The Shape of Home

This lesson gives students a chance to explore diverse concepts of “home”– and find ways to deal with loss and make fellow students feel welcome at school.Please note: When you teach this lesson, be sensitive to the reality that not all students may be living in a home with their family. 
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • understand the many different kinds of homes created by people in different cultures.
  • explore the various reasons/conditions why people become homeless.
  • use reading techniques to comprehend and explore text meaning.
Essential Questions
  • What makes a place home?
  • Why might people have to leave their homes?
  • Enduring Understandings
    • People live in many different kinds of homes, but “home” is not always a place – sometimes it is a person (or people) or a feeling.
    • People may leave their homes for many reasons. Some leave by choice and others because they have to—for example, because of a fire or the loss of a job.
  • One copy of the handout Reading: Making Connections for each student
  • A copy for every student of the story, “Connected to Everything”
  • Lined paper (or a notebook) for each student
  • Chart paper, blackboard, or a whiteboard
  • Map of the United States


dispossess [ dis-puh-zes ] (verb) To deprive (someone) of something that they own, typically land or property.

reservation [ rez-er-vey-shuhn ] (noun) In this context: An area of land set aside for occupation by North American Indians.

bitterroot [ bit-er-root ] (noun) A plant with showy pinkish-white flowers on short stems.

moccasins [ mok-uh-sins ] (noun) A soft leather slipper or shoe, strictly one without a separate heel, originating among North American Indians.


Suggested Procedure

1. Invite students to think about what the word “home” means to them. Pose these questions: “What are some words that describe a home? What are examples of home? What does it mean when we say that we ‘feel at home’?” You might suggest that children pair up or work in small groups.

2. Ask students to share their definitions with the class. Using those responses, engage all students in a discussion to decide on a classroom definition of “home.” Write this definition on the board as the class develops and agrees on the wording. Discuss the ideas that emerge from this definition.

3. Tell the class that everyone will be reading the story, “Connected to Everything,” about the Salish Tribe of American Indians. Locate the setting of the story—the Bitterroot and Mission Valleys in northwest Montana—on a wall map. In small groups or as a class, talk about the illustration by Merisha Lemmer that accompanies the story. Ask, “How does the illustration make you feel? What do you think of when viewing it?” After reading the story, have students fill out the handout Reading: Making Connections. Note: Younger students may need to write their answers on a separate piece of wide-ruled paper or a notebook.

4. Ask students in pairs or small groups to discuss what they think the Salish definition of home would be. Have them share their responses, challenging them to cite examples/quotes from the story to support their definitions. Write the answers on the board. Next, invite students to compare their earlier definition to the Salish definition. Ask: “What conclusions can you draw from the comparison?” Have students elaborate on their answers.

5. Explain that the word the Salish people use to describe themselves is Sqelixw (Squay-lee-wuh), and that its literal translation is “flesh of the land.” Tell students that the name reveals the close, affectionate relationship the Squalish have with their land, which literally took care of them by providing food, clothing, medicines, and shelter. This is why the Salish would define home as the land. Generations of family and friends lived on the same land always, according to Squalish oral history.

Explain that the story of the Salish leaving the Bitterroot Valley is not simply about leaving home—it is a story of dispossession, of losing what is yours. Read aloud these lines from the story: “We lost our home, and to my kids, it feels like we’ve lost everything.” Tell students, “All of us have experienced losing something important—being dispossessed of something special, something irreplaceable. Share in a small group a time in your life when you felt dispossessed.” Then have students share a few examples as a class. Ask them to write, briefly, about a time when they felt dispossessed or experienced a loss.

6. Revisit the list of descriptive words and examples that you generated to create a class definition of “home.” Remind students that home is not always a place – sometimes it is a person or a feeling. Have them expand the definition based on new information they learned from the story. Display your new definition in the class on the wall.

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS R.1, R.2, R.4, R.5, R.6, W.4, SL.1, SL.4, L.5


Extension Activity

Do Something

Explore as a class how you can make your school more welcoming to someone who has recently lost his/her home (i.e., by a fire)—or suffered the loss of something important to them. Tell students to think of something they can do today (e.g., creating a class rule against name-calling, putting multilingual signs on the class walls, and so on) to create an environment that helps the classroom feel like home. NOTE: Remain sensitive to the reality that students in your classroom might currently be experiencing loss.

For older grades, have students work with a partner to develop a two-page guide to help ease the transition when people move. Consider different reasons for people leaving their homes. Be sure to consider voluntary and involuntary reasons, too. Choose one issue (e.g., local issues, such as economic change or poverty, or a global issue, such as war) for the focus of your guide. A successful guide will include accurate information, show an awareness of the conditions that created the need to move and be reader-friendly. Post the guides on walls outside the classroom or other places where other students can read them, such as the library.

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