My Family Journey!

This lesson is the second in the series “Family Tapestry.” One goal of these lessons is to help students recognize and accept differences among themselves and within the larger community. Another is to recognize how each student’s unique family contributes to a richer society. As students begin to understand themselves better, learning opportunities will likely emerge to explore biases and prejudices. In this lesson, students explore how their family’s ethnic and cultural journey contributes to their lives and to their community.
Grade Level

  • identify different aspects of culture
  • interview a family member to learn about their cultural history
  • identify why aspects and traditions of their cultural history are important and how they contribute to society understand, appreciate and respect differences and similarities among classmates’ cultures
Essential Questions
  • What is interesting about my family history?
  • How does my family’s cultural history contribute to our community?
  • What cultural tradition would I like to share with my own children?
  • How do different cultures make a community better?
  • Why did my ancestors come to this country?
  • World map
  • Thumb tacks
  • Pieces of string
  • Family Interview (Grades K-2, 3-5)
  • Art materials


The Census Bureau projects that by the year 2042, the U.S. majority population will become a minority, as non-Hispanic whites will then make up just under half of the U.S. population. As the United States becomes more and more culturally and ethnically diverse, with growing percentages of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other minority groups, schools have become more diverse too. In fact, schools are actually more diverse than the nation as a whole. No doubt students will need to learn how to interact in a diverse environment for success while they are in school and once they leave. One way to help students learn about, experience, and appreciate different cultures and their contributions to society is through a study of family cultural journeys. After all, everyone has a family and everyone’s family has a story to tell. Our cultural histories can help teach us who we are, connecting us to a heritage and identity handed down across generations. It can also help to teach students about the unique contributions that every culture brings to a community.

Family stories, in particular, can be a relevant resource for historical research that provides a uniquely personal insight into our past. As students trace their family’s journey, they can see where they came from, learn how traditions affect their lives, and consider which elements of that cultural history they would like to pass on. It’s important to note that each family’s retention of ethnic traditions may be as unique as their country of origin. Some families may continue to follow their ethnic traditions while others may not. And some students, including adopted or foster children, may not be comfortable sharing their personal history, may not have access to their birth family’s history, or may feel they must “choose” between their birth and adoptive families in deciding whose stories to tell.  Rather than single out reluctant students, give all students the choice of sharing the journey of anyone who cares about them. After all, everyone in a community helps to shape our identity, and this may provide an equally interesting opportunity to share a story nobody knows!



ancestoran-ses-ter ] (noun) a person from whom one is descended

culturekuhl-cher ] (noun) the behaviors and beliefs of a certain social, ethnic or age group

diversity [ dih-vur-si-tee ] (noun) variety, differences

familyfam-uh-lee, fam-lee ] (noun) a group of people going through the world together, often adults and the children they care for

historian [ hi-stawr-ee-uhn ] (noun) an expert in past time periods

location [ loh-kay-shuhn ] (noun) a place of settlement, activity or residence

unique [ yoo-neek ] (adjective) having no like or equal



Note: Before beginning the lesson, address any special concerns that families with adopted children and those living in foster care may have about the activity. You may want to call parents or guardians in advance to find out whether the activity raises sensitive issues with their child. Encourage parents or guardians to be involved with children completing the activity. For example, adopted children may want to include both sets of parents, or solely the adoptive parents or the biological parents.  

On the day before the lesson, ask students to find out the name of the city/country where they were born and the name of a city/country where a grandparent, great-grandparent, other relative or an important adult in their lives was born outside of the United States. You may have some students in your class who are adopted, undocumented or living in foster homes. Instead of singling any students out, you may want to remind all students that they can choose someone who is not related but who makes a special contribution to their lives. Before students enter the room, hang a large world map in a central location and place a pushpin over the city/location of your school.

  1. Today we are going to take a journey. Share with a partner what you think the word “journey” means and share answers with the class. 
  2. Today’s journey might be different from other journeys you have taken. This journey is called a “Family Journey.” It will take you back in time to learn about your family history. You’ll also learn how that history connects to your life now. 
  3. Look at the world map. A pushpin shows the location of our school. If you were born somewhere else, find the location of your birthplace and place a new pin there. You may need to do this one person at a time. How many different places are marked on the map? Who was born the farthest from your current town? 
  4. Now, one at a time, try to find the location of the city/country where your ancestor or an important adult in your life was born. (Note: Share the Framework at the beginning of the lesson with the students.) Place a pushpin at that location. Then take a piece of string and use it to connect your pushpins. Start with your ancestor’s location, then your birthplace and finally to your school. Your birthplace and place you live now may be the same. 
  5. After everyone in your class has had a chance to connect their strings, take a look at the map. These strings show part of the family journeys of your classmates! Share with a partner how you think those journeys have had an influence on the community we live in. For example, are there certain restaurants, celebrations or stores that reflect the cultural journeys that community residents have taken? Have each partner present your ideas to the class.
  6. These journeys have helped to shape American culture. All of your ancestors and the important adults in our lives have brought unique customs and traditions to our community! So these journeys are important to you and to the community.
  7. Sometimes it is hard to keep our cultural traditions alive. You are going to be a cultural historian for your family. You will interview a family member or an important adult in your life. You’ll learn more about where your family comes from and the traditions and customs that you have contributed to American life.
  8. Distribute the Family Interview handout (Grades K-2, 3-5). Choose a family member or important adult in your life who came to this country from another country. Explain to the person that you would like to interview them about their unique cultural history. Complete the handout together.
  9. Bring your completed handouts to class. Pair up with another student and share what you learned about your cultural history.
  10. Then, one pair at a time, present to the class this information about your partner’s cultural history:
    • Partner’s name
    • Number of people in family
    • Languages spoken
    • State or country where ancestor or important adult comes from
    • One special tradition that has been passed down and why it is special to the partner
  11. After each pair has presented, have volunteers share something they learned about a classmate’s culture that they didn’t know before.


Extension Activity

Imagine that a family member 50 years from now is trying to learn about you. You can put five objects into a time capsule that will tell that person what is important to you and what family traditions are important to you. Write a list of the five objects and explain how each one would help them understand your part in your family’s cultural journey.

Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards from the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: CCSS: SL:1, SL.3, SL.4, SL.6, W.1

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