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Researching a Selected Poet and Writing a Biographical Essay

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The Foundational Reading and Language Standards Resources Package for Grades 3–5

Use this guide to build additional literacy blocks alongside the module lessons.


In this unit, students are introduced to biographies with the text A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, by Jen Bryant. Students read this narrative nonfiction text closely to build understanding about how William Carlos Williams became inspired to write poetry. Students then closely read portions of the text to gather additional information about Williams’ life. Next, students closely read biographies about the poet they selected to study for part of the performance task. Students are also introduced to biographical timelines and use these as an additional source of information about their poet’s life. For the mid-unit assessment, students will read a biography of another poet, answering text-dependent questions to demonstrate their progress toward standards RI.4.1, RI.4.2, and RI.4.3.

In the second half of this unit, students prepare for the performance task for this module, the Poet’s Performance. In this three-part performance task, students focus on a single poet, presenting a poem by that poet, writing a short essay about the poet, and reading aloud an original poem inspired by their poet. The class learns to write an essay by planning and writing a shared essay about poet William Carlos Williams. Then students plan for their essays using notes gathered from the first half of the unit, and complete a draft of the essay for the first part of the end of unit assessment (RI.4.9 and W.4.2). Next, students engage in a round of critique and feedback to improve their work and complete a revised draft for the second part of the end of unit assessment (W.4.5). Finally, students read aloud their poems and essay for the Poet’s Performance.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What inspires writers to write poetry?
  • Writers draw inspiration from many places, including the work of other writers and their own lives.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read literature and informational texts about poets’ lives and what inspired their writing. This module does not tie to New York State Social Studies or Science standards. 



ELA G4:M1B:U3:L6

ELA G4:M1B:U3:L12

ELA G4:M1B:U3:L14

Optional Activities


  • Invite a local poet to visit the classroom. Ask the poet to present her or his poetry and give students feedback on presenting their own poems.


  • Arrange for students to visit a family-friendly poetry reading or performance.


  • Have students present their poems and essays for younger students in the school or at a local community center or nursing home. 


  • Consider collaborating with your school’s art specialist to have students create their own artwork inspired by the poem they select to read for the performance task. This artwork could be added to students’ presentation of their poems and essay during the performance task, the Poet’s Performance, at the end of Unit 3 and could be an additional assessment of NYS ELA CCLS standard RL.4.11.

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