What Makes a Family?


“What Makes a Family?” is designed to help students:

  • understand different ways to define a family;
  • explore the 2010 Census in relation to family diversity;
  • research and write a biographical profile of Michael Oher, and
  • create a mural.

Essential Questions: 

  • What makes a family?
  • Why are there so many different ideas of family?
  • Does the Census include all kinds of families?
  • What’s it like to grow up with no family?

Materials Needed: 


The 2010 Census will collect information about household members. This activity allows students to explore diverse configurations that form families. For example, a household might include: LGBT, single-parent or adoptive families; children living with grandparents; children living with extended families, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins; and children splitting time among different family members. Yet, even within these varied configurations, there are other family groupings we may not be aware of. In addition, there are individuals who live without any family interaction at all. This activity encourages students to think about their personal situations and their concepts of “family” and consider those of others.


1. In pairs or a small group, brainstorm responses to “What makes a family?” Describe different family make-ups; for example, two dads and two kids, an aunt and a nephew, etc. List examples from your life.

2. All kinds of families make up the United States. As a class, visit the Ground Spark website and watch clips from the film “That’s a Family!” to explore some family groupings. Discuss in your small group the types of families in the clips. Were any of the family groups familiar to you? Why do you think there are so many different ideas about what makes a family? 

3. The Census will collect information about different families living in the United States. As a class, discuss what you know about the 2010 Census. Look over a sample of the Census form. Read aloud the categories listed for household members. Think about the ways families are categorized on the Census form. Then, explore: Are all kinds of families included, or are some left out? How might people who have no family feel about the categories? How would someone who doesn’t share a “household” feel?  In pairs or small teams, collaborate on how you would change the form for the next Census. Post the new forms on the wall, and share with the class the background on how your team determined the criteria for the new form.

4. A biography is the true story of a real person’s life. Authors write most biographies to inform. Work with a partner to research and write a one-page biography of Michael Oher. Before conducting your research, brainstorm a list of questions you want to explore about him. Here are some possible guiding questions: Who is Michael Oher? Who is Michael Oher’s family?  How did he become homeless? What did he to do to scramble for survival? How did his rough life affect his schooling? When did the Tuohy family do to help Michael? As part of the writing process, be sure to get helpful feedback from your peers. You may want to use this handout on Giving Constructive Feedback as a guide.

5. In small groups, share your opinions:

  • Why do you think Michael Oher’s story is important to share?
  • Who is Michael Oher’s family?
  • Are the Touhys his family? Elaborate.
  • What makes a family?
  • What would you have done in the same situation?


Work with a small team to give an oral presentation about “What makes a family?” Your team presentation needs to explain what you learned about family that you hadn’t thought of until this lesson and how has what you’ve learned changed your thinking about families. Before sharing your presentations, as a class determine a criteria or rubric for a successful presentation.

Recommended Resources

Extension Activity: 

1. Have one person
draw the outline of a tree on chart paper and write the heading “We Are Family”
on it. Post it on a bulletin board. Then have everyone in the class create
illustrations that show scenes of family diversity and experiences. Share your
illustration before taping it to the tree. When the tree is complete, review as
a group the diversity it includes.
2. Write an acrostic
poem using the word FAMILY. Write FAMILY horizontally, or up and down.
Then write a descriptive line for each letter in FAMILY. The first word of the line should begin with the
appropriate letter from the word. For example: Full of fun.