Friday, January 22, 2016

American History Personal History Project

Teaching American History at our homeschooling co-op has been an incredible experience for me thus far this year. I'm co-teaching with a friend, and a third friend is teaching the government portion of the class. Since history is a full credit and government is a half credit, we focus on history for the majority of our class time each week (about 50 minutes), and she does government for 30 minutes.

At the beginning of first semester, we handed out the "Personal History Project" assignment to the students. We intended to have them do their presentations before Christmas break; however, we decided mid-semester to move the due date to January.

This past week, we heard the first half of the presentations. Students shared recipes (including biscuits with chocolate gravy--YUM!-- and a fantastic spinach/sausage soup; read interviews; and even shared stories they'd written about relatives. We've had so many messages from parents thanking us for doing this assignment—that they and their kids discovered all kinds of family history they didn't know about.

Below is the actual assignment. We created this largely from combining and reworking a couple of examples that we found on the internet. I am terribly apologetic to those teachers who originally created the assignments, but, as of yet, I haven't relocated the sources. Our students are in high school, but this can easily be used for a younger audience.


American History: Personal History Project

This project will be due on _____. You will be required to present ONE component of the paper to the class. For example, you might choose a recipe to make (from Part 2, option 2D) and share the food and the story with the class, or you might want to share Part 1, option 2A by bringing in the objects. You should plan on sharing for no more than 4 minutes in class.


There are three sections to your project.

1. Cover: Your project must begin with a cover that visually conveys something about you:  a collage, a drawing, a collection of family photos, etc.

2. The Tree (see directions below)

3. The Roots (see directions below

• each component should begin on a new page with the title at the top

• you may use as many illustrations, scanned photos, art work, etc. that you like

• all pages should be neatly stapled together (or otherwise bound) and turned in as one complete booklet.

The Tree

(You must do #1. You can pick one from the options in #2.)

1. The Day I Was Born: Research the day you were born.

A. Describe three significant events that happened on that day (200 words).

B. List:

• the music popular song that day

• the top three books on the New York Times Best Seller list for the date closest to your birthday

2. Choose ONE of these (either A or B):

A. Show and Tell: Choose five objects that reveal who you are, what your place is in your family, and/or that epitomize your family. For example, you might choose a pair of hiking boots if your family enjoys hiking together. You should take a picture of each object and include the photo and an explanation.


B. The Band: Choose a piece of music that could be your personal theme song. Copy down the lyrics (if it has lyrics) give the title, artist and then in two paragraphs explain why this piece of music is meaningful to you and what it says about your personality and beliefs.

The Roots

(You must do #1. You can pick three from the options in #2.)

1. Where I Come From: Complete a family tree. Illustrate, in whatever fashion you like, your family tree. A simple google search for “family tree template” will give you ideas. You can use a template or be creative and design your own tree. Include relatives back to (at a minimum) your grandparents. Include uncles, aunts and cousins. If you like, include significant family friends whom you would describe as being family. If you are adopted, include what you know about your biological parents (if anything) or focus on your adoptive family.  You will need to talk to your parents/others to find out this information.

2. Choose three of the following:

A. Interview your oldest surviving relative. If you can, do this in person. If impossible, you may do this by email, phone, or letter. You must ask at least 20 questions. You can use these questions and/or come up with your own.

Where did you grow up?

What were two highlights of your childhood?

Tell me about your best childhood friend?

Tell me a story about school?

Tell me about your first girlfriend/boyfriend?

 What was your favorite and least favorite subject in school?

Tell me a story about your senior year in high school.

What kind of training or college did you complete?

What has been your favorite job and why?

What has been the most interesting adventure in your life?

What historical event has made the most different in your life?

Explain how a technological invention has changed your life.

Who was most influential in your life as a teen? As an adult?

What do you like best about your family relationships?

Tell me about one of your family relationships.

Tell me about your favorite home.

What would you do differently?

What makes you most proud in your life?

What is your motivation when you get up in the morning?

You can write this as a story/essay or you can write it out in interview format. For example:

Question: Where did you grow up?

Answer: I grew up in Geneva, New York, a small town in upstate New York.

B. Family Trunk: Most families have storage places where old mementos are gathered. Explore your storage area, an old trunk or grandparents’ memory boxes or basements, a china cabinet, etc. and see what stories unfold when you discover and ask about certain objects. Choose two objects of particular interest and discuss what it is and why it’s significant in two paragraphs. Include photos of the objects. (250-300 words)

C. Traditions: Every family has important traditions. Choose a tradition and/or a holiday that is important in your culture and write one page describing all the elements of this custom or holiday. (250-300 words)

D. What’s Cookin’?: Choose a favorite family recipe and prepare it. Copy down the recipe, explain the origins of and/or stories about the recipe (e.g., “This was the only dessert my grandmother knew how to make”) and write a detailed description of your attempts to recreate this family masterpiece in the kitchen.

E. What’s Their Story? Pick a family member from your family tree and either tell a story about that member OR research the time period and write a fictionalized “day-in-the-life” story. This should be someone in a past generation, not you or your siblings/ cousins.


The students were given four minutes each to present some aspect of their project; however, most students took only about 2-3 minutes.

I'm so thrilled with this project Below are a few examples of what was included in their projects:

I enjoyed seeing everyone's family trees; this is Duncan's. One of my favorite projects in college was an extensive family tree for sociology—way back before was around!

These are samples from the "Show and Tell" component in the first section. I love the different ways that the students interpreted this.

Lots of students read interviews that they'd done with an older family member. So interesting!

Nearly every student shared a recipe—we have some great new ones to try!

This is one of my favorites. The page included photos of the tombstone, which had a beautiful poem on it written by his grandfather.

This is a fantastic project for history classes or for families to do! The stories captured within the pages are truly treasures, and having a teen make those connections to the past is invaluable.

Linked up with Kris's Weekly Wrap-Up, the Hip Homeschool Hop, and Collage Friday

1 comment:

  1. Great idea. I'm saving this to use and inspire me later in the year when history will be back on our agenda.


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