inquirED Blog 

Research, resources, and reflections on inquiry-based teaching and learning.

  • inquirED

1st Grade Social Studies Unit: Families Near and Far

Inquiry Question

How can we bring families together to form a stronger community?

A family can take many forms; there’s no single definition. In this Inquiry Journeys elementary social studies unit, students work together to build an understanding of family that is inclusive while identifying the various roles and responsibilities that contribute to a family structure. They explore what makes their family unique as they develop a mindset of curiosity and appreciation for differences they may encounter among different families and cultures.

Unit Launch

These two social studies lessons are designed to hook students into the unit, introduce the Inquiry Question, and prompt students to generate their initial Investigation Questions.

  • Lesson 1: Students are introduced to the unit-long challenge to bring families together to strengthen their community. They read Hey, Wall by Susan Verde for inspiration and examine how the families in the story work together.

  • Lesson 2: Students are introduced to a modified version of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to generate Investigation Questions that will guide their exploration of different families.


How are families similar and different?

Students explore and appreciate different ways to be a family. They compare and contrast in order to find common ground with one another and identify what makes their families unique.

  • Lesson 1: Students begin to explore and appreciate different family structures, as well as celebrate their own unique family structure. They read the book Who’s in a Family? by Robert Skutch to inform their discussion and inspire representations of their own families.

  • Lesson 2: Students continue to find common ground with one another and identify what makes their families unique. They practice their compare and contrast skills while reading Families Around the World by Margriet Ruurs to identify similarities and difference

  • Lesson 3: Students continue to find common ground and celebrate differences among their families. They read the bookWho’s in My Family?by Robie H. Harris to start a conversation about their own families. Select this lesson if students need support recognizing that there are many ways to be a family, or to provide more practice with analyzing key details.

  • Lesson 4: Students reflect upon their learning throughout the exploration of this module and share what makes their families special. They each complete a “My Family Is Special Quilt Square” – inspired by Faith Ringgold’s story quilts – that describes, illustrates, and celebrates their unique family.

Why are traditions important?

In this series of lessons, students explore a variety of family traditions and develop an inclusive definition of “tradition” as a class. They reflect upon and appreciate their own unique family traditions, and explore how traditions connect us to family, past and present..

  • Lesson 1: Students begin an investigation of traditions, learning that they can be simple or complex, and can vary among families. They read the picture bookTar Beach by Faith Ringgold and share their own family traditions.

  • Lesson 2: Students explore how different kinds of family traditions can keep us connected to past generations and events as they expand their investigation into the importance of traditions. They read The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, watch a short video in which the author speaks about the real Keeping Quilt in her family, and consider how traditions in their own lives connect them to history..

  • Lesson 3: Students explore how family traditions can help us stay connected to, better understand, and appreciate our unique families, cultures, and communities. They readApple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong, in which the main character thinks her parents don’t understand an American holiday, but ends up learning a surprising lesson herself.

  • Lesson 4: Students reflect upon their learning throughout the exploration of this Essential Question and explain why traditions are important. They each create a “My Family Tradition Quilt Square,” inspired by Faith Ringgold’s story quilts, that describes a tradition and explains why it is important.

How can family members take care of one another?

In this series of lessons, students explore the different roles and responsibilities family members can have as they reflect upon their own unique family roles and responsibilities. They examine how individual family members can work together to meet one another’s needs and wants.

  • Lesson 1: Students explore the important roles and responsibilities that family members have, and discover how these can differ among families. They also share a personal responsibility, then identify similarities and differences between other responsibilities.

  • Lesson 2: Students work to define the terms “needs” and “wants,” then apply them to family dynamics. Through reading, students will learn how to make the distinction between needs and wants, and identify this distinction through visual representation. They develop and demonstrate their understanding through a guided activity.

  • Lesson 3: Students explore how family roles and responsibilities evolve over time by reading the bookGrowing Up with Tamales by Gwendolyn Zepeda. They also reflect on and discuss their own changing roles and responsibilities at home.

  • Lesson 4: Students create a Comic Strip that demonstrates a role or responsibility that will help meet the needs or wants within their families. The creation of their own Comic Strip offers an opportunity to describe an idea in writing and support it with drawings.

  • Lesson 5: When students are working on a meaningful deliverable, it can be very helpful to facilitate a formal critique session so that they may improve their work. Here, students are introduced to the basics of critique practice (warm, cool, and suggestion feedback) by starting with a low-stakes critique of teacher work. Then, students have an opportunity for peer feedback before revising their work.

How does our diversity strengthen our community?

Students explore the value of living in diverse communities and examine how families with different structures, traditions, cultures, and backgrounds can work together to make their communities stronger.

  • Lesson 1: Students begin with an exploration of the concept of diversity. Groups work together to create two different images: one that is made up of just one type of shape and one that is made up of several different shapes. Then, they read and discuss the book "All Are Welcome" by Alexandra Penfold to explore how diversity can strengthen a community.

  • Lesson 2: Students explore the benefits of living in diverse communities through the book "Everybody Bakes Bread" by Norah Dooley. They discuss key details in the story that reflect the richness of diversity. Students then represent and share an example of a time they tried something new in their community to deepen their understanding about the value of diversity.

  • Lesson 3: Students explore how individuals and communities can address problems that may arise as a result of differences in order to build more inclusive, accepting communities. They read and discuss "The Sandwich Swap" by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, and generate ideas for recognizing and solving problems. Students discuss how differences can either lead to conflict or enrich our lives.

  • Lesson 4: Students read City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan to learn about people from different families who came together to solve a problem in their community. They explore illustrations to find examples of how characters use different skills to work together to improve their community and help one another.

  • Lesson 5: Students review their learning from this unit as they prepare to design an authentic product in response to their Inquiry Question. They brainstorm ideas about needs and opportunities within their own community.

  • Lesson 6: In this pivotal lesson, students transition from investigation to action. They consider the content they have explored, the relevant knowledge they have gained, and the questions they have asked (acknowledging that some may have remained unanswered and new questions may have emerged) to decide how to create an Inquiry Product that has an authentic impact

Informed Action

In these lessons, students take Informed Action based on the conclusions and key findings from their investigation. They are guided by an Inquiry Challenge Statement that clearly describes the action they will take and its intended result, as well as any Target Group the action will affect. As part of this process, they move through a cycle of brainstorming, feedback, and revision to create an Inquiry Product that helps to carry out their action. Below are examples of how students have taken Informed Action within the Families Near and Far Unit.

  • Periodical: Students inspire their community to understand their diverse family experiences through a family-centered literary magazine featuring comic strips, short stories, and introductions to the varied family structures represented in their classroom.

  • Non-Narrative Book: Students share recipes and ideas for family traditions through an original cookbook that celebrates the diversity of the classroom. The book is shared with a local community center or members of the school community.

  • Mobile: Students prompt their school community to consider how families can look different but function in similar ways by creating mobiles on public display that represent the various roles within their own family structures, showing how every member’s contributions balance others’ contributions.