Lesson Plans

Wright Brothers Biography: An Illustrated Timeline

For Teachers:
Lesson Plan for Wright Brothers Biography: An Illustrated Timeline

Working independently online, students study primary source materials from the Wright Brothers exhibition and use what they learn to create a brief biography of Wilbur or Orville Wright. The class then combines individual student work to create a biography in the form of an illustrated timeline.

Grade Level: 4-7

Time Needed: 2-3 class periods

National Educational Standards Addressed by this Activity:

 • Chronological Thinking
 • Historical Comprehension
 • Historical Research Capabilities
 • Content: Era 7 - The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

This online biography lesson is designed for students to complete on their own, with teacher support as needed. Older (and more web-savvy) students will need little teacher guidance; younger students will need more. The online lesson is written for the student and includes instructions about what to do in each step. Students may complete the activities individually or in groups.

1. In Step 1 Choose a Subject, students choose a subject for their biography: Wilbur or Orville Wright.

2. In Step 2 Complete the Research Sheet, students gather facts about either Wilbur or Orville Wright from two available sources. The Archives, is a set of 40 primary sources from the exhibition (documents and photographs) selected for this lesson. Each source in the Archives includes an explanatory caption. The second source is the online exhibition itself, located at airandspace.si.edu/. A direct link to the online exhibition is not included with the online lesson to prevent students from getting confused within the exhibition. Teachers are encouraged to direct students to this location.

Students should print and use the Wright Biographer's Research Sheet to record what they learn while reviewing their source materials. Students may find it easier (and more fun) to complete this Research Sheet with a partner. (For younger students, you may want to eliminate a few questions on the Research Sheet.) The Research Sheet helps prepare students to complete their Biography Page, in which they will interpret and analyze facts and sources.

Before going to the next step, lead a class discussion about what students discovered about their biography subject and what they recorded on their Wright Biographer's Research Sheet. This discussion will give you a chance to:
 • look at selected primary sources together (using your computer and a projector)
 • correct any misunderstandings or answer questions students might have about the Wright Brothers
 • explain the next step and solicit students' input about how to arrange or display the final biography product: the timeline.

3. In Step 3 Create Your Biography Page, students have the opportunity to comment on and analyze the primary sources and facts they learned about the biography subject in Step 2. Students complete the biography pages which combine:
 • a primary source copied and pasted from the Archives, there is a set of 40 primary sources in this lesson
 • the caption for the primary source
 • a large blank field where the student will write a paragraph about their biography subject

Here are two ways students can write the biography page:
 • They can type their paragraph text directly into the paragraph field on the biography page.
 • They can type their paragraph text in a word processing application such as MS Word, then copy and paste their paragraph into the field on the biography page.
When writing their biography entry, students should be sure to explain their subject's connection to the source chosen from the Archives

After students select their subject, copy and paste the image, and write the paragraph, they can preview the biography page, edit, if need and then print the page.

For more information on teaching with primary sources visit the National Archives and Records Administration's Digital Classroom which provides useful Document Analysis Worksheets : http://www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/lessons/

4. After students have printed their biography pages, they should go to the source caption and circle or highlight any dates in it. Students can then work together to create a classroom timeline of the Wright Brothers, arranging the biography pages in chronological order.

Extension Activities
1. Students read a published biography of the Wright Brothers. Recommended Wright biographies for students in grades 4-7 include The Wright Brothers: In Their Own Words, by George Sullivan; The Wright Brothers: Inventors of the Airplane by Bernard Ryan, Jr.; First to Fly: How Wilbur and Orville Wright Invented the Airplane by Peter Busby; Wright Brothers: A Flying Start by Elizabeth MacLeod; Wilbur and Orville: Their Flight to Adventure by Louis Sabin.

2. Students role play, taking the identity of one of the Wright Brothers, Katharine Wright, or any of the other people they "met" during their biography research. Class members can interview the student who is playing the role. Students must stick to facts and avoid making up information.

3. Students expand the Wright Timeline from 2 dimensions to 3. Now that students are well informed about the Wright Brothers, they create a classroom Wright museum by making airplane models or other objects to accompany the Timeline.