Biographies: Changemakers

In this unit, students improve reading and writing standards and skills as they explore biographies of famous leaders and change agents.

Unit Summary

As part of the upgrade to Fishtank Plus, this unit was revised in February 2021. See which texts and materials have changed as part of the revision in this guide to our 2nd Grade text adjustments. If you are looking for the previous version of this unit, you can find it in our archives here.

In this biography-based unit, second graders explore biographies of changemakers around the world. The unit has three main sections.

In the first section, students research and learn about people who have changed the world by inventing or discovering something new. In this section, students will explore the ways in which inventions or discoveries can change the world and what it takes to turn an idea into action. In the second section, students research and learn about people who have changed the world by making the world and environment a better place for everyone. In the third section, students research and learn about people who have changed the world by standing up for what they believe in and fighting for what others think is impossible. In this section, students will explore the ways some leaders have persevered in the face of obstacles and stood up for themselves or ideas when many had stopped believing in them. In this section, students are asked to compare and contrast two biographies about the same person. Compare and contrast in this unit should go deeper than text features and structures. Although students can note differences in text features, the main focus should be on comparing and contrasting the different points and the reasons the authors use to support the points in two texts about the same person.

In each of the sections, students read biographies that expose them to a wide variety of themes, content, and history. Because of this, it is incredibly important that the necessary framing is done prior to reading a text so that students can deeply engage with the biographies and fully understand the challenges and successes of the different people being studied. Without framing or context, students may miss why each person’s actions are inspirational. It is our hope that this unit will open students’ eyes to the multitude of ways in which a person, regardless of race or gender, can influence and inspire change.

For readers, this unit is a combination of Read Aloud and shared/independent reading. At this point in the year, second graders have been exposed to almost all of the high-frequency informational reading standards; therefore, this unit is a chance to review some standards and skills students need to practice. There are two new standards that are a focus in this unit, however: describing how reasons support particular points the author makes in a text (RI.2.8) and comparing and contrasting the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic. (RI.2.9)

This unit, as part of Fishtank ELA's second grade Science and Social Studies curriculum, focuses on teaching targeted informational reading standards while at the same building social studies and science content knowledge; therefore, it can be used as both a reading and/or social studies unit.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


This assessment accompanies this unit and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • What does it take to change the world?
    • It takes courage, bravery, perseverance, and determination to change the world.
    • People who change the world do not do it alone. They have always been supported by—and work with—others along the way.
  • Why is it important to speak up for those without a voice?
    • It is important to speak up for those without a voice because everyone is connected. You can make change for everyone—the environment, the people around you—by speaking up for what you believe in. Power is collective. We change the world together.
  • Why is it important to ask questions about the world around you?
    • Asking questions helps you learn more about the world.
    • Challenging the world as it is helps you to change it for the better.

Foundational Skills

Phonics and Word Recognition Focus Areas

  • Use known spelling-sound correspondences when reading one-syllable and two-syllable words.
  • Use known spelling-sound correspondences when reading multisyllabic words.
  • Recognize and read grade-appropriate irregularly spelled words.

The core texts in this unit include more multisyllabic words than in previous units. At this point, students should be fluid in identifying known spelling-sound correspondences in one-syllable and two-syllable words; however, they may struggle to decode longer multisyllabic words. When prepping for a lesson and internalizing the text complexity of a particular text, we suggest identifying multisyllabic words that may be challenging for students. Look at all of the words to see if there are any patterns. Are most of the words closed syllables? Open syllables? R-controlled? If so, include a quick teaching point to focus on strategies students can use to tackle the multisyllabic words in the text. If there are no patterns, pick a few words to model with students and review how to use syllabication to tackle challenging words. During reading, circulate and provide additional teaching and guidance on syllabication.

Fluency Focus Areas

  • Readers read with expression and volume to match interpretation of the passage
  • Readers use proper intonation to show interpretation of the passage
  • Readers reread in order to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding

The main fluency focus of this unit is on reading an informational text with the right expression and intonation to show interpretation of the passage. This includes knowing how to read different text features to highlight the feature's purpose and rereading and self-correcting in order to figure out the meaning of domain-specific, multisyllabic, or tricky words. This unit includes both Read Aloud and shared reading texts; therefore, students will have a chance to hear multiple examples of fluent reading while also having ample time to practice reading fluently on their own.

Writing Focus Areas


Sentence-Level Focus Areas

  • Use subordinating conjunctions to write more interesting and complex sentences.

In this unit, students will learn to begin sentences with subordinating conjunctions. Students also learned this in Grade 2 English Language Arts Unit 4: Zapato Power. If you have already taught that unit, this will be a review. Practicing subordinating conjunctions promotes the use of complex sentences, enables students to vary sentence types, and even improves reading comprehension. When students learn to use this kind of syntax in their writing, they are better able to read and understand complex texts. Learning to write with subordinating conjunctions will help students craft strong topic and/or concluding sentences as they begin to write paragraphs.

Informational Writing Focus Areas

  • Given details, brainstorm a strong topic sentence and fill in a Single Paragraph Outline as a class

A paragraph is a group of sentences that includes details supporting a specific point. In this unit, students will use a Single Paragraph Outline to plan for their informational paragraphs. A Single Paragraph Outline provides structure and is easier to revise than a paragraph. Students will practice using a a Single Paragraph Outline to generate a strong topic sentence using given details.




"dark times" "her roots" Indigenous aghast ambition archeologist atom autism catastrophe cautious champion compost courageous dedicated discouraged disobey diabetes empower encourage federal flinched grueling heritage hope honor indefatigable irrigation judge mechanic nagging nominate ozone layer physics poverty prejudice precise prove reputation resourceful right scholarship scarce textiles thrive unsuspecting


-ful dis-


contrast compare

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 2nd Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • A biography is a text about a person's life that is written by someone else. An autobiography is a text about a person's life written by the person.

Bend 1: You can change the world by inventing or discovering something new.

  • Soichiro Honda worked relentlessly to build motorcycles and cars that were safe and better for the environment.
  • Temple Grandin, who has autism, built a “huge machine” that allows people to control the force and length of a hug.
  • Julio Torres, or Sharuko, was a Peruvian archaeologist who made revolutionary discoveries at archaeological sites around Peru, proving that the country’s Indigenous cultures had been established thousands of years ago and celebrating their brilliant accomplishments.
  • Wu Chien-Shiung was a Chinese physicist who made important discoveries in the field, despite never being recognized because of her gender and race.
  • Charles Henry Turner was the first Black entomologist, teaching us that insects and small animals were thinking beings. 

Bend 2: You can change the world by making the world and environment better for everyone.

  • Wangari Maathai empowered the people of Kenya to take care of themselves and their environment by encouraging them to plant trees.
  • Jane Goodall studied chimps in Tanzania, discovering they were more like humans than we realized. She spoke out against the destruction of their habitats and continues to do so.
  • Mario Molina was a chemist who discovered that CFCs were destroying the earth’s protective ozone layer. He was adamant about warning the public and putting a stop to it.
  • Farmer Will Allen turned an abandoned city lot into an urban farm that would feed people across the city.

Bend 3: You can change the world by standing up for what you believe in and fighting for what others think is impossible.

  • Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latinx Supreme Court justice.
  • Barack Obama was the first Black President of the United States.
  • Malala Yousafzai spoke up for girls and women who were being denied an education.

Lesson Map




Use subordinating conjunctions to write more interesting and complex sentences.




Use subordinating conjunctions to write more interesting and complex sentences.


  • Malala Yousafzai: Champion...


Describe Malala using two examples from the text.



Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.2.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.2.1.f — Produce, expand, and rearrange complete simple and compound sentences (e.g., The boy watched the movie; The little boy watched the movie; The action movie was watched by the little boy).

  • L.2.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • L.2.2.a — Capitalize holidays, product names, and geographic names.

  • L.2.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 2 reading and content, choosing flexibly from an array of strategies.

  • L.2.5 — Demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

  • L.2.6 — Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using adjectives and adverbs to describe (e.g., When other kids are happy that makes me happy).

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.2.10 — By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 2—3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

  • RI.2.2 — Identify the main topic of a multiparagraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.

  • RI.2.3 — Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.

  • RI.2.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 2 topic or subject area.

  • RI.2.5 — Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.

  • RI.2.6 — Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.

  • RI.2.7 — Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.

  • RI.2.8 — Describe how reasons support specific points the author makes in a text.

  • RI.2.9 — Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.

Reading Standards: Foundational Skills
  • RF.2.4 — Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.2.1 — Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

  • SL.2.2 — Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

  • SL.2.3 — Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to clarify comprehension, gather additional information, or deepen understanding of a topic or issue.

  • SL.2.4 — Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking audibly in coherent sentences.

  • SL.2.5 — Create audio recordings of stories or poems; add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

  • SL.2.6 — Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification.

Writing Standards
  • W.2.1 — Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.

  • W.2.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.

  • W.2.5 — With guidance and support from adults and peers, focus on a topic and strengthen writing as needed by revising and editing.

  • W.2.7 — Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).

  • W.2.8 — Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.