NCSS Notable Trade Book Lesson Plan Template
Lesson Plan Author: Erica M. Christie, Indiana University

Title of NCSS Notable Trade Book:
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
Book Summary:
This book tells the story of a unique family. Marmee and Meema, two loving and committed mothers, adopt three children from around the world. Together they create a household full of laughter, joy, and countless family traditions. One family in their neighborhood does not accept their untraditional family arrangement, but Marmee and Meema, as well as all the other neighbors, teach the children that because they are different does not mean they are wrong.
NCSS Standards:
I. Culture

III. People, Places, and Environment

IV. Individual Development and Identity

V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

X. Civic Ideals and Practices
-Chart paper
-Writing utensils
-1 copy of the book In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
-Blank writing paper
-Computer with internet access and projection capabilities
-Large mural paper
-Art supplies as needed
  • Students will brainstorm ideas about what constitutes a family.

  • Students will develop and revise a class definition of a family.

  • Students will learn about different kinds of families through a book and video clips.

  • Students will role play several scenarios about interacting with gay families in their neighborhood and school.

  • Students will create a mural about the diversity of families.

  • Students will share and explain their mural to others in the school and community.

Exploration/ Introduction:


-Teacher places students in small discussion groups. Teacher gives each group a piece of chart paper with the word “Family” in the center.

-The teacher poses the question, “What is a family?” The teacher directs each group to brainstorm ideas and record their ideas on the chart paper, creating a web or concept map.

-Student groups share their concept maps with the rest of the class. On board, teacher creates a list of common characteristics of families that emerge from student ideas.

-Teacher reviews the list of common characteristics with the class. Teacher and students work together to write a class definition of a family based on these initial observations.

-Teacher informs students that today they will be reading a book about a family that may, on the surface, look different than their own family.

-Teacher reads In Our Mothers’ House aloud to students. During reading, teacher may need to stop to check for comprehension and ensure that students understand key ideas, such as adoption. Teacher should also encourage students to make text-to-self connections throughout the story.

-Teacher hands out a blank piece of paper to each student. Teacher shows students how to fold paper into four equal squares. Draw a model on board depicting this paper. Write one of the following prompts in each of the four squares: Share a personal connection to this story; Write one question that you have about this story; Tell one thing that surprised you about this story; and Draw a picture of an important moment in this book. Alternatively, this graphic organizer could be pre-made by the teacher and photocopied for students.

-Teacher provides time for students to reflect on the book and complete this graphic organizer.

-Teacher uses the four prompts as a starting point for discussion about the text. Teacher encourages students to share their personal connections to the story, discuss their questions and surprises, and explain the images they created.

-Additional discussion questions include:
· What is unique about this family?
· If you were talking to someone who had not read this book, how would you describe this family?
· How is this family similar to yours?
· How is this family different from yours?
· Why do you think Mrs. Lockner acted meanly to this family?
· How did Marmee and Meema react when Mrs. Lockner was mean to the family?
· What was it like to be a child in this family?
· Why do you think the author chose to write this book?
· Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?

-Teacher presents students with two scenarios. Students discuss each scenario with a small group of students.
· Marmee, Meema, and the kids move into your neighborhood. How would you react to your new neighbors?
· Millie is a student in your class. At lunch, you overhear one of the students making fun of her because she has two moms and does not have a dad. What would you do in this situation?

-Teacher asks for volunteers to come act out or role play the scenarios, presenting multiple perspectives on each scenario. After each dramatic interpretation, the teacher asks other students if they agree or disagree with how the students handled the situation. The teacher also asks for suggestions about how the situation could have been handled differently.

-Watch clips from the documentary “That’s a Family” available at These short clips show a wide range of real-life families, including families with adopted children, divorced parents, single parents, guardians, and gay and lesbian parents.

-After watching the clips, teacher asks students to share what they found interesting or surprising about the families in these videos.

-Teacher returns students’ attention to the class definition of family that was previously written on the board. Teacher asks students to consider questions like:
· Does the original definition encompass the family in the book or the families in the video clips?
· If not, how can the definition change to be more inclusive of different kinds of families?
· In what ways has this book and the video clips broadened (or affirmed) our collective ideas about what makes a family?

-Using this new definition of family as a guide, teacher and students work together to create a classroom mural depicting their families. Teacher covers one wall of the classroom or part of the hallway outside of the classroom with a large piece of blank paper. Students are asked to think broadly about how to represent their family. Family might include neighbors, teachers, school friends, extended family, ancestors, etc. Give students a variety of tools, such as markers, paint, crayons, etc. to create their representations. If desired, students could also cut images out of magazines or bring in pictures from home to add to the mural. Words or text could also be added to the mural.

-As a class, decide on a title for the mural.

-Invite other classes, parents, or community members to view the mural. Students share how they depicted their family and explain how the class came to understand the idea of family.
Exploration: The teacher will evaluate the written responses on the concept maps and the subsequent oral discussion to formatively assess students’ prior knowledge.

Development: The teacher will assess student’s understanding of the book based on their responses to the four prompts on the graphic organizer.

Expansion: The teacher will assess student growth and understanding of the idea of family by evaluating their involvement and contribution to the class mural.
  • Students could create family trees of their family. Instead of the typical labels for “mother,” “father,” “grandmother” etc., students would decide who to include in their family tree.

  • Students could create their own books in the style of In Our Mothers’ House, titling theirs “In Our Family’s House.” Students would write about their own family’s composition and traditions.

  • Students could interview other students about their families to gain a better understanding of the diversity of families in the classroom.
References & Web Links
Ally Action,

Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network,

“It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School” Documentary Film and Curriculum Guide,

Making Room in the Circle: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Families in Early Childhood Settings,

Miller Early Childhood Initiative of the World of Difference Institute, Anti-Defamation League,

Safe Schools Coalition, Pre-K and Elementary Teacher Resources for Teaching,

Safe Schools Coalition, Lesson Plans for Elementary, Middle, and High School Teachers, SCHOOL

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center,

Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign,