people from the past and present who have contributed to our society in a positive way. Develop a sign up sheet to avoid duplication and have students sign up for the person of their choice.

  3. Direct the students to the library media center to find at least three print resources on their topics and then go to the Internet or more resources, reminding them to fill out the K-W-L-S Chart as they begin to take notes.

  4. Once the research is complete have the students start working on the visual timelines for use during the role-playing activity.

  5. Direct the students to start thinking about how they will portray their people with costumes and props.

  6. Instruct students to come to class dressed as their notable people in costume or by having an appropriate prop to suggest who they are. This prop/attire should be unique to each individual person.

  7. In addition, direct students to be prepared to share information about their person with their classmates. Students may each prepare one 3" x 5" note card to prompt details and quotes, but information should NOT be read!

  8. Have the class meet in a room with plenty of space for students to walk around and mingle. Remind students to stay "in character" throughout the session. As they greet each other, they should introduce themselves as the person they are portraying, and then either quote a few significant passages or give brief information about their person.

  9. What was your most important contribution to society? What inspired you the most to do what you have done? Remind the students to use their timelines as visuals to clarify where in time various events occured.

  10. After 2 to 3 minutes have students change partners and repeat the same thing. Continue to do this until each student has met all of the notable people that have been researched.

  11. Have students hand in their timelines for review.

  12. Wrap up with a group discussion on what was learned and students' reflections on the project.


  1. Timeline rubric -

  2. Role-playing rubric -

  3. Teacher observation throughout the research process and during the rol-playing activity.

Erb, S., & Moore, N. (2003). A taste of Chautauqua: Historical investigation and oral presentation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47, 168–175.
Daisey, P. (1996). Promoting literacy in secondary content area classrooms with biography projects. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 40, 270–278.
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Presented By: Tina Wilfeard
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