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Lesson Plan Family Customs Past and Present: Exploring Cultural Rituals

Using photos, documents, and music from the Library's digital collections, students investigate rituals and customs of various cultures.

They then interview family members to deepen their understanding of their own cultural celebrations. Using their oral presentation skills, students present one cultural ritual from their tradition to the class.


Students will:

  • improve their oral and written communication skills;
  • gain an understanding of various cultures through the exploration and analysis of holiday and stages of life rituals which unite a group by preserving cultural identity and heritage.

Time Required

Two weeks

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

Activity 1: (1 class period)

Give students 5 minutes to answer the following questions:

  • What are your family traditions and celebrations?
  • Why do you celebrate?
  • Do your grandparents and other relatives celebrate the same occasions?

Write student answers on board noting similarities or differences in rituals.

Tell students they will be investigating their family traditions.

Lecture and visuals: on christening, wedding, funeral, and holiday customs. Discussion of attributes common to many rituals:

  • theme of the ritual, i.e. birth, coming of age, marriage, death
  • historical perspective
  • participants, i.e. are they representative of the community, age and gender
  • unique clothing, music, food
  • locale
  • decorative art/symbols use
  • oral history
  • folk tale associated with ritual
  • medicinal practices

Activity 2: (1 class period)

Students will listen to and read lyrics to wedding and funeral music from:

Students compare and contrast themes, gender roles, and religious overtones in the music using a Venn diagram or other graphic representation of their observations. Questions for students to consider:

  • How does this selection reflect the culture? Do you know if this selection is still in use today?
  • If not, name a selection that has a similar theme.

Activity 3: (1 class period)

Students create Intergenerational Interview questions, and use the Intergenerational Interview Form to obtain information from parents and/or grandparents regarding christening, wedding, funeral and holiday customs in which they participated as children. Where possible, students should obtain visuals to support the presentation they will prepare about the ritual or custom.

Activity 4: (3-4 class periods)

Students choose and present orally to the class one christening, wedding, funeral, or holiday ritual. This presentation demonstrates their knowledge of the particular custom. Requirements for the oral presentation are visuals, outline of presentation and a student question for the test. The student test question will be used to encourage active listening.

Students also compare and contrast the ritual they have chosen with a historical counterpart studied during the lesson. This essay must include historical differences, modern similarities and reasons for continued popularity or disappearance in culture.

Comparison and Contrast

Write a comparison and contrast essay of a custom or celebration from two different sources in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Include a bibliography at the end of the paper using the MLA or Chicago Style (2 citations) for Library of Congress primary sources.

  • Introduction: Give details of the people being interviewed (location-age-custom-setting-other details).
  • Compare the custom or celebration. How is it similar? How is it different? Compare it to a celebration you have attended or compare it to a custom in which you have participated or observed.
  • Is this custom or ritual celebrated today? Why or why not? Why do you think the celebration is important? Do you have any questions you would have liked to ask the subject of the interview?

Lesson Evaluation

Teacher evaluates students on their oral presentations and essays.

Students will also be evaluated by student-generated test questions.


Nanci Douglas & Mary Ruddy