Engaging Advanced English Learners with the Family Story Project
People love stories and that‘s what makes using a family story as the basis of a writing project so powerful. This assignment was created for advanced English learners – primarily high school or college age, but feel free to modify to fit your younger learners as needed.
Task your students with interviewing a family member to discover their story. It can be about something they have experienced in life or something about their family heritage. The role of the student is to ask the probing questions, capture the interview and turn the transcript into a non–fiction narrative of 550 words.
This project integrates their speaking, reading, and writing skills at an advanced level and provides learners the opportunity to share something meaningful about their life (perfect for engagement). It will also set you up for further conversation as you learn something new about each student‘s family.
“One way to help learners with the demands of informal oral communication is to support the development of informal spoken registers through the use of narratives in ESL.” — Nick Walker
- Interview a family member
- Transcribe the interview
- Critique a partner‘s interview
Speaking: Oral Presentation / Slide Show
- Conduct research: collect documents
- Create a profile of your relative
- Speak for seven to eight minutes for your presentation
Writing: Non-Fiction Narrative
- Recount a factual story about a family member
- Use literary techniques
- Write a story of 550 words
“The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”— Nancy Barnes
Use literary techniques for plot (clear sequence, structure) & characterization (show complexity) Have a unifying theme with a catchy start / effective closing.
Use examples & specific details. Be coherent & cohesive.
Use enriched vocabulary & correct grammar, spelling, punctuation.
Include 3 endnotes in your family story: additional information is not included in word count.
Content / coherence = 60 points
Vocabulary / grammar / spelling / punctuation = 40 points
Additional Writing Resources: family story writing
What a student learned from the project
“Thanks to the Family Project, I learned a lot more about where my family comes from, what they have been through, especially regarding my grandmother. I had no clue how difficult her childhood was. It is definitely impressive to see how far she has come and how hard she has worked to now have the beautiful family she has dreamed of. She is living proof that even if you get a “bad start” in life, you decide how your future will be; you either feel bad your whole life about it or you make the best out of the time you have.”— student feedback
Example: student family story narrative
When Ginette walked into the bar on a cold January night, she waved at the bartender. He greeted her with a light smile. Claude was one of her oldest acquaintances; they had been working with each other at the Shoreline bar for almost seven years now. Ever since she had moved to Thunder Bay, really.
She took off her coat, took a seat at the bar and let out a big sigh.
“What are you doing here? I thought tonight was your night off.” Claude asked, washing some glasses.
“Well, you know, just Roger being Roger…” she answered.
Two hours earlier, Ginette had been in her kitchen, making a perfectly good meatloaf when Roger came back from work. He immediately started screaming at the kids for having left their coats on the floor. He then proceeded by screaming at his wife for making meatloaf. “Not again!” he had screamed. You would think that after being on the road for his job for three days that he would be happy to see his wife. Then again, he was always like that.
“Ah! I see” said Claude, pouring her a glass of her favourite hard liquor.
He knew about her problems at home. This time seemed different though. Ginette didn’t have a defeated look on her face. This time, she just seemed angry.
Ginette and Claude talked for a long time; he wanted to help her blow off some steam. So much so that he didn’t even notice that she had been pouring herself drinks for about two hours now. She was conspicuously drunk.
“Alright, I called you a cab, so you can call it a night. It should be here any minute.” “Thank you, Claude.” Ginette answered while standing up.
As she was stumbling around to the coat rack, she made eye contact with one of her usual customers. He came in every night and nursed his drink until last call. Ginette hated that old man; he always tried to get her to leave with him. When she worked, she could never talk back to him, but if he talked to her tonight, she wasn’t going to hold her tongue.
“Hey there! How is my favourite little lady doing tonight? Might she want to…”
Ginette wasn’t holding it in one more second. She almost ran to him and started to scream all sorts of insanities. She was waving her arms in the air like a crazy person. The man was so shocked that he looked like he had just seen a ghost.
Ginette’s boss came out of his office wondering what had just happened. When he saw Ginette storming out the door he followed her outside.
“You can’t just scream at our clients like that. It’s not because you’re not working that you have to be unprofessional like that.”
Ginette turned around as fast as lightning. She raised her hand and grabbed her boss’ throat before pushing him against the wall in offensive position.
“No one tells me what to do.” Ginette said slowly while watching her boss choke. She let go of his throat, turned around and hopped in the cab without looking back.
The next night, when she came into work for her Friday night shift, her boss couldn’t even look at her in the eyes. She never got fired.
- He had already seen her drunk and he knew that it made her really impulsive and even violent, especially when she was drinking hard liquor.
- He was around 6’2” while she was only 5’.
- My grandma has a black belt in karate.
Word count: 551