Lesson Plans

Family Museum: Poems That Tell Our Stories

Grade Level

7 – 12


Family ties. These are our first, last, and longest relationships. Writing about one’s family is the perfect way to define who we are, where we’ve been, and where we want to go. In this lesson, students will reach into the recesses of their memories to pull up detailed images of the stories of their lives. Using beautiful family poems from plains poets as models, students will chronicle some event from the story of their family, sealing the memory into their minds and onto the page.


In this lesson students will:

    • Recall detailed information about their early and current lives.
    • Analyze poetry that features themes of family bonds and trials.
    • Compose narrative poems that tell a true story from their family history.
Required Materials
Step-By-Step Procedures

(This activity could take one class period, or several class periods, depending on teacher objectives for the unit.)

  1. Lead students through a 30-minute free-writing session by giving them the prompts listed below, one at a time. Direct students to write the first things that come into their minds, without censoring themselves, and to keep their pens or pencils moving until the next prompt is given. Allow two minutes for each prompt.
    • This is what it means to feel safe.
    • It happened before I was born, but still shaped who I am.
    • I knew I was finally home.
    • I miss them.
    • I remember it as the best sleep I ever had.
    • These people are the only ones who know the real me.
    • Smells that remind me of my parents.
    • I’ve never laughed so hard.
    • Sounds that remind me of my childhood.
    • I learned just by watching.
    • I have this to teach.
    • We cried together.
    • I learned about forgiveness that day.
    • When we celebrate in my family, it looks like this.
    • I am proud to be from ___________________.
  2. Students should select three of their responses to the free-writing prompts about which they would like to write in more detail.
  3. For each of those three selected responses, students should connect their ideas to a specific time and place and write out the entire story of that remembered event. Use the following questions to guide their responses.
    • What happened first? Next?
    • How did it end?
    • Who else was there?
    • What did you learn?
    • What can others learn from your experience?
  4. Share the following poems with your students, either as read aloud pieces or for each to engage with on their own.
    • “The Story of Ferdinand the Bull” by Matt Mason
    • “Notes for my Daughter Against Chasing Storms” by Matt Mason
    • “I am now ready to admit” by William Kloefkorn
    • “If Only I Can Shake Off This Dream, All the Others Should Follow” by William Kloefkorn
    • “Greasy Spoon” by Twyla Hansen
    • “My Husband’s Grandmother Worked For Willa Cather” by Twyla Hansen
    • “Pastoral” by Twyla Hansen
    • “La Nebraska” by Lenora Castillo
    • “Father’s Boots” by Yvonne Hollenbeck
    • “The Auction Sale” by Yvonne Hollenbeck
  5. As they listen to or read the poems, students should consider the following questions:
    • Does this poem tell a story?
    • What is the setting?
    • Who are the characters?
    • What is the conflict?
    • What – if anything – is learned or resolved?
    • Of all the stories that make up a lifetime, why do you think the poet chose to tell this one?
  6. Have students return to their own writing and select one of the three stories they wrote to be turned into a poem.
  7. Using the poems listed above as a guide, students should compose a narrative poem telling a story that reveals some important fact or value of their family.
  8. Poems should feature a specific situation with clear setting details and characterization.
  9. Digital Composition Publishing Activities:
    • Students could create digital poetry movies that showcase photos of their families with accompanying vocal tracks featuring readings of the Family Museum Poems.
    • Students could write their poems on top of a photo of their family or another image that reflects the themes or situation of their poem. This could be done by hand, or with a scanned image and a layering software, like Photoshop.
  10. Display Family Museum Poems around the classroom, or in a digital portfolio to be shared. Lead students on a museum tour, encouraging them to engage with one another’s poems as readers and peers.
This lesson meets the following Nebraska State Standards:
  • LA 10.1 Reading: Students will learn and apply reading skills and strategies to comprehend text.
  • LA 10.2 Writing: Students will learn and apply writing skills and strategies to communicate.
  • LA 10.3 Speaking and Listening: Students will develop and apply speaking and listening skills and strategies to communicate for a variety of purposes.
  • LA 10.4 Multiple Literacies: Students will apply information fluency and practice digital citizenship.