• Flexible
  • Grades: 7-12
  • Lesson Plan

Students research their family history, beginning with the question: “I am Here Now, How Did I Arrive in This Particular Place?” Students interview family members.


In this lesson students research their family history, beginning with the question: “I am Here Now, How Did I Arrive in This Particular Place?” Students interview living grandparents, and great-grandparents, where possible. The project could include photos, maps of countries or origin, stories of the “shtetl”, experiences during the Shoah (Holocaust), etc.

The focus of this project is to create a rooted family tree. In reality, the teacher is teaching Jewish history backwards, and it becomes relevant to the lives of the students.

Lesson objectives

To involve learners in the process of Jewish history.

To inspire learners with the knowledge that they are part of the continuum of our past and the link to our future.

To involve grandchildren with their grandparents and their great grandparents (if possible)

To answer the questions: You (the grandchildren) are here. How did you / your family arrive in this place, at this time?

Resources & Equipment needed

Tape recorder or video recorder (preferable), Suggested Questions worksheet (see appendix), materials to create family tree.


Part 1

Introduce the project to the students. Tell them that they are going to trace their family histories to find out how they arrived in the particular place they are now in.

Part 2

Below there are some suggestions as to how to create the appropriate setting and types of questions for the students to ask (these are also available in the appendix). They provide a framework of reference for the interviewer, because students often find it difficult to enter into discussion about these topics with their elders. Once the project is underway, many more interesting points for discussion and opportunities to expand a particular topic will present itself. If there is a long lifeline in a particular family, it is possible to trace back Jewish living in a vast diaspora at least until the mid 1880’s, very often with mementos that have been saved or rare photographs. (Annette’s note: I have a crocheted challah cover that was made by my bauby, whose name I carry). The relevance of this method of historical investigation allows the students a glimpse of the past of their own family, and by extension, to the situation of the entire Jewish people in that time and that place.


Sitting comfortably around a table to make room for the equipment. If this is not possible because interviewer and interviewee live in different locations, then long distance phone calls are acceptable


1) What is the point of origin of our family? On which continent was this city (town, shtetl) located? Are there still Jews living in that place today?

2) What was happening in the world at that time? (America, Europe, Israel)

3) What to do you remember about your childhood?

4) Was there such a thing then as a totally Jewish neighborhood? Describe your neighborhood, your friends, your youth groups?

5) What kind of school did you attend?

6) Do you know where some of your classmates live today? Are they so spread out over the world that a game of Jewish geography would be enlightening?

7) If your family came to America, in which year did they come? In which city did they settle? Did they arrive in the United States before World War I, after, between both World Wars, after the Shoah/Holocaust?

8) Was your family involved in the Shoah/Holocaust in any way? How did they survive? How were they rescued? Are you in touch with the people who rescued them? Their children? Afterwards, where did your family go?

9) Was your family involved in any of the aliyot to Eretz Yisrael in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s?

10) What do you remember about Eretz Yisraelbefore the State of Israel was declared? What legacy do you want me to know regarding how you lived and built the land? From which country in Europe did you make aliyah?

11) How has Jewish life changed in America, Canada, South America, Europe, Australia, and Eretz Yisrael?

12) How many generations back can you trace your family’s history?

13) Since much of Jewish history is the story of action (the world) and reaction (the Jewish people), which world leaders were alive during the lives of your grandparents, and great grandparents? What was their attitude to the Jewish people? To the establishment of a Jewish state?

14) Will you help me make a family tree? Once the tree trunk, the roots, the branches, and the leaves are in place on paper (or on video, or transcribed), I will be assured of my precious legacy.

15) Based upon this interview, I would like to write an ethical will. What would you like me to include as your ethical will to me and my future generations?

Part 3

Exhibit the family trees in your classroom/school. Optional: invite parents in for a special program where students present their family trees and talk about their experiences.