Picture Book Biographies: Extension Activities that Enhance Common Core Standards

Since technical, historical and scientific topics are integrated into the Common Core standards for K-5, it is imperative to incorporate a wide range of activities, not only to cover the standards, but also to access a wide range of learning styles.

I’m often amazed at how the brightest students in language arts struggle with listening skills in following directions or with spatial concepts, while other, more kinesthetic learners, shine when presented with a project. So, in addition to core standard activities, I often include hands-on projects that extend and challenge all learners. Reinforcing the rich language of the text and integrating historical events are goals which can easily be accomplished through these projects.

Choosing engaging picture book biographies is the first step to an effective lesson which hits standards and launches appropriate extensions. For a lesson on Betsy Ross, for example, many RI standards are met, in a comparison of, Betsy Ross by Alexandra Wallner, and Betsy Ross by Becky White.

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-2-42-17-pm screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-2-42-34-pm






I. Betsy Ross: Introducing the books: Compare the covers of each book. Ask the students to predict the main idea. RI.3.7

Discussion Questions:

How did Betsy determine the number of stars and stripes? Where did she live? How did she receive the honor of making the first American flag? Do the colors of the flag have any significance? SL.3.1, SL.3.6

Compare and contrast the most important key events and details in each of the books. RI.3.3, RI.3.8, RI.3.9.

This is a lot of discussion for antsy 3rd graders, so now is the time to engage even the busiest of “jumping beans.” So activate those kinesthetic learners by supplying what they need to create a flag reflecting our nation’s first.

Extension: Create a colonial flag: RI.3.3, RI.3.4, RI.3.7, SL.3.1.

(per student)

8 ½ x 11 sheet of white construction paper
8 ½ x 11 sheet of red construction paper
4×4 sheet of blue construction paper
13 sticker stars
glue stick

Instructions: (Given orally and referring to the book frequently for details)

  1. Using the ruler on the long side of the red paper, measure seven, ½ inch stripes and mark the lines with your pencil.
  2. Cut on the lines.
  3. Paste one red stripe at the top of the page and one at the bottom.
  4. Count the number of white and red stripes to be certain there are seven red and six white.
  5. Paste the blue field on the stripes in the upper, left-hand corner of the flag.
  6. Press the stickers onto the blue field in the shape of a circle.
  7. Clean up all your scraps and recycle them.

After many years of incorporating this type of activity, I have discovered that long-term memory for facts and detail is greatly enhanced. At the end of the year, I pass out a history quiz, and the students have no trouble remembering notable people that we studied through an extension project. This motivates me to persevere with the extra planning and preparation.


Another excellent picture book biography, Moses, by Carole Weatherford lends itself to a discussion on the Underground Railroad.

II. Moses: Introduce the book:

Before reading, explain that you will be asking the students to create a shared list of all the interesting facts they learned from the book. After reading, record the facts they remembered on the board or a chart tablet. Continue the discussion to further their understanding. SL.3.1, SL.3.3, SL.3.6, RI.3.1.

Discussion Questions:

Was the Underground Railroad under the ground? Was it a railroad? What were the stations? Who were the conductors? How was Harriet Tubman influential during this time? RI.3.1, RI.3.2.

Extension: History/Folklore Quilt: SL.3.1, SL.3.3, RI.3.4, RI.3.5.

Introduce the activity by explaining that quilt squares are sewn in certain patterns with names. View some images from the internet or from this site: http://www.generations-quilt-patterns.com/free-quilt-block-patterns.html


Copies of quilt patterns for viewing during the activity
Pre-cut felt scraps (Example: red for large, center square, blue for small, corner squares, green for right triangles, and purple for isosceles triangles).
Construction paper


  1. Pass out copies of the Star quilt square pattern for children to share.
  2. Pass out one piece of construction paper for each child.
  3. Pass out pre-cut quilt scraps for each child.
  4. Ask each child to create the quilt square while viewing the pattern.
  5. When the pattern has been successfully recreated with the scraps, each child can glue his own quilt scraps onto the construction paper.

The completed project should look like this:







III. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel: Pre-Reading:

View photos of the Eiffel Tower, Washington Monument, Capitol Building, Coliseum, The London Eye, and the Golden Gate Bridge on the internet. View some of the designs that were part of the contest for the Capitol building that did not win. https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/exhibitions/timeline?c=75&y=66 Explain how modern architecture has been influenced by ancient architecture. RI.3.3, RI.3.5.

Talk about the competitive nature of the World’s Fair officials, and how they were determined to “out-Eiffel, Eiffel.”


Read the story and the sidebars.  RI.3.3, RI.3.4, RI.3.5.

Extension: Design Your Own Icon: RI.3.1, RI.3.3, RI.3.4, RI.3.5




construction materials (household objects from each student’s home)


  1. Ask students to think about which building inspired them from the internet sites.
  2. Ferris was inspired by the water wheel. Are there other objects or things in nature that generate design ideas in your mind? Write down 3 different ideas.
  3. Allow time for students to look for images of those objects on the internet.
  4. Using the images, students draw their own building, monument or invention, considering the colors and shapes of their inspirational images.
  5. When they have several sketches, ask them to decide on their favorite design.
  6. Assign a contest for the best invention. Students will search for construction materials around their house and create their invention.
  7. Invite teachers from other classrooms to vote on the designs and finished products.
  8. Display the winning design in the classroom.

Advanced Reading:

Assign the book, Fair Weather by Richard Peck, as a bonus assignment for enrichment. Write a brief essay on three new things you learned about the World’s Fair. W.3.4, W.3.5, R.I.3.9, L.3.2, L.3.3, L.3.5.

IV. A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki: Pre-Reading:


Remind students of previous discussions on slavery from other biographies and unit studies. Explain how George Washington Carver was also a slave, and how he, like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, made an important mark on history in his adult life. SL.3.1, SL.3.3, SL.3.6.

Read the story: SL.3.1, SL.3.3, SL.3.6, RI.3.3, RI.3.4, RI.3.5

Extension: Homemade Peanut Butter (Caution: Consider allergies and provide an alternate treat). SL.3.1, SL.3.3, SL.3.4, SL.3.6.


Peanuts in the shell
Peanuts-ground in a food processor beforehand
Peanut oil
Sliced apples
Peanut butter


Display processed peanut butter, peanuts in the shell, and ground peanuts. George Washington Carver knew that southern farms could increase their economy by planting soybeans and peanuts. He discovered hundreds of uses for peanuts, increasing the demand for the crop. Explain how the products often used different parts of the plant and show the 3 forms.

  1. Pass out plastic cups to each student.
  2. Measure ¼ C. ground peanuts.
  3. Pour into each individual cup.
  4. Pour a few drops of peanut oil in each cup.
  5. Let each child mix and stir with their own spoon.
  6. Pass out apples and let each child dip and taste their own peanut butter.
  7. Pass out a second apple slice, spread with a thin layer of processed peanut butter. Compare and contrast.

Check out this website for other excellent activities with peanuts: http://nationalpeanutboard.org/content/1126/files/Discover_the_Powerful_Peanut.pdf