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Creating a Family Tree: ESL Activities

written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 12/18/2013

An ESL family tree lesson will have students talking, listening, writing and reading - all the skills necessary to learn language. When teaching the ESL tree lesson, it is important to be mindful of the cultural and religious views of your students, as well as their own personal familial relations.

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    We Are Family

    Getting students involved in the skills for language learning can sometime be a challenge. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are ESL Class language skills that need constant and consistent practice. Teaching an ESL family tree lesson is a wonderful way to engage students in these skills.

    Begin the lesson by brainstorming or mind mapping terms that describe family members. Many languages have similar names for mother, father, sister, brother, etc., while others are completely different. If your class is made up of students from the same culture, you might ask them to do a web quest on the different names for one or two family members, such as "mother and father" or "grandmother and grandfather."

    Point out the similarities and differences. Ask the students what they call their parents, grandparents, etc. Discuss what a "pet" name is. Ask them if they have pet names for their family members.

    Talk about family units. Many cultures have several types of family units. Family units that can be discussed include:

    • nuclear family
    • extended family
    • single parent family
    • adopted family
    • childless family
    • blended family
    • stepfamily

    During this discuss, it is imperative that the instructor be sensitive to the cultural and religious views of the students, as well as their own family situations. For some students, family ties can bring up emotions that may be difficult for the student to discuss in class. Do not press students who seem to resist speaking about their own family. Allow them to generalize. For very young students, a note home before the lesson begins could help give you a head's up on any problems that might arise.

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    Creating a Family Tree

    Many people think that to create a family tree you actually need a picture of a tree on to which they put names of relatives. Not so!

    Allow students to think outside the box and create a family tree poster that best illustrates their family's interests. For example, a family tree can be made with a boat, or a house, or with moon, stars and planets! Go to the References section at the end of this article for more ideas on teaching students about genealogy and their family trees.

    You can provide students with a template or allow them to create their own vision of a family tree. If doing this in the classroom, allow several hours so that the students can work without pressure. If they finish early, have them write their favorite family memory to add to their family tree poster.

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    Family Photos

    Students can also create a family tree with photos. This is an excellent option for older or adult ESL students. Students can produce a PowerPoint presentation of their family, which they can give to the class. Explain to the students that they will need to explain each photo, not simply say, "This is my family." They will need to tell what is happening in the photo, using who, what, when, where, why and how. Hint: limit the number of slides if you have a large class. Five or seven slides work well.

    ESL family tree lesson plans can enhance all the skills of language learning.