What are biography and autobiography?

What are biography and autobiography?
In Key Stage 2 your child will learn about biographical and autobiographical texts. Find out about the features of these texts and help your child write their own texts at home.

What are biography and autobiography?

A biography is a text written about someone else's life (usually someone famous). An autobiography is a text written about one's own life.

Children in Year 6 may be taught the unit: 'Biography and Autobiography' as suggested in the Primary Literacy Framework.

Features of biographical and autobiographical texts

If a teacher chooses to concentrate solely on biographies, children will start by reading a range of biographies, either about various different people or just about one person.

They will look at the features of a biography, which include:

  • Written in formal language
  • Use of compound and complex sentences, containing connectives
  • Written in the past tense and usually written in chronological order (in time order)
  • Text split up into paragraphs (usually each paragraph will detail the events of each part of the person's life, for example: one paragraph to explain their childhood, one to explain their early adulthood etc.)
  • Dates included so that the reader knows what happened and when
  • Phrases such as: 'It is believed', 'It was thought', 'Many people claimed', 'There was a rumour that' etc. to show that history is based on stories that have been passed on over many years and some things cannot be stated as facts
  • Pictures and captions

How do primary children study biographies?

Usually, children will be given photocopied texts to read and then they may be asked to text-mark the above features to show that they understand how a biography is set out and what is included.

Children may then be asked to choose their own famous person that they are interested in. They will be asked to find as much information about this person and make notes on them. Often teachers give children labelled spider diagrams to help children organise their information, but more able children may be asked to organise the information in their own way. An example of a spider diagram is below:

Children will then be asked to start drafting their biography, using the notes they have collected. Once they have done this, they will go through a process of editing their writing. Usually, a teacher will mark the first draft and write comments and suggestions on it to help them with this. Another method, is for pairs of children to swap their writing and then discuss with their partner how the writing could be improved.

Finally, children will write up their biographies in neat. They may plan how their finished piece is going to look, including title, pictures and captions. Children then produce their finished piece of writing, either on the computer or in their own handwriting.

Biography and autobiography are non-fiction texts. For more details how how non-fiction texts are taught in KS1 and KS2 see our parents' guide, What is non-fiction?