What Makes a Family?

There are many classroom activities in which students explore family roots.
Grade Level

There are many classroom activities in which students explore family roots. This can be tricky for students who do not have information on their family’s background. I wanted to develop an activity that would tie into guidance objectives on diversity and still allow kids to define their own identity as it relates to family.

I start by reviewing the terms diversity and identity with students. I then ask students to define family. I write these ideas down on the board. They usually have great ideas that produce discussion. For example, family can be a group of people who love each other or a group of people who are related, etc.

I tell the kids that each person might have a different definition for family. We discuss how, just like every individual has an identity, each family has its own identity. I share that each family has its own way of speaking, hobbies, number of members and place to live.

Next, I read aloud My Family by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. This book goes into detail about diversity in faith, housing, food, celebrations and education. But it also beautifully highlights the things families have in common. I ask students to notice the ways in which families are similar and different.

At this point, I teach the students how to translate their ideas about their own families into a coat of arms. I talk about the significance of coats of arms for families in the past. I then hand out a template with a fourportioned coat of arms. I tell them that today they will get the chance to show the world the identity of their family. I model a coat of arms that I created for my own family.

In the first box, I ask students to write the first letter of their last name in “fancy” handwriting. In the second box, I ask them to draw an animal that represents their family. In the third box, I ask students to design a family flag, consisting of colors and shapes they choose to represent their family. In the fourth box, I ask students to draw a picture of something that their family likes to do together.

At the end of the activity, I encourage students to explore their classmates’ family identities. The coats of arms can then be displayed—a reminder that their family identities are respected and valued.

Anne S. Henry, M.Ed.
J.W. Alvey Elementary School
Haymarket, Va.


This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. CCSS: SL.1, R.1

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