Written by: Nate Binzen
4th or 5th graders, Social Studies
Find a piece of your family history you’d
like to learn more about.
Interview your parents, grandparents, or
relatives about it.
Put together the story!
It could involve one of these:
α What is known about a generation that emigrated to the United
States, or the first generation in the US – from where, when, to
where, why; what they were like; how they might have changed
α A family move (especially for work): why was it done? Did it
achieve what was intended? What changes did it cause?
Audio recorder for interviews and narration
Audacity (digital editor) for audio file editing and
If available, computer for typing the scripts, transcripts,
and other material
It’s important to start the project by getting the students
interested and invested, generating their own questions and
finding their own motivations to piece together the answers.
Maybe we’ll listen to a compelling family/immigration story from a
source like StoryCorps or This American Life or The Moth.
Then the students can discuss what made it interesting to listen to.
Then in small groups consider what makes any story interesting.
Tell what they know about their own family’s immigration story.
Tell any story or thing they know from a prior generation that they
think is interesting.
Structuring for collaboration:
Students are grouped into trios, who will consult with each other
on all how-to problems concerning production, writing, and
It’s good to have learning targets along the way, and ways for the
students to self-assess. We’ll check how well they think they’re getting
the various tasks with thumb checks – up, sideways, or down.
At the end of each phase, the student will run their work by their peer
group for feedback, and by the teacher.
Phases of student work:
Planning – Brainstorm topic ideas; consult with interview subject(s)
and teacher; choose topic; explain why you’re choosing it
Drafting – Write the interview questions; conduct the interviews
Editing – Listen to the interview recordings and select the parts you
want to use, cutting them into named files; transcribe those parts;
write the narration script around the various segments
Conference – Discuss what you’ve got with your teacher; discuss
what you’ve learned with your trio
Revising – Edit the script based on feedback; if necessary, ask more
interview questions to fill gaps
Publishing – Record narrations; edit together the audio files in
sequence; output to final file; upload to shared site; share with
family (and school community)
This idea was modelled by an independent school teacher
who did something similar with 4th/5th graders.
In the New York state standards, though, curriculum relating
to Individual Development and Cultural Identity ends in the
earlier grades, and there’s not much that would bridge from
personal family relevance to the broader subjects covered.
Yet the technology and complexity of this project would
exceed the lower grades.
So this project could serve as an introduction to a larger,
more fully collaborative and less personally relevant projects
on more curriculum-central subjects.
From the New York State Common
Core Social Studies Framework…
4.6 Industrialization, Immigration and Growth
4.6e Immigrants came to New York State for a variety of reasons. Many immigrants arriving in New
York City were greeted by the sight of the Statue of Liberty and were processed through Ellis Island.
Students will trace the arrival of various immigrant groups to New York State in the mid-1800s,
1890s, 1920s, mid-1900s, 1990s, and today, noting the role of the Irish potato famine.
Students will research an immigrant group in their local community or nearest city in terms of
where that group settled, what types of jobs they held, and what services were available to them
such as ethnic social clubs and fraternal support organizations.
5.8 Comparative Cultures
5.8a The populations of the countries of the Western Hemisphere are diverse and varied.
Students will investigate the diversity of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil by looking at
their official language or languages, major religions practiced, and different groups of people that
have immigrated and settled there over time, including the Native American groups, noting
cultural contributions of at least one of these various groups.
Why this project:
This whole assignment could be written as a paper, right?
Boring! We’re going to do it in a medium that’s fun and
The material is personally relevant to the students. Not only
because it is about their own family, but because it is likely to be
valued by their audience (their family).
They are learning to make a presentation that others can
identify with, connect with.
They are learning to move through several phases of a job, each
building on the prior.
I’ve seen others do it with great success.
How this project will lead to
During the revising phase, the students will be asked to
reflect anew on ways their family experience relates to
broader immigration and economic/demographic trends
they’ll be studying. They’ll be asked to add a piece of this
reflection into their narration script.
This project is more about building the students’ project-based
learning skill set (critical thinking, problem-solving,
collaboration, communications) than about curriculum-bound
content. It would be best as an enforcement of a way of learning
that they will do a lot more of subsequently.