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Lesson Plan

Exploring and Sharing Family Stories

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Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Seven 45-minute class sessions, plus time for interviews and writing
Lesson Author

Kristina McLaughlin

Kristina McLaughlin

East Palestine, Ohio


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

Sessions 5 and 6

Session 7


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Access personal and family memories by discussing them in large- and small-group settings

  • Demonstrate comprehension by reviewing other personal narratives and discussing how they might apply some of the same techniques to their own work

  • Apply critical-thinking skills by translating what they see in these narratives into potential interview questions

  • Practice knowledge acquisition by learning how to best conduct an interview and taking notes during their interview to use for their future personal narrative.

  • Work collaboratively by peer reviewing each other's work

  • Practice synthesizing information and writing by assembling their notes into a personal narrative

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Session 1

1. Open the discussion by asking students about family events that were memorable to them. Is there a particular Christmas that stands out? Is there a vacation that was memorable? Did they move to a new house? Prompt students to talk about why they remember the specific event. Jot down answers on a sheet of chart paper to leave up for the duration of this lesson.

2. When students are finished sharing, ask them to look at the list and consider what types of events are included there and why. Questions for discussion include:

  • How have their memories of these events been affected over time?

  • What is it about these types of events that stand out for them?

  • Could they see themselves discussing these events in ten years? Twenty? Fifty?

  • What could someone learn about them as individuals by hearing these stories?
3. Read aloud the first three paragraphs of the "Introduction: A life remembered" section (page 564) of "Mixing Memory and Desire: A Family Literacy Event" by Mark Faust. Gather reactions from the students. Questions to ask include:

  • What do they think of this project? Why would someone want to interview a relative about his or her past?

  • What kinds of family stories have they heard in the past?

  • What sense do they have of what their parents' or grandparents' life was like when they were the students' age?

  • What do they think they would learn by interviewing their grandparents or other aging relatives?

  • What purpose do they think family stories serve?
4. Break the class up into their groups of three to four students. Tell them that you are going to read a selection to them that they should then discuss using the following questions:

  • What are some things that they take for granted that their grandparents (or even parents) did not have access to?

  • What are some of the newer inventions that we have in the United States that have made a big impact on our daily lives?

  • Do you remember when your family bought a large item (such as a television, washing machine, dishwasher or car)? What was that day like?

  • How do you think people lived their lives without the major items that we take for granted?
Explain to students that they should take notes on the responses in their groups for use in a future discussion.

5. Read the story about how GG got her first washing machine, including the paragraphs that precede and follow her quotation, in the "Spectral moments: A family literacy event" section of "Mixing Memory and Desire: A Family Literacy Event" (page 567). Students should discuss the questions in their small groups for the remainder of the session.

6. While the groups are talking, you can circulate and take anecdotal notes on student participation.

7. Distribute the Note to Families.

Homework (due by Session 3): Students should bring home the Note to Families and talk about interviewing an older relative. With help, they should determine whom they are going to talk to for this assignment and how the interview will be conducted (for example, over the phone or email or by visiting the relative). Students should contact the relative and should come to Session 3 with a name and the format their interview will take.

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Session 2

1. Have students break into their groups from Session 1. Distribute copies of My Father's Legacy: The Lion on the Mountain by Margie (Twitchell) Brown and ask students to read it and then discuss the following questions (remind students to jot down responses):

  • What do you learn about Brown's father by reading this essay?

  • What don't you know about him at the end?

  • What do you learn about Brown?

  • What types of events is Brown remembering?

  • What kinds of memories does Brown have? How are they different from the way she sees the place when she visits it now?

  • How have the things Brown describes affected her as a person?
2. Bring students together in a large group to discuss their responses. You may want to list some on a sheet of chart paper to leave up for the duration of this lesson.

3. Explain to students that what they have just read is a personal narrative. Ask them if they have any idea, based on the responses you have just written down, what a personal narrative is. You want to work toward a definition like: "A personal narrative essay focuses on one's personal experiences. It is a story about someone's life and includes how other people have influenced them."

4. Tell students that once they have interviewed their family member, they will write a personal narrative that will be peer reviewed in class. The will then have time to revise their narrative at home before turning it in. Pass out the Personal Narrative Assignment Sheet and review the format of the essay with students, answering any questions they may have. Go over due dates, reminding students that they need to arrange to interview a relative by Session 3 when they will be developing their own interview questions in class.

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Session 3

1. Ask students to look at their notes from Session 1. What kinds of questions did they come up with during their group sessions? List these on chart paper.

2. Pass out the Oral History Questions worksheet. Review the questions and talk about the categories that questions can fall into. Tell students that during their interviews, they should ask the questions from the "Basic Questions," "Family History Questions," and "Lifetime Changes" portions of the worksheet.

3. Have students get into their small groups and work on developing their own additional interview questions using their notes from Session 1 and the Oral History Questions worksheet as guidelines. Students should help each other determine what questions will work best based on the person being interviewed.

4. While the groups are talking, you can circulate, offering assistance as necessary and taking anecdotal notes on student participation.

Homework (due before Session 4): Write at least five interview questions.

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Session 4

Note: Students need to have finalized their interview questions by this session. You may need to leave time for them to turn in several drafts.

1. Ask students to remember the interview techniques that were described in the "Introduction: A life remembered" section (page 564) of "Mixing Memory and Desire: A Family Literacy Event" that you read during Session 1. What did Faust and his family do when they interviewed GG? (They wrote questions and sent them before they arrived to give the grandmother time to reflect and think about the things they wanted to know. And in addition to pen and paper, they used a tape recorder and video camera.)

2. Ask students what they need to conduct their interviews. Where will they get these things?

3. Distribute the How to Interview a Relative worksheet and review it. Ask students if they see strategies listed that they might use. What do they think will be most important when conducting their interview? Give students a chance to ask questions as well.

Homework: Students should complete their interviews and write drafts of their personal narratives by Session 5. The amount of time you give students to complete this work is up to you, but it should be a minimum of a week.

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Sessions 5 and 6

1. Distribute the Peer Review Worksheet and go over it with students. Explain that you will use the same standards when you evaluate the final versions of their personal narratives. Explain that you will also evaluate them on how well they complete the peer review forms.

2. Each student has two reviewers assigned to his or her narrative. Students should spend these class periods reading each other's narratives and filling out the peer review sheets. If they have time, students can discuss their narratives with their reviewers as well.

Homework: Students should revise their personal narratives using the feedback from the peer review sheets. They should turn in these sheets along with their interview questions and notes when they hand in their final personal narrative. You may want to give them time (and encourage them) to contact their relatives for further questioning or clarification after the peer review sessions.

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Session 7

Bring the class back together for a final discussion about memory and what they learned by interviewing their relative and writing the personal narrative. Questions for discussion include:

  • When reading other people's narratives, did you see any similarities with your own narrative? What were they?

  • What was unique to your own narrative?

  • Did you see any differences in experiences based on where people lived?

  • Why do you think it is important for people to share their life stories?

  • If you were writing your own life story, what are some things you would include?

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  • Publish the student narratives as a magazine or website. If you do this, you might collect family photos from each student. Allow students time in class to review the publication.

  • Have students share their stories with younger classes. A class "author's night" could also be arranged to share stories with family members (including interview subjects).

  • Have students read the novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines (Bantam, 1982). Have students compare this fictional personal narrative with the ones they wrote.

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  • Assess student participation during both whole-class discussions and small-group work using your observations and anecdotal notes.

  • Evaluate the interview questions and the notes from the actual interview. How well were students able to use the materials you provided (the Oral History Questions worksheet and the How to Interview a Relative worksheet) to develop their interview questions and conduct their interviews? Did students choose thoughtful and appropriate questions? Did they use these questions during the interview? Did they take opportunities to ask related questions while interviewing their relative?

  • Use the Family Memories Narrative Rubric to evaluate the completed personal narratives and peer review forms.

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