Using quotes in biographies

Blog post answers to questions is a new type of support I am trying out with a school that are a long way away from where I live. The whole staff agree a question to ask me and I then answer it and the staff discuss the post in a staff meeting.

The most recent question is

Should we teach children how to include quotes in their writing?

I am a big fan of Doug Lemov and the idea behind his 5 Plagues of Reading.  (Archaic language, non-linear time, complex narration, figurative text and resistant text.) He and his team identified what makes a text complex and then argued that we need to be introducing these complexities to children as young as we can so that they develop their understanding  through age-related texts.

For example, take archaic language. Lemov recommends a few titles that fit each plague and here he suggests The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.  Have a quick read and see what you can identify that might be challenging for children in terms of content, vocabulary and grammatical structures.

I think there is a corollary with writing not in terms of plagues (there would be way more than 5) but in introducing children to concepts as early as possible.  One of the things that I think Yrs5 and 6 should be introduced to is using quotes in their writing. It is an academic skill which will be developed as they move through secondary school and biographies are an ideal text type to start using them. However, I am not talking about teaching rules for embedding quotes within text using Harvard rules but exploring how to choose them, the role of quotes and the different ways they can be used to enhance a text.

An apt quotation is like a lamp which flings its light over the whole sentence.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

One way to think about choosing quotes is to read a part of a biography about a person and provide a series of quotes. In pairs, children could look through the quotes and decide which one/s would be best to include on the page. These can then be shared and reasons discussed.

Another activity would be to share a couple of interviews the person has given and ask children to identify parts of the text that would work well as a quote. Authors such as J. K. Rowling have usually given quite a few interviews so there is plenty of text to choose from. Pairs could have different interviews or the whole class could work on the same interview.

Collect a range of biographies and share them out around the class.  Give children time to read the book. Provide reasons why quotes are used or ask children to suggest why quotes are used. You will end up either way with a list a bit like this:

  • to illuminate meaning
  • to support a point of view – they can strengthen your ideas
  • to provide direct information
  • to inspire
  • to reaffirm something already said, sometimes as a summary
  • to add variety

Children can then look through their book and suggest reasons for the use of the quotes in it.

Where the quotes are used is important.  Picture book biographies use quotes in lots of different ways other than embedding in the text. Examples are:

  • little fold out books with images to support the quote
  • at the beginning and/or end of the book to set the scene and to summarise the text
  • included in the text where they are part of the text but written in a different colour
  • included in speech bubbles often to illustrate a point or add extra information
  • incorporated into the illustrations


The quotes in Cloth Lullaby are part of the text but written in red. They are all listed at the back of the book with their sources.

Provide children with a piece of text from a biography and a few quotes and then they can explore and decide where and how the quotes can be best included on the page of text. These can then be shared and reasons for decisions discussed.

Another way of exploring quotes is to use Lemov’s But, Because, So activity with quotes.

Have you taught Yrs5 and 6 to use quotes? How did you do it?

Other posts about biographies

The 10 best picture book biographies

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Bryant and Sweet

Comparing and contrasting biographies


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.