What Makes a Family?

The Census, which is taken every 10 years, collects information about household members. This activity allows students to explore diverse configurations that form families. This activity encourages students to think about their personal situations and their concepts of “family” and consider those of others.
Grade Level


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

  • define family in a variety of ways.
  • explore the 2010 Census in relation to family diversity.
  • research and write a biographical profile of Michael Oher.
  • create a mural.
Essential Questions
  • What makes a family?
  • Why are there so many different ideas of family?
  • Enduring Understandings
    • A family is a group of people going through the world together. Families are often made of up adults and the children they care for.
    • People have so many different ideas of family because there are so many different types of families. Some families include single-parent, adoptive, or LGBT families; children living with grandparents; children living with large extended families, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins; and children splitting time among different family members.


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

extended family [ ik-sten-did fam-uh-lee, fam-lee ] (noun) all of the relatives or people making up a family, whether or not they live together; often this includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

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

guardian [ gahr-dee-uhn ] (noun) a person other than a parent who is legally responsible for a child or children

immediate family [ ih-mee-dee-it fam-uh-lee, fam-lee ] (noun) a person’s smallest family unit, often consisting of parents/guardians and children


Suggested Procedure

1. In pairs or a small group, ask students to brainstorm responses to “What makes a family?” Have them describe different family make-ups: for example, two dads and two kids, an aunt and a nephew, etc. Tell students to list examples from their life.

2. Discuss with students how all kinds of families make up the United States. As a class, visit the Ground Spark website and watch the trailer from the film “That’s a Family!” to explore some family groupings. Ask students to discuss with their partner(s) the types of families in the trailer. Ask students and discuss the following questions: “Were any of the family groups familiar to you? Why do you think there are so many different ideas about what makes a family?”

3. Explain that the Census collects information about different families living in the United States every 10 years. Tell students that 2010 and 2020 are census years. As a class, discuss what students know about the Census. Have them look over a sample of the 2010 Census form. Call on students to read aloud the categories listed for household members. Ask students to think about the ways families are categorized on the Census form. Then, discuss the following questions: Are all kinds of families included, or are some left out? How might people who have no family feel about the categories? How would someone who doesn’t share a “household” feel? Have students collaborate with their partner(s) on how they would change the form for the next Census. Post the new forms on the wall, and ask students to share with the class the background on how their team determined the criteria for the new form.

4. Ask students what a biography is (the true story of a real person’s life). Explain that authors write most biographies to inform. Ask students if they have heard of NFL football player Michael Oher, and to share what they know about him. (Oher was one of the subjects of the book and movie ‘The Blind Side’). Have students work with a partner to research and write a one-page biography of Michael Oher. Before conducting their research, have students brainstorm a list of questions they want to explore about him. Give students the following guiding questions: Who is Michael Oher? Who were the members of Michael Oher’s family? How did he become homeless? What did he to do to scramble for survival? How did his rough life affect his schooling? What did the Tuohy family do to help Michael? Explain to students that as part of the writing process, they should get helpful feedback from their peers. Have them use this handout on Giving Constructive Feedback as a guide.

5. Have students share their opinions about the questions below in their groups:

  • Why do you think Michael Oher’s story is important to share?
  • Who is Michael Oher’s family?
  • Are the Touhys his family? Please elaborate.
  • What makes a family?
  • What would you have done in the same situation?

6. Have students work with a small team to give an oral presentation about “What makes a family?” Tell them that their team presentation needs to explain what they learned about family that they hadn’t thought of until this lesson and how what they’ve learned changed their thinking about families. Before sharing their presentations, as a class, determine a criteria or rubric for a successful presentation.

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS R.1, R.7, W.2, W.5, SL.1, SL.2, SL.4


Extension Activity

1) Draw the outline of a tree on chart paper and write the heading “We Are Family” on it. Post it on a bulletin board. Then have every student in the class create illustrations that show scenes of family diversity and experiences. Ask them to share their illustrations before taping them to the tree. When the tree is complete, review the diversity it includes as a group.

2)  Invite students to write an acrostic poem using the word FAMILY. Explain that students should start by writing FAMILY horizontally or vertically. Then they should write a descriptive line for each letter in FAMILY. The first word of the line should begin with the appropriate letter from the word. For example: Full of fun.

Group of adults listening to one person speaking.

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