Living in the Past

Social Studies Activity

In this activity, students research family life of long ago and present their findings in a variety of ways.


  • Resource materials
  • Writing and drawing supplies


  1. Have students form "family" groups. Then ask each group to choose a time in the near or distant past when their family settled in America. They also need to choose a country of origin. Each member of a group then assumes the identity of one member of the family. (A choice need not depend on the gender of the student.)

  2. Students research their choices and make a presentation about their lives. Examples of presentations:
    • Journal pages of each family member over a certain number of days
    • A family album that includes drawings of family members in authentic clothes, views of their home (inside and out), a simple map of the town
    • A series of letters home to the family's country of origin
    • A dramatization of a family, school, or work situation -- something such as a family dinner or the family preparing to go to a fair.

  3. Whatever the presentation, students should try to include information about as many of these aspects of life as they can:
    • Housing
    • Schooling
    • Work
    • Clothing
    • Transportation
    • Household chores
    • Recreation (games, sports, etc.)
    • The geography of the area
    • Any significant social events (wars, a gold rush, homesteading, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Great Depression)


Students may enjoy sharing their presentations with other classes. As part of the presentation, have students do historical role-playing in costume. If possible, students talk about their lives and answer questions about it, always staying in character.

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