Understanding My Family's History

After exposure to relevant literature in class, students will research their family history by interviewing their parents. They will use this information along with visual props to tell their story to classmates.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will:

  • gain a deeper understanding of their family’s history and heritage
  • identify on a world map the countries from which their families originated
  • understand that immigrants from all over the world come to the United States to start new lives
  • Enduring Understanding:  Understanding your family history and background helps you better understand your heritage, customs, and family values. It also helps you understand the role of your culture’s roots in shaping American culture.
Essential Questions
  • Why is it important to understand your family history?



For the first part of the lesson:

  • objects gathered from home, including a photo of each student
  • world map
  • colored push pins
  • colored markers
  • color-coded map key with enough colors for each student (colors correspond to pin colors)
  • literature addressing immigration, slavery and Native Americans
  • copies of the Family Data Sheet

For the second part of the lesson:

  • markers
  • copies of the “nine-patch sheet” to create a personal ‘paper quilt’
  • supply of gathered objects from home (see “A Homework Assignment” section below)
  • glue sticks
  • scissors
  • 9” x 9” construction paper squares for backing the paper quilt sheets


Immigrant [i-mə-grənt] (noun) a person who comes to a country to live there



1. Before beginning the lesson, consider checking with parents or guardians to discuss the activity and to find out if they have concerns about a ‘personal history’ activity. There may be sensitivities in families with non-traditional configurations, adopted children, those in which children are living in foster care or those with ancestors who were forcibly brought to this country, in which case students might not know historical information about their families. Consider checking in advance with parents or guardians to discuss the activity and to find out if it might raise sensitive issues with their children.

If parents are uncomfortable with the lesson, you can alter the format for the entire class and focus on interesting facts about each student’s immediate family. (In this instance, students can still collect family objects, share them with peers, and make a class quilt, but the mapping portion would be omitted as well as any research on ancestors.)

Encourage families to talk with their children about their choices in completing the activity. For example, adopted children may want to include both sets of parents or solely the adoptive parents.

2. Prepare your students for the lesson by reading a variety of short stories that focus on immigration. Be sure to include stories about the First Americans — those indigenous to the land — and about African Americans who were forcibly transported to America as slaves.

Here is a sampling of possible resources:

The Mats by Fransisco Arcellana (Kane/Miller)

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)

Leaving for America by Roslyn Bresnick-Perry (Children’s Book Press)

Families by Aylette Jenness (Houghton Mifflin)

Encounter by Jane Yolen (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)

Two Lands, One Heart by Jeremy Schmidt and Ted Wood (Walker and Company)

Wood-Hoopie Willie by Virginia Kroll (Charlesbridge)

Itse Selu: Cherokee Harvest Festival by Daniel Pennington (Charlesbridge)

Grandmother’s Song by Barbara Soros (Barefoot Books)

Look through your own classroom or school library for other suitable stories. Read aloud a few selected titles or sections to the class. Discuss the themes and issues presented in the literature. Ask: Why do people from all over the world come to America? Where do they come from? How do they get here? Discuss how an influx of immigrants may affect those who are already here.


A Homework Assignment

1. Give each student a copy of the Family Data Sheet.

2. Review the sheet’s instructions with your class.

3. Provide students with a due date. One week is probably sufficient time to complete this assignment, and you may want to include the week and the weekend in your time frame to accommodate parents’ diverse work schedules.


Classroom Activity

1. Using objects they’ve gathered from home and the Family Data Sheet, pair students up to share their personal histories with each other or take turns in front of the whole group. Emphasize that students should project their voices, use inflection, make eye contact and add feeling to their oral presentation. First demonstrate by sharing your family history with your class. 

2. All storytellers should conclude their presentations by locating their locations of ancestry on the map and by marking those nations with color pushpins.

3. Create a map key for student identification, which students can fill in as part of the activity. (If you run out of pin colors, you can repeat colors if you make a dot on the second round with a permanent pen to differentiate between students.)

Note: You can wait and have students use their nine-patch quilt blocks when presenting stories if you prefer. (See Family Quilting Activity below)


Part 2: Family Quilting

1. Hand out a copy of the “nine-patch sheet” to each student.

2. Ask students to decorate the middle square to provide background for a photograph of themselves. Decorating it before putting the photo down will ensure that they don’t get marker on their pictures.

3. The rest of the family symbols are organized into the eight remaining squares. (Coloring all of the squares first will be easier than working around items that are glued down.)

4. Some students may have traced their ancestry to several countries or locations. They should write the names of the countries and cities somewhere in the squares with the objects that represent those communities. In one square, students may write the names of two or three locations around a single item.

5. When all of the squares are complete, students may use their nine-patch to tell their stories in the Do Something activity.

6. Upon completion of quilt blocks, students can glue their pieces onto construction paper backings. Then have students work together to join their individual blocks on a large piece of butcher paper to form one class quilt. Alternatively, pupils may connect their blocks horizontally along the wall in a banner form.


Extension Activity

Ask students to share their presentations with family and community members. Ask other family members to add to the “quilt.”


Alignment to Common Core State Standards: SL.1, SL.2, SL.4, SL.5, SL.6, W. 3, W.4, W.9, R.3, R.7

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