Roots - A Native American History Project

Overview and Objectives

Overview and Objectives

Time required

Minimum of 12 class periods (50 minute periods)

Enduring Understandings and Big Ideas

  • Robert Heinlein once said, "A generation which ignores history has no past and no future."
  • The elders of a community in traditional societies help guide the young with their wisdom and their experience. Our elders have a tremendous frame of reference due to the large scope of life lessons they have experienced. These life lessons help mold us into the individuals we become; their past experiences have earned them the trust, respect, and honor they deserve. It is from listening to them, observing them, and learning from them and their vast realms of experience that future generations are blessed.

Learning Objectives

Students will write narrative poetry.

Students gain an understanding of their family's place in history through interviewing elders of their families, through filling in a family tree to trace ancestry, and through using maps to trace family roots.

Materials/Classroom Resources

  • A writing journal or notebook for each student
  • Books about families and memories (Examples: Saltypie, A Choctaw Jorney from Darkness into Light, Where I'm From, Momma, Where Are You From?) See the Resources page of this Learning Center for publication information.
  • Family tree forms
  • interview Protocol (Click HERE to download a version suitable for printing and copying for students)
  • Assessment rubric
  • Three-ring binder for each student

Teaching Strategies

Teaching Strategies

Day 1

  1. Teacher will read aloud Saltypie, A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light by Tim Tingle (available for sale).
  2. Have students make a jot list of memorable times in their lifetime. Have them include important things they remember about any of their relatives (2 minutes).
  3. Have volunteers share one or more items from their jot lists. Allow students to add ideas to their lists as they hear other students share.
  4. Teacher now reads the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon an excerpt from the book Where I'm From - Where Poems Come From by George Ella Lyon and Bob Hoskins (Spring, Texas: Absey & Company, 1999).
  5. Allow students to add to their lists after hearing this poem. (2 minutes)
  6. If students still need more ideas, read Momma, Where Are You From? By Marie Bradby and Chris Soentpiet.
  7. Use the remainder of class time to allow students to write a “Where I’m From” narrative poem. Teacher also models by writing a “Where I’m  From” poem.
  8. Students will complete the poem for homework if not finished in class.

Days 2-4:

  1. Allow volunteers to share their “Where I’m From” poems about their roots (family history).
  2. Supply a sample family tree for students to use in interviewing their parents and elders. Two samples can be downloaded from HERE and HERE.
  3. Discuss with students how to fill out the family tree and suggest that they may have to talk with parents, grandparents, or other relatives to find information for their family trees.
  4. Give each student a copy of an interview form. Encourage them to take a photo of the person they interview and to include it on their interview form. Click HERE to download and print a sample interview form.
  5. Allow question and answer time to ensure students understand the assignment. Decide on a time allotment for students to complete the interview. Share with students that the information may be used on a writing project that will be described the next day.
  6. Have students use a notebook or writing tablet and label eight pages. The document may take them two to three days to complete. This is a pre-writing/planning activity for narrative poetry.
  • On page one, have students make a jot list of their favorite room of their home. Have students use imagery and descriptive terms to describe this place without actually naming the room.
  • On page two: Have students think about the home where they live. Have them list everything they can about their home to give the reader a vivid description. Students will make a jot list of sights, sounds, smells, etc.
  • On page three: Have students list ideas about the outside area where they live. They can include what can be seen in their yard, the sounds on their street, the signs on their street, the number of houses, etc. When is the most active time on the street?
  • On page four: Have students think about the community where they live. What makes their community special? Why do they enjoy living in this community? Jot ideas.
  • On page five: Have students brainstorm reasons why their state is special. Have them list places of interest, characteristics of people in their state, things of beauty in their state, and other related ideas. They should not name the state, but it should be easily identified from their descriptions.
  • On page six: Have students think about the country where they live. Why are they thankful to be a part of this country? List those reasons. What are some attractions or famous landmarks of this country? Give students time to make an extensive list of ideas.
  • On page seven: Have students think about their ancestors. Were there any famous people in their family? What were some of the occupations of their ancestors? What is the bloodline of the student? Students can use information from their interviews.
  • On page 8: Have students reflect on what their goals are for their futures. Where would they like to attend college? What career will they pursue?

Day 5-6 (DRAFT):

  1. Allow students to share one item from their interview sheets (homework).
  2. Have students peruse the jot lists from the eight pages in their journals.
  3. Teacher should talk students through each page of their journals to help them transform each jot list into a stanza filled with imagery and descriptive words. Encourage them to model the “Where I’m From” poem by including the phrase “I am from” throughout their narrative poem.
  4. Sample of stanza 1: “I am from a red brick home surrounded by a chain-link fence/ I am from made-from-scratch meals filling my nostrils with pleasant/ aromas and filling my belly with pleasure.”
  5. Give students time to work on the narrative poem taking one page of their journals at a time. Point out that each page will be a different stanza of their poems. Students do not have to include all the information listed on the page. They should select the information which best describes their lives.
  6. Once students have completed the poem, have them type the poems and save to a disk or flashdrive to be used during revision and proofreading and editing of the poem.
  7. Teacher will conference with each student when he/she completes the poem.


  1. Give students the opportunity to share one of their stanzas.
  2. Students should partner with a peer to revise poems.
  3. Suggestions for revision: Did I use imagery? Can the reader “picture” the sights, “hear” the sounds, and “smell” the scents described? Can two or more sentences be combined to add to the poetic effect? (Example: Add participles, include figurative language, use vivid verbs and descriptive adjectives, etc.) Can any words be replaced by more colorful synonyms? Consult a thesaurus.
  4. Once students have met with a peer and discussed improvements, have them make the revisions to the draft on their disks or flashdrives. Print two copies.


  1. Allow volunteers share an item from their interview sheets.
  2. Put students in peer groups of three. Each student should have two copies of his/her poem, and each student should have a different color pen.
  3. Have students proofread and edit the poems of the other two students in the group. When a poem has been proofread and edited, the student should sign the bottom of the poem.
  4. Once all poems have been proofread, students should discuss the editing and consult a grammar book, handbook, dictionary, or thesaurus if necessary.
  5. Students will return to the computer to make corrections to their poems and to prepare the poems for presentation during the next class period. Graphics, borders, photos,etc. may be used.


  1. Students will present their narrative poetry.
  2. Each student will put a copy of his/her poem in a folder to be used later.
  3. Have students review their interview sheets. The interview form should be completed tonight.
  4. Teacher/student conference with interview sheets.
  5. Teacher provides a variety of books about families and memories and ancestors for students to read during this class period. (See the Resources page of this Learning Center for a few examples.) Students may take the Accelerated Reading test on the books they read if the program and tests are available.




Bradby, Marie and Chris Soentpiet. Momma, Where Are You From? New York:Orchard Books, 2000.

Fletcher, Ralph. Live Writing – Breathing Life into your Words. New York: Avon Books, Inc. 1999.

Flournoy, Valerie. The Patchwork Quilt. Dial. 1985.

Fox, Mem. Wilfrid. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Kane/Miller. 1984.

Giese, Becky. ”Family History Project”. Cleburne, Texas. 1994.

Lyon, George Ella. Where I’m From. Spring, Texas: Absey & Company, 1999.

Martin, Bill, Jr. and John Archambault. Knots on a Counting Rope. Henry Holt. 1987.

Rylant, Cynthia. The Relatives Came. Bradbury. 1985.

Rylant, Cynthia. When I Was Young in the Mountains. Dutton. 1982.

Say, Allen. Grandfather’s Journey. Houghton Mifflin. 1993.

Tingle, Tim. Saltypie, A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light. El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press. 2010.

Tingle, Tim. Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom. El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press. 2008.

Curtis, Jamie Lee. When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of her Youth. HarperCollins. 1994.

Winston, Linda. Keepsakes (Using Family Stories in Elementary Classrooms). Portsmouth: Heinemann. 1997.   


Web sites


  Covert, Brenda. “Descriptive Writing”

 Covert, Brenda.“Life Poetry”.

   Runyon, Jane.“Books Tell the Story”

Assessments and Checking for Understanding

Assessments and Checking for Understanding

To download and print this rubric, click here. Note: You might need to adapt the rubric to your state; note that this one is specific to Mississippi.


Assessment Rubric

Family History Project


Project component

Points possible

Points earned

1.       Vital statistics

A.      Your full name

B.      Month, date, and year of birth

C.      Name of the town and state where you were born

8 points


2.       Your parents' vital statistics

A.      Full names of both parents

B.      Month, date, and year of their births

C.      Names of the town and state where they were born

8 points


3.       Map

Mississippi map – Locate all of the counties your family has lived in; go back as far as you can with ancestors (parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great-great, etc.)


If your family has lived in several states, plot the location on a United States map of all the states in which your family/ancestors have lived.

8 points


4.       Family tree

Use the family tree forms provided or be creative and design a family tree of your own. Your family tree needs to branch out to at least great grandparents but may go beyond this.

8 points


5.       Narrative poem

“Where I’m From”


“My Life Poetry” or your title of choice

8 points


6.       Biographical Interview

The majority of the points for your project will come from this section.

A.      Interview a person who is 50 years of age or older. (Parent, grandparent, great grandparent, etc.)

B.      Treat the person, no matter who it is, with the greatest respect; listen carefully to what he or she tells you.

C.      Use the interview question sheet to guide your thoughts. You may add your own interview questions.

D.      After you have completed the question page, you will then use it to write a biography of the person interviewed. 1. You may write about his/her entire life.


2.You may choose a specific time in his/her life to write about. (2 typed pages)

30 points (question pages)

30 points (completed two-page biography) =

60 points



Total points earned:

National Academic Standards

National Academic Standards

Language Arts National Standards

  • NL-ENG.K-12.1 Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information.
  • NL-ENG.K-12.2 Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience.
  • NL-ENG.K-12.3 Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
  • NL-ENG. K-12.4 Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • NL-ENG.K-12.5 Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • NL-ENG. K-12.6 Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions, media technique, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • NL-ENG. K-12.7 Students conduct research on issues and interest by generating ideas and questions and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • NL-ENG. K-12.10 Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
  • NL-ENG.K-12.11 Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • NL-ENG.K-12.12 Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.

Geography National Standards:

  • Standard 1 - How to use maps and other geographic representations to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
  • Standard 4 - The physical and human characteristics of places
  • Standard 6 - How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions

Social Studies National Standards:

  • Standard I - Culture - Social studies programs should inculde experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.
  • Standard II - Time, Continuity, and Change - Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.