Interviewing to write a biography

Interviewing to write a biography
Writing an in-depth profile of a grandparent or family friend will help your child develop interview skills, learn to write up notes and introduce them to family heritage, stories and legends that they might never have heard! Use our suggested questions to help set up a conversation to remember.
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How well do your children know the biographical details of your life, or their grandparents'? Do you yourself know how family friends met their partners, what their favourite subject was at school or what their first job was?

Help your child learn about the features of biographical text by encouraging them to interview family members, friends and neighbours and write up their findings as a biography.

The interviews don't need to take place face-to-face (especially at this time of physical distancing), but they will reinforce the bonds between your child and the important adults in their life (plus everyone likes to discuss their favourite sweet from their childhood or why they loved or loathed one of their teachers!).

If your child is interviewing a grandparent or older adult, here are a few questions they might like to ask (they can be adapted for different ages and stages). They might like to take notes during their conversation, or record a video or phone call to listen to later and work from.

  • Where and when were you born?
  • How did your parents choose your name? Did you have any childhood nicknames, or did you have nicknames which particular groups of people in your life used, like your family or school friends or work colleagues?
  • Where did you grow up? Did you live in one house or different places?
  • What schools did you go to? Were they close or far away, and which was your favourite? Do you remember any teachers you loved (or hated!)?
  • What was your favourite subject at school?
  • Did you learn anything off by heart, like a poem or your times tables, that you still use today?
  • Did your family have any pets?
  • Did you have a favourite book or TV series?
  • Who were your best friends growing up and what did you like to do together?
  • What were your favourite snack, meal, pudding and drink?
  • Did you have any family traditions?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What was your favourite family holiday and why was it great?
  • Did you play any sports at school, or go to any after-school clubs or classes?
  • After you finished school did you start working or go to university?
  • What was your first job?
  • During your adult life have you lived in different places?
  • How did you meet Grandma / Grandpa? Can you remember when you first saw them?
  • How did you get engaged to be married or start living together?
  • What was your favourite age to be, and why?
  • What are you most proud to have done in your life?

You can download some decorated templates with questions for the World's Best Grandma or queries for a Brilliant Grandpa from Ohio Health. The Museum of Cardiff also has a beginner's guide to carrying out an oral history.

They can also get some interview tips from journalist Nelufar Hedayat:

Writing a biography resources

When it comes to writing up all the facts they've learned, your child will need to take notes and then plan their writing.

 

Biography subjects are usually famous people like scientists, entertainers, explorers, artists or campaigners. Some of the famous people covered in the primary curriculum, which your child might enjoy researching and writing about, are: Archimedes,  Julius Caesar, Boudica, Alfred the Great, King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Drake, William ShakespeareMary Queen of Scots, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo GalileiGuy Fawkes, Robert Hooke, Sir Isaac NewtonLord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, George Stephenson, Dr Edward JennerMary Anning, the Wright brothersThomas EdisonWinston Churchill, Anne Frank, Queen Elizabeth II, Albert EinsteinDr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela.

They might also like to complete some extra biography-writing tasks with a non-fiction Biography Writing resource pack from Puffin Books.