Standard Lesson

Creating Family Timelines: Graphing Family Memories and Significant Events

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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The one area that students are the best authorities on is their own memories and experiences. In this lesson, students participate in read-alouds and discussions about memories and family. After this exploration, students brainstorm questions to ask family members in order to learn more about important and/or memorable family events. Once students determine a list of questions, they interview family members, taking notes on the events and giving each a positive or negative rating. Using their interview notes, students create a graphic family timeline which includes illustrations or photographs.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In Chapter 2 of Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers, Kathy Short and Jerome Harste remind us that children "must begin any learning experience with what they currently know, perceive, and feel." Gathering information and writing about their families can create a meaningful bridge from students' personal, concrete experiences to the wider, historical experiences of their families. Diana Mitchell found just such a bridge during an end-of-year project involving families stories. She describes the project:  "We need some kind of center to pull them in; some compelling reason for them to continue reading, writing, speaking, and reflecting. Focusing on projects and activities that relate to the family seems to meet this need because all students come to our classrooms with family histories and stories." By having students but those family stories on a timeline, this lesson also makes a meaningful connection of literacy to mathematics and history.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Chart or butcher paper and markers

  • Post-it notes

  • Paper and pencils for student group brainstorming

  • Centimeter Grid Paper for students for written timelines

  • Reading response journal

  • Books About Family Memories, such as the following:

    • The Memory String by Eve Bunting

    • The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

    • Aunt Flossie's Hats by Elizabeth Howard

    • Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say

    • Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco



Student Objectives

Students will

  • participate in small and large groups to generate questions.

  • gather information from family members using a template and/or their own questions.

  • create a graphic timeline of their own family and life history.

Session One

  1. Let students know that you will be talking about families and their stories. Invite students to share any stories they may have or tell about any items that remind them of stories.

  2. Further elaborate on the topic by showing a few items of memorabilia from your own life, telling a short story about each item.

  3. Again, allow time for students to share family stories, especially those who did not share initially.

  4. Read aloud your choice of a book about family memories, such as The Memory String by Eve Bunting or The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.

  5. After reading, ask students to answer the following questions in their Reading Response Journals:

    • What kind of memories are presented in this story?

    • Does anything in this story remind you of anything in your own life?

    • Do you think this character will remember these things in ten or twenty years?

    • What helps you remember important events in your life?
  6. Share the additional books about family memories you've collected with the students. Encourage students to read these books for independent reading, or use them for literature group discussions to enhance the timeline lesson.

Session Two

  1. Ask students to share their understanding and previous experience with timelines. Make sure that the students have a working understanding of a timeline before moving on.

  2. To further reinforce the idea of a timeline, invite the students to help you put the year's school and classroom events on a timeline.

  3. With the students' assistance, create a blank timeline on the board or chart paper.

  4. Have students recall and suggest school and classroom events. Write them on Post-it Notes, and place them at the appropriate spot on the timeline. If possible, try to include some less positive events as well.

  5. When all suggestions have been made, review the results, and ask students to rate the events as "more positive" or "less positive."

  6. Making a connection to math instruction, invite students to share their understanding of positive and negative numbers and the use of a number line.

  7. Ask students how they show positive numbers on a number line-by placing them above the line. Ask students how they show negative numbers on a number line-by placing them below the line.

  8. Draw a visual on the board or chart paper, if desired. It might help to put numbers on the left side of the timeline: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 above the line; -1, -2, -3, -4, and -5 below. Label the line as zero.

  9. Using their existing knowledge of the number line, ask the students where the "more positive" comments about school and the classroom would fall on the timeline. Similarly, ask them where the "less positive" comments belong? What goes above or below the line?

  10. As the school and classroom events are rated, move the Post-it notes above or below the center line, as appropriate.

  11. When finished, the events should be placed at various distances above and below the center line, demonstrating positive and negative events and comments.

  12. Once all of the classroom and school events have been added to the timeline and a value has been assigned to them, have the students brainstorm visual images or graphics that could represent each of the events.

  13. Working in small groups, invite the students to create visual representations for a selection of events on the timeline.

  14. After the graphics are complete, attach them to the timeline in the appropriate spot.

  15. Draw lines between the events and graphics, in consecutive order, to create a positive-negative timeline.

  16. Leave this example timeline on display for the duration of the project.

  17. Continue to encourage students to read more stories about family memories from the selected books.

Session Three

  1. Begin this session by reviewing the classroom and school events timeline, especially the way events are placed above and below the line.

  2. Explain that students will create their own positive-negative timeline using stories and events from their family, either working on paper (as the class events timeline was created) or using the online Graphic Map.

  3. Using an LCD Projector, demonstrate the use of the Graphic Map interactive. Students can follow along with the How to Create a Graphic Map handout.

  4. To demonstrate how the Graphic Map works, transfer the data from the paper timeline about the class and school events to the student interactive.

  5. Print out the graphic map to use as an example in the classroom, or share some of the examples online.

  6. To begin the process of creating their own family timelines, arrange students in small groups and ask students to brainstorm a list of questions to ask their families in order to gather information for the family history timeline.

  7. Before breaking into small groups, use questioning strategies to help students think about interview questions:

    • What would you like to know about your family's history?

    • Do you know who the first person was who came to this country?

    • Do you know why that person came here?

    • Do you wonder how many different places your parents lived?

    • What would you like to know about other peoples' family histories?

    • What memorable things have happened to you personally?
  8. In small groups, ask students to talk about the specific questions they would like to ask their families.

  9. After an initial brainstorming session, each group should record the types of questions they feel are important to ask.

  10. As they are working, circulate and remind them to jot down their ideas. If necessary restate the above questions or remind students of events from read-aloud stories to help generate the interview questions.

  11. Have students reconvene with the whole class, and have each group share their ideas alternately. Write all questions on chart paper.

  12. The questions generated will vary according to the makeup of students. Presumably, students will have come up with questions similar to the following:

    • What are some memories you have from childhood?

    • What are some important things that happened to you as a young adult?

    • When did you start school, and what school did you attend?

    • How many different places have you lived? When did you live there?

    • When did I lose my first tooth?
  13. Look back over the list of questions and narrow the list in order to create the questions that students can ask their families. You may need to suggest some additional questions for the list to help students with their brainstorming.

  14. Invite students to write the questions they plan to use in their notebooks. Advise students to leave space below the questions to record the answers and to mark the value (positive or negative) for each event. Alternately, share the Sample Interview Questions Worksheet as a template for the interviews.

  15. Explain to students that they will be using these questions for a homework assignment, due the following session, and that the goal is to not only record family events and stories but also to assign a positive or negative value for each.

  16. Send the list of questions home with students for them to gather information, along with a parent letter, if desired. Students may need more than one day to get all the information they need.

Session Four

  1. When students have completed their family interviews, invite them to share some vignettes with the class.

  2. Before students create their family timelines, share the rubric with them so they understand the requirements of the project.

  3. After the sharing session, students should begin to create their family timeline, either on paper or online.

  4. As students work, circulate and help them with the placement of events as necessary.

Session Five

  1. Provide students time to share their completed family timelines with the class.

  2. As students share their timelines and stories, assess their work using the rubric.


  • Invite students to write a narrative version of the events on their timelines.

  • With some elaboration, students can use their timelines, photographs, clippings, souvenirs, and other memorabilia to create a family history book.

  • Ask students to choose one event to expand for a writing assignment. For more ideas on this, visit the Writing and Assessing an Autobiographical Incident lesson plan.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • As the students share their Family Timeline, assess their work using the rubric.

  • During small group work time and class discussions, observe their progress and take anecdotal notes about participation and cooperative activities.


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