Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Multimodal Narrative Writing

Thumbprint Autobiography

Jane Baber, Jane Fisher | Published: May 18th, 2022 by K20 Center


In this lesson, students explore the essential questions, "Who am I?" and "What makes me, me?", through multimodal narrative writing.  For this creative composition, students engage in preliminary reflective writing and in an up-close look at their thumbprints.  Throughout this creative writing process, students are also working with figurative language, question generation, and visual composition.  Ultimately, students will compose a multimodal narrative that encourages visual literacy and re-think how a personal narrative can look. This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

Who am I?  What makes me, me?



Students will complete a quickwrite and engage in a Think-Pair-Share session, then watch two videos about fingerprints.


Students will reflect on and respond to the Thumbprint Autobiography handout. Using the Question Generating strategy, students will compose their own questions to answer in their Thumbprint Autobiography.


Students will create an original Thumbprint Autobiography multimodal narrative using the pre-writing from the Thumbprint Autobiography handout and their own Question Generating questions.


Students will publish their narratives by presenting their final work in a modified Gallery Walk to their classmates.


Students will revisit their initial quickwrite and compose an additional reflective extension.


  • Link to YouTube video

  • Thumbprint Autobiography handout (for student examples see Attachments)

  • White paper

  • Writing materials- lead pencil with eraser, colored markers, pens, and pencils


To begin, ask students to complete a quickwrite as a bellringer over the questions "What makes you unique? What sets you apart from everyone else and makes you, you?" Give five minutes for students to write, then ask students to share one piece of information with a partner by using the Think-Pair-Share strategy.

After sharing quickwrites as a whole class, ask students which part of the human body is completely unique to each individual, guiding students to the answer of fingerprints. Tell students that they will be examining their thumbprints, and Invite them to become acquainted with their unique prints by watching two videos.

The first, How to Compare Fingerprints, should be watched until the 1:30 mark. Pause after each fingerprint part (the delta, loop, arch, etc.), and ask students to find these elements on their own thumb. As students are examining their prints for each different part, they may want to show and compare their findings with their Think-Pair-Share partner.

The second video, Why Are Fingerprints Unique?, may be watched all the way through, and simply provides more context about the human fingerprint; this will help students think deeper and further about what makes them unique.


While it may seem counter-intuitive, rather than writing first, the teacher should show students how their Thumbprint Autobiography will appear. Since this is a multimodal composition, the creation of the form takes a bit of time to form. This is where the in-depth analysis of the various grooves and elements of the students' thumbprints will pay off. Here is how the format of the composition should be created:

  1. Each student should have a piece of white printer paper. Using pencil and pressing very lightly, a large oval should be drawn, taking as much of the page as possible, getting as close to all four sides as possible. This oval will serve as the border of the student's thumbprint. It is important to draw lightly, because this line will be erased later. For students who would benefit from a modification during this stage, there is a template provided on the Thumbprint Biography handout that may be printed to use or trace.

  2. Once the oval is drawn, students will begin to fill it with the lines of their thumbprint. The best way to start is to the find the element on the print called "the core" (shown in the first video) and to draw that. The core is the central, "main event" of the thumbprint, and is a good place to start so that all other lines can radiate from it.

  3. Advise students to find any other interesting elements of their thumbprints that stick out as unique and to draw those in next. Remind students that everyone is unique and therefore their thumbprints will look very different from each other; some students may have whorls and deltas and others may not.

  4. Give students time to find all fascinating elements of their thumbprint, walking around the room and assisting where needed. During this stage, the teacher will likely be performing up-close observations of student thumbprints and helping to transfer the lines to their paper. Continually remind students to draw in pencil very lightly since the lines will be eventually erased.

  5. The last step is to fill in the rest of the thumbprint with lines that will hold the writing. These lines should follow the same flow as the first shapes drawn in and repeat on top of each other. The space between the lines will vary in width, but it is best to keep them similar to the width of a sheet of notebook paper. If the space is too thick, there will not be enough room to fit the content written, and if the space is too small, there will be too much space to fill and too little room to write comfortably.

Once students have completed forming their blank thumbprint, it may be set aside. Using the Thumbprint Autobiography handout (print and copy the attached handout for students to use), students will do pre-writing for this multimodal narrative by answering both the guiding questions and generating their own.

Since a narrative tells a story and an autobiography gives information about the life of the author, all content written for this composition will tell the story of the writer. Therefore, there are guiding questions that may be considered and answered on the attached Thumbprint Autobiography handout, and also the opportunity for students to engage in the Question Generating strategy to compose questions of their own to answer.

First, on a separate sheet of paper, students should write out the answers to the guiding questions in complete sentences, providing as much information as needed to tell their story. As a homework or end of day assignment, students will go a step further and generate their own questions to answer for their narrative. For this lesson, the Question Generating strategy should work like this:

  1. Give students an element of inspiration on which to focus. For this lesson, provide examples such as either guiding questions or an image of a fingerprint displayed at the front of the room.

  2. Next, ask students to generate questions that pertain to their story. These should be questions that they not only would be able to answer about themselves, but would be passionate about answering. Students may start by looking for a gap in the existing guiding questions. After giving students time on their own to compose their questions, set aside time for Think-Pair-Share discussion.


Now that students have their blank thumbprint ready to fill and the content for their autobiographical narrative written, it is time to combine the two. Using light pencil first, students will spend time filling in the lines of their thumbprint with the answers to the questions provided and generated.

After all content is drawn in pencil, the writing should be gone over with permanent color or pen. There are many options to use here, including felt tip pens, colored pencils, and thin-tipped markers. Some students may choose to go over most of their words in black, and save bolder colors for specific words, symbols, or figurative language.

Remember that it was important to draw the initial lines lightly in pencil. Once all content is written in permanent ink or color, the student's last step is to go back over the initial pencil lines and erase them, leaving only the lines of their unique thumbprint formed by their story in their own words.


As an extension, students should be provided with the opportunity to display their Thumbprint Autobiographies and to read the work of others in a modified Gallery Walk. To make this conducive to a class period and physical layout, desks may be arranged in small or large groups (one large circle also works well, if possible). Each student places his or her Thumbprint Autobiography on their desk. This activity works well with music playing; the teacher plays calming music for the period that students are reading the project in front of them, then when the music stops, they move to the next desk to read a new narrative. This modified Gallery Walk works similarly to musical chairs, except in this version the opportunity is presented for students' stories to be read and learned.


Students' Thumbprint Autobiographies will be evaluated using a rubric. The rubric may be modified to have specific requirements (certain number of questions answered, specific instances of figurative used, etc.). Rubrics to modify may be found here.

Students will complete this lesson by returning to their first quickwrite over the questions "What makes you unique? What sets you apart from everyone else and makes you, you?" Students should revisit their writing and extend it by writing about what they learned or remembered about themselves during this process. This final reflection can simply be an extension that remains in a composition book, or it can be turned in as a full paragraph to accompany the final Thumbprint Autobiography.