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Lesson #1: A Storyteller's Inspiration

Lesson #2: Video Storytelling

Lesson #3: Speak With Your Elders

Lesson 3: Record and Preserve Your Family Stories
Printable Version

FilmmakersGrades 8-12
Subject: Language Arts/Technology/Life Science
Estimated Time of Completion: four to six 50-minute periods

  1. Summary
  2. Objectives
  3. Materials Needed
  4. Procedure
  5. Classroom Assessment
  6. Extensions and Adaptations
  7. National Standards
I. Summary

We each have personal recollections of past events, personal memories, and vivid, imaginative accounts of the events of our lives. These memories create a springboard for the stories that will provide us a precious link to our past. In this activity, students will learn the basics for and the importance of recording their own family history. Students will be the interviewers that seek to learn more about the past. Students will learn about the right questions that will provide insight to their family stories. Students will research, collect, and share stories that will bring them closer to their heritage while possibly spawning a lifelong interest in genealogy.

II. Objectives
  • The student will research their own culture and personal heritage.
  • The student will create a presentation of their culture and heritage.
  • The student will develop interests in family events and family documents.
  • The student will develop a sense of self, family and community.
  • The student will interview another to promote learning about themselves and their family.
  • The students will be exposed to values, perspectives and experiences of other generations and cultures.
III. Materials Needed
  • Pencil and paper
  • The board and chalk, an overhead and transparency or another presentation device
  • Computer with Internet access
  • LCD projector or another type of computer projection device
IV. Procedure

(Class 1)

  1. Take a survey of the appearances of students in the classroom. Have a couple of students graph the information on the board. How many students have dimples? How many students have blue eyes, hazel eyes, green eyes, or brown eyes? How many students have red hair, brown hair, or blond hair? How many students have worn braces? How many students have birthmarks? Ask students to brainstorm why we look the way we look. Ask students to elaborate on what our outside appearance has to do with who we are. Have students draw conclusions from the data.
  2. Students should draw a conclusion that we are all different, but that we share many similarities as people. We have unique families, unique experiences and unique stories. Encourage students to become researchers and recorders of their stories. Have students brainstorm why having oral history might be important. Have students discuss traditions and celebrations in their family and how they differ from others in the classroom. Students will discuss how people would study family or community history. How might students locate dates? Students will brainstorm reference materials to help them learn about themselves: baby books, the family Bible, newspaper clippings, computer searches, public documents, letters, naturalization papers, etc.
  3. Have students listen to Rosella Archdale discuss her culture at the CIRCLE OF STORIES Web site, Emphasize her feelings and explanations of family history. Discuss her traditional meal and how it brought back memories to her. Ask the students if they have a favorite food. Does memory play a part in this food being a favorite one?
  4. Have the students create their own family tree or pedigree chart ( and organize a time line of their lives complete with events and highlights. Students from single-parent households may prefer to use the pedigree chart that diagrams only one side of the family. Have students write a personal autobiography to accompany their timeline and tree. Have students volunteer to share their completed autobiographical story with the class. (This step may be skipped if there are issues of sensitivity.) Have students follow these guidelines in preparing their autobiography:
    • Timeline must cover the years from birth until present.
    • Timeline must spotlight at least 1 item of personal data per year.
    • The timeline, family tree or pedigree chart, and autobiography must meet these rubrics: complete, neat, organized, accurate information, originally and creatively compiled.
    • To be complete the autobiography will be a minimum three-paragraph story and be accompanied by a timeline and a family tree or pedigree chart.

(Class 2)

  1. Have students listen to the story of Corbin Harney and his musical messages of taking care of “Mother Earth” at the CIRCLE OF STORIES Web site, Have students pay attention to the importance of song and dance in this storytelling episode. Have students listen to the audio version of his Shoshone songs. Encourage students to see that their family stories may be a song, a food, or a tale. Ask students to reflect on songs sung in their family and if they have memories attached to any of these.
  2. Have students reflect on the previous discussion and video segments, and then brainstorm why one would want to preserve family history, and how one might do to preserve family history (interview family members, record stories in various ways, orally tell stories from generation to generation, etc.). Discuss what happens when stories are orally told and retold. Discuss legends and how the details may have become embellished over the years.
  3. Have students look at the PBS Web site, Ancestors, at This site contains more information about writing a family history, conducting research, recording oral histories, and conducting interviews of family members. Students may also visit the PBS site P.O.V.: Family Name,, and look at family names. Students will discuss the effect a family name might have on an individual. Discuss the history of family names, histories, crests and family reunions. Students will also benefit from visiting the PBS site Life 360: Weeding and Writing Roots at This site can be used as a springboard for discussing the student’s own personal roots.

(Class 3)

  1. Have students choose a relative to learn about your family’s history. If possible, encourage students to use an audio, videocassette or digital camera to record parts of the interview. (Ask students how many of them have tapes from generations back. Why not? With the availability of technology, students can literally talk to generations in the future.)
  2. Have students write a letter to their unborn child explaining something they would like that child to know (maybe not to do drugs, respect the earth, continue their second language, etc.).
  3. Be sure students are sensitive to the other person’s feelings that they are interviewing. Make sure students know to avoid embarrassing or very personal questions. Explain to students that they will need to put the person at ease. Let the students make suggestions of how they could put this person at ease (favorite chair, something to eat or drink, seeing the questions before the interview, etc.). Remind students that they will need to be a good listener to encourage the person to be open and honest. Remind students to avoid yes/no questions. The purpose of interviewing is to seek information.
  4. Students will need to have the list of questions ready for the interview. Have students make out their list of questions. The following categories would provide students a focus: childhood, family traditions, growing up, historical events, occupation, religion, education, pets, traveling, medical care and ceremonies. After students have completed their list of questions, share the following suggestions with students to provide them more direction if needed.
    1. What is your name and do you know how you came to have that name?
    2. What kinds of things did your family do for fun?
    3. What kind of responsibilities (work or chores) did you do?
    4. What is your favorite funny family story?
    5. What was your favorite food that was prepared in your family?
    6. Did your family have a special tradition?
    7. Do you remember any story that your parents told you that would be oral history that has been passed down from generation to generation?
    8. Do you know any family recipes that have been handed down to you?
    9. What kinds of songs did you learn from your parents?
    10. Do you ever use any remedies or medicines for illness that your family considers more effective than today’s medicine?
    11. Did you have any traditions or celebrations that were held at holidays or special times?
    12. What did you do for entertainment when you were my age?
    13. What kinds of fads do you remember?
    14. What were your favorite games and/or toys?
    15. How did your clothing at my age compare to my clothing today?
    16. What do you remember most about discipline in your family?
    17. Compare transportation when you were my age to my transportation today.
    18. Describe any items that you or other family members have that have been handed down through generations of the family.
    19. What is your favorite story about you and/or your family?
  5. (*Work to be done at home) Students should acquire permission from the relative. Students may wish to share the questions with the relative prior to the interview so that the relative has an idea of what will be asked. Make an appointment with the relative. On the day of the interview make sure all equipment is available, working and ready. Bring paper and pencil. Make sure everyone is comfortable before beginning the interview. Keep the interview to an hour or less if possible. If you need another session, then make another appointment.
  6. Each of the students will decide how best to present and to preserve their information once it is completed. Have students choose from one of these seven ways:
    1. Portfolio (with questions and answers, pictures, etc.)
    2. PowerPoint Presentation
    3. Creative Poster and Storytelling
    4. Taped Video
    5. Audio tape of the conversation
    6. Web page
    7. A combination of the above
  7. The presentation for each group must:
    1. Include title, name, and date.
    2. Be an informative but entertaining portfolio, presentation, poster with storytelling, tape, Web site, video or a combination that reflects your efforts at learning more about yourself and your culture.
    3. Reflect a desire to follow directions, be complete, neat, organized, provide accurate information, be original and creatively compile something you can pass down to your children.
    4. Provide an overall impression that is educational, inspirational (inspiring others to learn about their culture), and entertaining.
    5. Be completed and submitted to the teacher on the designated date.

(Class 4-6)

  1. Students will hand in the assignment and be prepared to share their presentation with the class. Students should now know and appreciate how parents, grandparents, and other relatives can be a great source of information as to how life has changed. Encourage students to save their completed presentations for future generations.
  2. As a concluding activity, have students work in small groups. Students will choose one of the group’s stories, prepare a script, and then perform a classroom play from the past based upon the information they have gathered.
  3. Encourage students to participate in the “Share Your Story” section at the CIRCLE OF STORIES Web site. Ensure that all students know how to enter their story if they desire.
V. Classroom Assessment

A teacher will want to set deadlines for each specific objective. A teacher could assign a rubric for this overall project, but meeting rubrics for the each small project might provide the easiest method of evaluation. By considering each of the following worth 10 points each, a student would want to accumulate the possible 100 points.

Activity Points (1 to 10)
Possible 100
(10 pts. each)
1. Researching your own family name, beliefs, and culture.    
2. Create a family tree or a pedigree chart. (A teacher should show sensitivity in a classroom and ensure that this participation in this activity as a class doesn’t pose a problem for some.)    
3. Organize a timeline of your life with events and highlights.    
4. Write a personal autobiography.    
5. Interview a relative by asking appropriate questions and then compiling the information into a presentation.    
6. Share the story that has been researched and organized in some sort of presentation (audio, video, computer presentation, booklet, oral storytelling, etc.).    
7. A skit or play will be performed at the end to provide a story from the past.    
8. Working in small groups. (Rubrics: stays in seat, follows directions, helps others, and talks quietly).    
9. Assignment responsibility (rubrics: assignment is complete and on time).    
10. Individual learning {Have the student self-assess how much he/she has learned about cultures (both his/hers and others) after the presentation and study of culture. Have each student assign himself/herself a point 1-10 (with 10 the highest) indicating how much he/she has learned about himself/herself.}    

VI. Extensions and Adaptations
  • Have students bring photographs of themselves and family members and discuss inherited traits. Have a contest and see if students can match moms and/or dads with baby pictures of the students.
  • Invite someone with the hobby and interest of genealogy. Have that person explain why they think genealogy is fascinating, how and where one starts to find out about this hobby and what types of things one can learn about their family.
  • Create a collection of stories from different cultures.
  • Hold a day for parents, grandparents and other relatives to view the oral histories.
  • Make a family scrapbook.
  • Students could do a class or state project similar to the Iowa project,, A Story About Our Project which is about encouraging “conversations between generations.”
  • Have students write a friendly letter that might be sent (a possible holiday newsletter) out to relatives detailing some things that they have learned about their family history.
VII. Relevant National Standards

This lesson addresses the following national content standards found in the McRel Standards Database at

Language Arts

  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
  • Uses paragraph form in writing (arranges sentences in sequential order, uses supporting and follow-up sentences, establishes coherence within and among paragraphs).
  • Makes multimedia presentations using text, images, and sound (selects the appropriate medium, such as television broadcast, videos, Web pages, films, newspapers, magazines, CD-ROMS, Internet, computer-media-generated images; edits and monitors for quality; organizes, writes, and designs media messages for specific purposes).
  • Uses a variety of verbal and nonverbal techniques for presentations and demonstrates poise and self-control while presenting.


  • Knows of significant advances in computers and peripherals (data scanners, digital cameras).
  • Knows how to import, export, and merge data stored in different formats (text, graphics).
  • *Knows how to import and export text, data, and graphics between software programs.
  • *Uses desktop publishing software to create a variety of publications.


  • Knows that, throughout history, diverse cultures have developed scientific ideas and solved human problems through technology.
  • Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment.

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