What is a Family?

This lesson provides a framework that will help students talk about their own and others’ families in safe, caring ways.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • Understand that families have different structures and compositions
  • Read, write and talk about the idea that differences in family structures actually make for a richer community
  • Reflect on what makes their own families special and the diversity of families in the community
  • Create and reflect on a gallery of classroom family portraits
Essential Questions
  • What is a family?
  • What makes some families different from others and in what ways is your own family unique?
  • How does having different kinds of families make the world and our classroom community a richer place?
  • Picture books for perusal (use any picture book that gets at the idea of different kinds of families, there are also some suggested titles below)
  • Chart paper
  • Post-it notes
  • Construction paper
  • Paints or oil pastels


family [ fam-uh-lee, fam-lee ] (noun) a group of people going through the world together, often adults and the children they care for

extended family [ ik-sten-did  fam-uh-lee, fam-lee ] (noun) all of the relatives or people making up a family, whether or not they live together; often this includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

adopt [ uh-dopt ] (verb) to raise a child you did not give birth to

diversity [ dih-vur-si-tee ] (noun) variety, differences

single parentsing-guhpair-uhnt, par- ] (noun) an adult raising a child without a partner

gay [ gey ] (adjective) loving or choosing to spend your life with members of the same sex

lesbian [ lez-bee-uhn ] (noun) a woman who loves or chooses to spend her life partnered with other women



For elementary school children, talking about families is an important part of making sense of the world and their relationship to it. Many students in primary grades are realizing for the first time that their family might look different from someone else’s. Older elementary students can become sensitive about describing these differences and are also frequently dealing with changing relationships within their own families as they develop a deeper understanding of themselves as individuals.

This lesson provides a framework that will help students talk about their own and others’ families in safe, caring ways. This lesson makes use of artistic outlets and story-telling to help children both construct and learn language for asking about other families and talking about their own. The overarching goal of the lesson is to build classroom community by helping students see that where they come from is valued and respected, and that diverse families are a big part of what helps enrich our world.



  1. What is a family? What makes some families different from others? What would the world be like if all families were the same? How does the fact that all of us come from different families make our class a more interesting place? As a class, talk about one or more of these questions. (Note: Take notes on chart paper as students brainstorm answers to these questions.)
  2. On a post-it note, write one thing that you feel makes your own family special or different. Bring your post-it note to stick on a chart in the front of the class. (Note: Read aloud what students have written.) As a class, talk about what makes different families similar and different, and how it might feel when your family seems different from others.
  3. Pair up with a partner. Each of you should share one thing that you feel makes your own family different and special. Talk about how you think that difference makes you special and what you have to offer the class because of it. For example, if you feel your family is different because you live with your grandmother, you might share that you bring respect for senior citizens and traditions to your class community.
  4. On construction paper with paints, draw a portrait of your family. In your portrait, challenge yourself to show what makes your family different and special.
  5. When the portraits are done, hang them in the classroom to show a family gallery. Look at your classmates’ portraits and celebrate your gallery and the diverse, interesting backgrounds.
  6. Come back together and discuss the questions the lesson started with. Did seeing your classmates’ portraits change your understanding of families at all?
  7. At reading time, look at the picture books about different families. Be sure to think about these books in relation to your class discussions.
Extension Activity

Talking about your family might inspire you to talk with your family. Choose one person in your family you’d like to know more about. Interview them about what they think of when they hear the word FAMILY and what family means to them. Share your discoveries with your classmates and discuss how different people define the word. Soon, you’ll be able to explain your own unique definition of family.

There are also children’s books addressing issues involving different types of families, including but by no means limited to The Family Book by Todd Parr, In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen, and ABC: A Family Alphabet Book by Bobbie Combs.