How Well Do You Know Your Parents? Writing Biographies of Folks You Know.

How Well Do You Know Your Parents? Writing Biographies of Folks You Know.
Bess Truman: Education, Arts, Letters and Ideas

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


Margaret Truman was the daughter of Harry and Bess Truman. She was also a very successful author. In addition to the many murder mysteries she wrote she also published a biography of her mother’s life. In a newspaper quote following the publication of her mother’s biography Margaret Truman said, “ This is the most difficult book I have ever written. It is about a woman I thought I knew better than anyone in my life. But I discovered as I wrote it that it was about a woman who kept her deepest feelings, her most profound sorrows, sealed from my view – from almost everyone’s view.”


Students will interview a parent or relative with the intent of finding out things about their subject that the interviewer did not previously know. Students will write a short biographical essay about a parent or relative containing information of which the student was previously unaware.

Materials Required:

Paper and pencil, a notebook, perhaps a tape recorder.


1)      Begin by asking each student to write down one thing about him or herself that not many people know. Students may share their ideas with the class or may keep them a secret. The point of this exercise is to show the students that everyone has things about themselves that others don’t know.
2)      Then explain to the students that their assignment will be to go home and interview a parent or other relative with the goal of finding out things about that person that they didn’t previously know.
3)      The class will brainstorm to come up with a list of questions that they may want to use in these parent interviews. These questions should be designed to uncover things about their subjects that they didn’t know because they had never come up. The goal is not to uncover personal or family secrets. Below are some questions the teacher may use to get the discussion started:

   What extracurricular activities were you involved with when you were in school? 

   What did you want to be when you grew up?

   What is your favorite movie?

   Did you ever have any hobbies that you no longer do?

   Who was your best friend when you were a kid?

   Did you go to the prom?

   What was you favorite vacation?

4)      When an acceptable list of questions is compiled the students will interview their parents and use the responses to write a short biographical essay entitled “What I didn’t know about my __________.” The teacher may want to compose a letter to parents explaining the assignment.

5)     When all biographies are complete, students may want to discuss what they've learned, compiling a list of similarities and differences in the answers to the questions they asked.

Extending the Lesson:

A natural extension of this lesson would be for the student to interview a grandparent to find out about their life experiences.

Sources & Resources:


Bess W. Truman, by Margaret Truman, Jove; 1st THUS edition (July 1, 1987).


News article about the biography of Bess Truman.

Homework Center: How to Write a Biography.


This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Municipal School District.