Biography/Autobiography Essay
9th Grade

After completing the book and the notes, you will write an essay to illustrate your understanding. Your essay will take the form of a biographical sketch that follows the five-paragraph (“popsicle stick”) method. (The sample essay on this page has been color coded to match this format.) Your essay should relate events from the person's life in chronological order. Here are the specifications for the paragraphs, each followed by a sample in italics:

Paragraph #1: Capture attention first. This paragraph should also include the person’s full name and an explanation of who s/he is and how s/he is well known. Introduce three important characteristics about the person that you will describe in the body paragraphs of the paper. From these three characteristics, develop a thesis statement about the person.

Example: Can you imagine being a child coming to America out of war-torn Israel during the 1950s with nothing but the clothes on your back and in twenty short years rising to a position as one of the most outrageous rock and rollers of all time? That's how it was for Gene Simmons, the tongue-wagging, blood-spitting bassist for the band KISS. Through his sheer determination to succeed, his complete lack of shame, and his skills as a businessman, Gene Simmons has become one of the most powerful forces in rock history. Although more people probably hate him than admire him, Gene Simmons is a living example of someone who refused to give up on his dreams.

Paragraph #2: This paragraph should contain a topic sentence that relates to the first main characteristic of the person. (The topic sentence does not have to be the first sentence, but it must appear somewhere, and the paragraph itself should prove this topic sentence with examples from the person's life. Include the person's date and place of birth, a description of the person’s physical appearance (if known) and personality, and an interesting event from the person’s early life that illustrates the first main characteristic. Information for this paragraph can be drawn from questions 2-6 of your reading notes.

Example: Gene Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Israel, where he was raised by his mother. Her original intentions for her son were that he should become a rabbi, and he was enrolled in Jewish schools until the aftermath of Hitler's holocaust forced them to come to America. Even from an early age, Chaim showed an independent spirit, learning English quickly, and falling in love with all things American...especially the girls. Being the only child of a working mother, Chaim had plenty of time to indulge in his favorite activities: going to the movies (especially horror movies), reading comic books, and watching the older girls jump rope in front of the school. He decided at the age of 12 that he could never be a rabbi, but he did have a burning desire to succeed, and he started a variety of small businesses among his classmates and neighborhood friends. He created and sold comic books of his own, as well as trading and bargaining to build his own growing collection of Batman and Superman comics. By the age of 15 he had picked up the guitar and discovered the joys of rock and roll. After seeing the thousands of screaming girls that mobbed the Beatles on their first trip to America, Chaim knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life: He wanted to play in the biggest rock band on the planet. From the beginning, his determination to succeed and his refusal to give up even in the face of impossible odds helped propel him to stardom.

Paragraph #3: This paragraph should focus on the second main characteristic of the person. Include more interesting events from the person’s life and your explanation of why this person is worthy of having a book written about him/her. Information for this paragraph can be drawn from questions 3, 6, and 9 of your reading notes. (Also, don't forget your transitions!)

Example: As well as being extremely determined, Gene Simmons (as he was soon to be known), had a complete lack of fear and no sense of shame. He was never concerned about who he might offend or what his critics might think of him. Part of what makes him an interesting character in rock history is how he does not seem to fit into any of the usual categories. For example, whereas many rock stars of today are more famous for their addictions to drugs and alcohol than they are for their music, Gene Simmons has never used drugs or alcohol, and he is extremely critical of those who do. His most "dangerous" addiction is to chocolate. On the other hand, he is well known for his insatiable appetite for female companionship--having dated many famous actresses (including Cher)--and his refusal to get married and commit himself to only one woman. He is an ironic mixture of conservative and liberal values that make him difficult to categorize. Given this, it is no surprise that before he started up the outrageous, make-up covered band known as KISS (one of Gene's favorite words), he was a public school teacher! Gene Simmons completed college in New York and worked as a sixth grade teacher during the day while cobbling together the musicians who would soon become the "hottest band in the world." When the band decided to put on the make up (a calculated risk that led to immediate criticism on the New York club circuit) and stage the most outrageous rock show in history, his teaching job had to go by the wayside. He proudly admits that his reasons for pursuing fame and glory were selfish, almost as if to needle his critics, but despite his self-indulgent behavior, he is unquestionably a hard worker. The band toured almost non-stop for the entire decade of the 1970s, producing eight now-classic rock albums, including one of the best-selling live albums in history: KISS Alive. Gene's complete lack of concern for what the critics said helped catapult him to the top of the rock industry, but it was his skills as a savvy businessman that has kept him there for more than 30 years.

Paragraph #4: This paragraph should focus on the third main characteristic of the person. Include an explanation of how the person changed over the course of his/her life and any events that may have contributed to this change. Also include an explanation of how the person’s life or the book ended and your personal response to the person’s life and experiences. Information for this paragraph can be drawn from questions 7, 9, and 10 of your reading notes.

Example: Although KISS has not created any new music since their Psycho Circus album in 1998, Gene Simmons is as successful as ever. He has produced or financed numerous records for other bands, including Van Halen and Keel and he is currently expanding his empire into the world of magazine publication and movies. KISS has also had one of the top-grossing tours in four out of the last six years, with their Reunion Tour, Psycho Circus Tour, Farewell Tour, and the recent tour with Aerosmith, as well as a two-night stint playing with (get this) the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. As always, KISS merchandise is a hot item, with recent KISS-opoly games hitting the market as well as the KISS casket--for the fan who wants to rock and roll into eternity. Concert sales of t-shirts and apparel are also at an all-time high. Although it might seem that much of this financial success is due to the band's managers, it is actually Gene Simmons himself who is behind it. He has managed all of the band's financial affairs and deals since the reunion tour, and he clearly has a hand in all official KISS merchandising. Gene has two children with his long-time love (that he still refuses to marry), Shannon Tweed, and his family lives in a mansion in California where he is said to be a loving father. His mother still attends all the band's New York shows, where she always gets a front row seat. Although many revile him for his success, Gene Simmons has clearly lived up to his wildest dreams, and in doing so, he is living the American Dream.

Paragraph #5: This is your conclusion paragraph. Briefly review the characteristics you discussed in your essay and your thesis statement. To conclude, sum up the lesson we can learn from this person’s life. Use information from the Theme question on your reading notes to complete this paragraph.

Example: Love him or hate him, Gene Simmons is an example of the success that can be achieved by refusing to give up on your dreams. Although his dreams are not my own, I can't begrudge him his success because I know he has taken many risks and worked hard for what he has. His determination, fearless nature, and skill as a businessman are qualities to be admired even if the results are not what many people would aspire to. Every time I see a KISS t-shirt or a piece of merchandise with Gene Simmons on it, I can't help but smile when I consider what I know about Chaim Witz, that little kid from Israel who made his dreams come true.

Assignment Specifications:

This essay must be typed, spell-checked, and free of grammatical errors.
This essay should illustrate clear thinking, thoughtful reflection, and highest quality effort.