Box #5: Family & Community

Teaching Unit: Family Structure


Family Structures


Varies, can be easily adjusted


Social studies, writing, drama, math

Related project themes

Popular culture and globalization


The students will use manipulatives to compare and contrast their own family structures with those of another culture. Students will create personal family trees and compare these to a Senegalese family structure through literature.

Materials Supplied

Hippopotamus families, postcards, photographs, Senegalese family tree, "generations" family tree (in Migration Unit)

Materials Needed

Chart paper, personal family tree, folktales or stories (see bibliography on website), Generations worksheet

Part One

Use hippopotamus families included in artifact box to show personal family structure, as teacher. Name each hippo. Then show a "typical" United States family structure. Discuss if this is really typical, based on everyone's own experiences. Let a few students show how their family structure is different using the hippos. Then arrange hippos to show a "typical" Senegalese family structure (as in the photo on the artifact card- front is father, then mother, then children). Show the pictures of men and women working, children in school from the photograph collection and postcards in the artifact box. Discuss how these might be the same or different for children and families in the United States . Use dress up or some sort of demarcation so students can act out scenarios for both situations. For example, the members of ones extended family usually live in the same house together in Senegal . There may be twenty people in one house. The house is usually only three rooms, each 8x8 feet. One room is the bedroom. Mark of this area and try to get twenty people to sleep there. How is it possible? (They sleep in shifts.) How would they sit at a dinner table? (They eat sitting on the floor. Follow up with Ceeb U Jeb lesson.) Also show the photograph from the collection that depicts a bed outside a house. Note the structure of the bed and the size of the house in the back ground. Students can measure own houses and factor in the number of people. How many feet per person in each student's house? But is this typical of all Senegalese? Show photos in collection of the large houses on the corniche (which means "road along the ocean"). Discuss why some people might have more space and less people per house (also note that the residents of the large houses are Europeans, not Senegalese). Discuss if this is also the case in the United States.

Part Two

Begin by reading an African folktale or a story that has many family characters in it. Then list and label as many characters as the children can remember (character name-family role). Organize list into a family tree (using the revised edition included in this lesson) on chart paper for reference later. Count the people in the story. What does "immediate family" mean in the story and in your life? Teacher should share her or his family and photographs and show family tree. Also show a traditional family tree. Compare the two structures and discuss why a traditional family tree might not work with contemporary family structures, both here and in Senegal . Show Fatou's family tree, which is included in the artifact box. She and her husband are monogamous, but they still have many children. Her parents, however, were polygamous. What does polygamous mean? How can she show that her family has lots of moms and dads? If the students are interested, discuss the pros and cons to polygamy and monogamy. (In case you are pressed to think of pros for polygamy, consider the amount of work a woman must do each day. What if she had an extra set of hands? Or is she couldn't have children and the law forbids divorce and having children in the family is very important in your culture.) Are there places that are polyandrous (women with several husbands)? Research and find out. Why might this be done? Could that work for every one, everywhere in the world? So should everyone's family tree look the same? Pass out copies of the revised family tree included in this lesson. Ask students to begin working on one for their family. Once students have completed most of the tree, explain the concept of "mbokk" (pronounced mmmmbock). One's mbokk is one's extended family. In Senegal , almost everyone is your mbokk. All of your friends, your family's friends, anyone who gives you support and friendship is considered part of your family, or your mbokk. Is the classroom an mbokk? Try to alter your family tree to include the people in your mbokk. Make a classroom book with copies or everyone's family tree and photographs of the students in the class. This is your community book of the people in your mbokk.

This unit was created and written by Stephanie Higdon. She can be contacted for questions or comments at