All of my classes — at one point or another — have to write biographies of historical figures.  They’re usually in the context of either a “straight” biography, or as part of a compare and contrast essay.

I thought I would put together a “The Best…” list of the biography-related online resources I’ve found most useful and accessible to my English Language Learner students. These will primarily be research sites. For actual writing instruction, I use the Write Institute curriculum, which I’ve posted about previously in The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement and is not available online.  However, I will include a short second section in this list that will share a few sites that I’ve found helpful to students in their writing, particularly for getting good model essays.

I also have quite a few “The Best…” lists on various specific figures, such as Cesar Chavez, Diego Rivera, Martin Luther King, and all the U.S. Presidents (along with quite a few others).

Here are my picks for The Best Resources For Researching & Writing Biographies:


There are three (well, sorta’ four) sites that I believe are all tied for being the best and most accessible sites for biographical research.  The others, which I’ll also list, are more specialized.

The best ones are:

Fact Monster People and Biographies, which has more than 30,000 simple biographies in its database. It’s “sister site,” Infoplease People, has a similar listing, but it includes more information on each figure and isn’t quite as accessible.

The Biographical Dictionary has a listing of 21,000 biographies that are very accessible.

And then there’s the Biography Channel video database. Their written biographies are not particularly accessible, but their videos certainly are.

SweetSearch Biographies has an extensive collection of accessible biographies.

Here are other sources that are less massive, but equally as accessible to ELL’s:

Mr. Nussbaum Biographies

Famous People Lessons (these are specifically designed for ELL’s)

Children’s Encyclopedia of Women

Garden Of Praise Biographies For Kids

Harcourt Biographies

MacMillan McGraw Hill Publishers have quite a few simple biographies of famous figures in U.S., California, and World History.

The same site also has similar biographies of people who fit into other categories.

The BBC recently revamped their excellent “Famous People” feature that provides accessible simple biographies of historical figures. Their new site, though it has more information and adds more historical figures, does not provide audio support.


How to write a biographical essay


As always, feedback is welcome.

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