Activity And Project

Recording Family Stories

9 - 12
Activity Time
Six hour-long sessions, spread over approximately two weeks
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Activity Description

The stories of an older family member can explain family traditions and establish heritage-and they can be cherished possessions that are passed among family members for years to come. Teens can take part in the process of building family histories by recording the stories, or memoirs, of family members. The activity suggests a range of ways to record stories, from writing memoirs to composing an alternative artistic representation such as a photographic collage, a series of panels telling a story, a painting, a video, a musical composition, or a sculpture.

Why This Is Helpful

In recording family stories, teens practice the art of weaving several different family members' points of view into a significant unified piece, developing their interviewing skills in the process.  As participants identify unifying themes in their family interviews and compose their own memoirs, they take on a persona to tell their story.

This activity was modified from the ReadWriteThink lesson plan "Family Memoir:  Getting Acquainted with Generations Before Us."

What You Need

  • Copies of “Coming Home, Again”
  • Memoir Definition handout, one for each participant

Here's What To Do

  1. Working together, read Memoir Definition handout to better understand memoirs. Invite teens to discuss any other memoirs and identify the qualities they liked about them.
  2. To become more familiar with memoirs, read the essay "Coming Home, Again" by Chang-rae Lee. The author of the essay is a Korean-American immigrant who taps recollections of his parents driving him to school as a way to remember them and his relationship with them.
  3. Discuss this memoir, asking teens to share their favorite parts of the story.
  4. Explain to the teens that they will be creating their own family memoir, through writing or through alternative artistic means.
  5. Ask teens to choose the family members or friends who will be the subject of their memoirs. To help build a family history, suggest that teens choose a family member who is at least one generation older than they are. Family histories can also include important family friends and mentors. In addition to family members, teens can write a memoir on someone in their community, a religious elder, a teacher, or a civic leader.
  6. Prepare to interview the selected person for the memoir. Visit the following websites for ideas for their interview questions:
  7. Once interview questions have been determined, schedule the interviews.
  8. Ask teens to take notes during the interviews to record important facts and bits of information. If desired and with permission, they can also tape-record the conversation.
  9. If desired, bring a camera and take pictures during the interview.
  10. After the interviews have been completed, decide how the memoir information is going to be shared:
    • a written memoir essay, similar to "Coming Home, Again" by Chang-rae Lee
    • collage of photos, words, and/or images
    • a series of panels telling a story using the Comic Creator
    • a painting
    • a video
    • a musical composition
    • a sculpture
    • a poem
    • a song
  11. Once all of the memoirs have been completed, share them with others-including with the subject of the memoir!

More Ideas To Try

  • Memoirs can be written about a famous person that has been researched, or simply written about yourself!
  • A memoir can be shared based on the character of a book or movie.
  • If you prefer, shift the focus from building family histories to building community histories. Rather than having teens focus on family members, ask them to interview and record the stories of significant community members and remembrances of meaningful community events.

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