A biography, whose etymology derives from the Greek words „bios” meaning „life” and „graphos” meaning „write”, is, according to modern-day wikipedia, „an account of a person’s life, usually published in the form of a book or essay, or in some other form, such as a film”, being „more than a list of impersonal facts (like birth, education, work, relationships and death)”. A biography, „also portrays the subject’s experience of those events.”
Teachers should encourage their students to use the Internet, books, encyclopedias, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews, documentaries or other sources to research the main factors that define a personality. Novelists’ biographies can be really useful tools when teaching literature. They bring the authors to life, even if only for a while and, by learning the main events and circumstances of their real lives, the students are motivated to make connections between the real and the fictional in literary works. It is always interesting to speculate about how the world of the author might have affected the universe of his/her fiction and also curiosity-satisfying and a life-inspiring experience.
However, we should not forget that each writer is a spokesperson of his/her historical age and that his/her fictional characters are more or less projections of the author’s own personality, experience and subjectivism. Students should know that writing a good biography involves research skills for gathering, evaluating and synthesizing the existing information about the subject of the biography, use of technology, collaborative work, the ability to adjust language to the audience and rather developed presentation skills.
There are a few steps that should be followed when writing a biography. The first one consists of selecting a person(ality) who is interesting enough so that the students would feel motivated to conduct the research. Secondly, perform a thorough exploration of all the resources available about the personality in question, about the historical period in which they conducted their lives and the people who knew them. Then, to achieve accuracy, operate a selection of the information you found and check the selected items again, keeping in mind ”the truth of the three separate sources”. Furthermore, make an objective and honest presentation of facts and events, without hiding any negative results of your search and use language that is persuasive and task-appropriate.
One of the most interesting aspects about writing a biography as a pair-work or group-work activity may be the selection of information. Specifically, what seems to be an extremely relevant detail to a student, sometimes becomes insignificant, ignored information to another. Subjectivity is an important issue when selecting materials. This is even more difficult when the students are elaborating a biography in larger groups as the selection process becomes a real challenge. Negotiation skills are most needed at this stage.
The teacher can also ask the students to work in small groups at first and devise a biography of a certain author, and then combine all the information and elaborate a single version as a class. The students should understand that the information about a writer’s early life, background, education, relationships, travels, correspondences etc. will play the role of a document, not that of tabloid material. If this is understood from the very beginning, then, the final product of their work will offer the audience a realistic perception of prior facts and events and the biography writer- lots of personal fulfillment, credibility and, in the long run, a good journalistic reputation.