My Family Traditions: A Class Book and a Potluck Lunch

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Eleven 45- to 60-minute sessions
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Inspire students' creativity, collaboration, and community in this lesson using the bilingual children's book Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza. After a read-aloud and analysis of this book about a Mexican American family, students write descriptions of the book's pictures and discuss what family traditions are. They then create a class book, which includes their artwork, information about their ancestral countries, descriptions of their own unique family traditions, and family recipes. The final community-building activity is a class potluck where students share both a special food and the class book with their families and peers.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Current standards include practices that enhance an understanding of diversity.

  • An important way to combat prejudice is by knowing one's roots and sharing pride in one's heritage with others.

  • Through critical pedagogy, we learn to communicate things we know and care about with words; we also think and communicate so we can make a difference in the world.

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 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.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 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.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 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

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Folders

  • Letter-sized paper

  • Art supplies

  • Bookbinding materials

  • Student journals (optional)

  • Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza (Children's Book Press, 2005)




1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza. The text of this book is written in both English and Spanish. Practice reading it aloud in one or both languages, as appropriate for your class. Make black and white copies of each of the pictures, enough so that each student gets at least one.

2. Think about family traditions versus national traditions and prepare to share some examples of each, using your own family and the text of Family Pictures as an example. Family tradition relates to customs and behaviors that are repeated in a particular family, perhaps over several generations. National tradition relates to the customs and behaviors of most people in a country that have lasted for many years. For example, making tamales is both part of Mexico's national tradition and it's also a family tradition for Carmen Lomas Garza. Trips to Reynosa, Mexico were part of Garza's family tradition, probably so they wouldn't forget about Mexican traditions.

3. Set a date, time, and place for a class potluck for families and students (this should be about two weeks from when you begin the lesson). Lunchtime in the classroom might work well. Although students will be writing their own letters of invitation, you may want to write a preliminary letter (in English and Spanish if necessary) for students to bring home at the end of Session 1. Students will be asked to share their favorite family dishes with each other and present the class book they create to their families. If no family members will be able to attend, perhaps they can still send some food with the students to share. Some students can be asked to bring eating utensils and drinks. Decide who else in the school (i.e., administrators or other teachers) should be invited.

4. If you do not have computers with Internet access for students to use in your classroom, reserve two 45-minute sessions in the computer lab (see Sessions 4 and 5). Bookmark CountryWatch.com, Country @ a Glance, and any other websites your students will use for research on the computers.

5. Make one copy for each student of the Quiz and Personal Reflection: Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia, Family Pictures Class Book: Requirements for Each Page, and the Family Pictures: Final Reflection.

6. Make three copies for each student of the Family Pictures Class Book: Peer Editing Rubric.

7. Before completing this lesson, students should be familiar with how to write a letter (see Session 8, Step 2). You may want to teach "Using Writing and Role-Play to Engage the Reluctant Reader" before teaching this lesson.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Appreciate unique family traditions by analyzing an excellent piece of children's literature by and about a Mexican-American woman and by thinking about and researching their own family traditions

  • Apply what they have learned about family traditions and use their creativity and the writing process to make three pages of a class book that include artwork

  • Practice research skills by looking up information about their ancestral countries and writing about it in the class book

  • Practice using description in writing about their family traditions

  • Practice letter writing by inviting their families to a potluck lunch

  • Develop social skills with their peers and other adults by sharing their books and family recipes and hosting a lunch in which they will make short oral presentations to the invited guests

  • Build self-esteem and bond as a class by writing about topics that are important to them, by working together to complete a class book, and by planning a potluck lunch

Sessions 1 and 2

1. Before students arrive, review the "Making Tamales" page of Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza and write the words tamales, cornmeal dough, and corn leaves on the board. Write the words Family Pictures in large letters to build a sense of curiosity.

2. When the students arrive, ask what they think the Family Pictures activity is. After a few guesses, show them the front of the book and ask a few volunteers to predict what it is about.

3. Tell students to take out their writing journals or a sheet of lined paper and write the words Family Pictures as the title. Show students the front cover of the book and ask them what is happening in the picture. If they don't know, explain that the family is making tamales together. Ask for a definition of the word tamale. (It is cornmeal dough wrapped and cooked in leaves, and is often filled with meat and chili peppers or sweetened with fruit.) Explain that tamales are a typical food in Mexico and Central America, and point out that the family is using cornmeal dough and corn leaves (indicate words on board) to make them.

4. Instruct students to skip a line on their paper and write and underline the words book cover followed by their own written description of the cover. You want students to describe as much detail as possible about the picture, making inferences about what they see even if they aren't sure (for example, "this is an extended family from Mexico," "they make tamales together every Sunday," etc.). Pass around the book, allowing them to take turns observing the picture carefully as they write. Questions to prompt student writing might include:
  • What do you see in this picture?

  • Who is in the picture and how are they related to each other?

  • Why are people doing what you see them doing?

  • What are some artistic details you like about this picture?
5. When students are finished, ask volunteers to read their descriptions aloud. Inform them that you will read them the entire book and will give them a short quiz on it later to see what they understood about the book.

6. Read about the author on the page that begins with the text, "The pictures in this book are painted from my memories...." Help students locate Kingsville, Texas; Reynosa, Mexico; and the Gulf of Mexico (mentioned later in the book) on a map.

7. Tell students to skip a line on their papers and write the words The Fair in Reynosa. Show the picture that accompanies this page and ask a couple of students to orally describe what they see. Have each student write a description of the picture, as they did in Step 4. Then read the text aloud (in English, Spanish or both), making clarifications and answering questions as needed. Ask students if they made any assumptions about the drawing that turned out to be different after hearing the text. Invite them to comment on the anecdotes and compare them to activities they have done with their families.

Note: Spanish-speaking ESL students might benefit from reading the book on their own or with another adult in Spanish first.

8. Continue Step 7 for each picture and accompanying text in the book. If necessary, use an additional session to finish reading the book.

9. When students have analyzed every page in the book, show them the picture of the author on the back of the book, commenting aloud that she really followed her dream by making a beautiful book about her childhood memories that teaches other children about Mexican-American culture. Explain that the book can inspire them to write stories about their own family cultures.

Session 3

1. Conduct a whole class discussion about traditions. Ask students to define the phrase family tradition and the phrase national tradition. Write both terms on the board. Have volunteers look up the words tradition and national in the dictionary. Try to get as many students as possible to offer their opinions and examples, either from Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia or their own lives. Make sure students understand that we all have different family traditions and discuss why it's important to respect these differences.

2. Give students a few minutes to review their descriptions from Sessions 1 and 2 to prepare for the quiz. Have them put their papers away and pass out the Quiz and Personal Reflection, giving students at least 15 minutes to complete it.

3. Have each student write their favorite family dish - something their family members make on special occasions - on a piece of paper. Show them how to crunch their paper up into a "snowball" and bring it with them to stand in a circle. Have students throw their balls in the middle of the circle. Each student grabs someone else's snowball then reads the snowball while the others try to guess who wrote it.

4. Explain that students will begin work on a project to make a class book, inspired by Family Pictures. Pass out the Requirements for Each Page and read it carefully to the students, making any necessary clarifications. Pass out folders and instruct students to label it "Family Pictures Project." This is where they will keep all of their work until they turn it in. Explain also that they will be having a potluck lunch to which they will invite their families. Tell them the date, time, and place you have selected for the potluck.

5. Ask if there are two or three volunteers who would like to help bind the book. Allow them to peruse the Binding a Book and Bind it Fast websites and decide how they will bind the book (a sewn book will last longest), asking you for the materials they will need or bringing them from home. This might take two or three sessions; students should be ready to bind the book by the time the covers are complete at the end of Session 7.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 4): Students should do the following:


Make a rough draft of their first page

b) Pick a country where their ancestors came from to research.

c) If you have not sent a letter home, tell their families the date, time, and place of the class potluck, and that they will receive a written invitation later.

Sessions 4 and 5

Note: If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, these sessions should take place in the computer lab.

1. Ask a few volunteers to read their homework page to the class. Pass out two Family Pictures Class Book: Peer Editing Rubrics per student. Go over the rubric carefully with the class, emphasizing that they are not grading each other but giving each other ideas, or feedback, to improve their work so that the class book will be spectacular.

2. Have students work on their second pages, researching their countries using CountryWatch.com and Country @ a Glance while taking notes. They can copy and paste maps and other images into a word processing document and type in their own text. Students should complete a draft of the page.

3. As students finish, have them switch both the pages they have completed with a partner who is also finished and use the Family Pictures Class Book Peer Editing Rubric to give each other feedback. They can then use the feedback to make improvements on their pages as needed. The completed rubrics should go in the folders with students' other work.

4. Break the class into groups of two or three and give them a couple of minutes to brainstorm and make a list of special foods and meals they enjoy eating with their families. Ask a volunteer from each group to share their list with the class.

Homework: Students should write their third page, which includes a recipe of a special family dish and a picture to go with it. You might give students a weekend to do this so they have time to talk with their family members about it.

Note: At the end of these sessions, collect student folders with all work done so far, check it, grant points for work done, and make suggestions for changes on the bottom of the Family Pictures Class Book Peer Editing Rubric. You might indicate whether they need to make a new page for the final draft or make changes on the existing page.

Session 6

1. Pass back folders with your comments and give students time to make their final drafts. You might need to do this in the computer lab so students can edit and print the second page. Remind them that this work will be published and presented to their families, so the work needs to be creative, neat, and without errors.

2. Distribute a blank Family Pictures Class Book: Peer Editing Rubric to each student. Have students find a partner and exchange the family dish page they did for homework, using the rubric to give each other feedback. Let them make any changes they wish before handing in their work.

Note: Collect folders with all work. Make suggestions for changes to the third pages to return to students at the beginning of Session 7.

Session 7

1. Return the recipe pages and the corresponding rubrics to students and give them time to make their final drafts ready for publication.

2. Pass out the copies of pictures from Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia and blank, letter-sized (or larger) paper and tell students to make their own drawings. They can make their pictures very similar or very different, use some ideas from the book's pictures, and add elements from their own lives or imaginations. Have them color their pictures and hang them on the walls to decorate the classroom for the potluck (or save them to decorate the cafeteria if that is where you will be having lunch).

3. Ask students if any of the pictures done by their classmates would make good front and back covers for their class book (you could also pick them). Ask the student artists if they would be willing to make their pictures into covers.

4. Have the class help think of a title for their book. The front-cover artist can figure out how to incorporate the title and author (the name of the class) onto the cover. The title can be written neatly or printed from a computer, then cut out and glued onto the cover. The back-cover artist might write a short summary of how this book came to be made and what it's about, type and print it, and glue it onto the back cover. (This could be done for homework or during free time.) When the covers are complete, glue the front and back covers onto thin cardboard or heavy paper and have them laminated.

5. The students who have prepared to bind the book can now do so, with your supervision.

Note: Another option is to make three separate class books, one for each page assignment. This would involve more students in the binding process and in making covers.

Session 8

1. Ask students to remember what the activities have been for this project, starting with the read aloud of Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia. List them on the board.

2. Students will now write a letter to their families inviting them to the class potluck. Review basic letter writing structure and have them include the following information in their letters (write these points on the board):
  • Explain the details of the class project to your family.

  • Tell them why we are inviting them to a class potluck.

  • Remind them of the date, time, and place.

Students should bring their letters home to their families, decide what food they will bring to share for the potluck, and write it at the bottom of the letter. They should return the letters by the beginning of Session 9.

Sessions 9 to 11

1. Potluck preparation: Tell students that at the beginning of the potluck, you expect each of them to say the name of the family dish they have brought and something about it. Have them make a sign to put in front of the actual dish stating what it's called and why the dish is important to them. Set up tables for the food. Invite students to share other aspects of their culture if they so desire at the potluck (a song, dance, story, poem, etc.) and consider bringing something from their culture.

2. Day of the potluck: Before eating, have each student take turns saying something about his or her dish. Ask each student to serve the dish he or she brought in. After everyone has eaten, show the finished book to the families and have each student read his or her pages aloud, turning the book to show the pictures to their audience. Make sure there's lots of applauding after each student reads. Give special recognition to the cover artists and the bookbinding group. Point out the pictures drawn by students on the walls. Open the floor to anyone else who wants to share something. Finally, ask family members to make any comments they might have about the project.

3. After the potluck: Have students reflect on the entire project using the Family Pictures: Final Reflection. Then ask each student to make a comment about the project aloud, publicly thanking those who helped him or her most. Model doing this by thanking individual students for specific extra help they provided. Thank the entire class for something they all taught you or something they did particularly well.


  • Invite a guest speaker from a Mexican-American organization or a local student of Chicano or Mexican-American studies to speak to the class about their current issues and projects.

  • The following books are excellent resources for related read alouds or to copy excerpts for students to read (or, in the case of the last entry, to photocopy the pictures and have students use them as inspiration for their own pictures):
  • Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories, by S. Beth Atkin (Little, Brown and Company, 1993).
    Photographs, poems, and interviews with nine children reveal the hardships and hopes of Mexican-American migrant farm workers and their families.

  • The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros (Random House, 1991).
    This book contains short, crisp stories and vignettes about a Mexican-American girl growing up in a poor, Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Chicago.

  • Honoring Our Ancestors: Stories and Pictures by Fourteen Artists, edited by Harriet Rohmer (Children's Book Press, 1999).
    Fourteen diverse artists present their self-portraits in this book and tell how they were inspired to become artists.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Gauge students’ prior knowledge of Mexican-American culture and traditions during the discussion in Sessions 1 and 2. Collect the quizzes and description assignment at the end of Session 3 and use them to assess students' understanding of key concepts in the story and from class discussion, such as family, tradition, and culture. Address misconceptions as necessary.

  • Evaluate the written assignments (responses to Family Pictures, text in the class book, and letter to family) for creativity and personal effort. You will also want to look at students' research and their abilitiies to use resources to create their second page. Questions to ask yourself as you review students' writing include:
  • Do students use vivid details, including sensory descriptions, to write about their family traditions?

  • Do they include specific information about how and when the traditions take place?

  • Is their research complete based on the instructions given?

  • Does the artwork fit in well with the text and add to a reader’s understanding of it?
  • Note the level of students' participation throughout the project. Praise students for positive aspects of their participation. If they were reluctant to participate in certain ways (orally, in writing, etc.), point this out to individual students.

  • Make comments to individual students as to how you see their progress in giving and receiving feedback from their peers when peer editing.

  • Analyze responses to the Family Pictures: Final Reflection and use what worked well to plan future lessons.

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