English 881/781: Narrative Inquiry — Chapter 6 – Family Stories

Overview of Family Stories

Chapter 6 – Family Stories Required Materials

Articles about Family Story Telling

A Sample Family Story

  • A Family Story: Tavers, Trisha. 2021. The Battles After Battle
  • This fascinating story is about soldier who was wounded in combat during the Vietnam War
  • The story was written by the soldier’s daughter Trisha, who was a student in ENGL 881: Narrative Inquiry during Summer 2021
  • Trisah used Microsoft’s Sway software to not only present images from her dad’s past, but also audio clips that really help bring the story to life

Chapter 6 – Family Stories In Class Activities


  • Spend 20 minutes describing your family, both your immediate family and your extended family
    • What makes your family unique?
    • What words do you associate with your family?
    • What are some of the good things about your family?
    • Does your family face any special challenges?

The Language of Family

Dialogic Questions About Family Stories

  • Family experiences and personal experiences are not typically part of classroom discussions. What’s the cost of this separation and how might we address that separation in productive ways?
  • Who owns a family story? How can we protect members of our family if we tell a story while still trying to get at the truth of a lived experience?
  • Bobbi Ann Hammill discusses how views of motherhood impact our views of teaching and learning. While we think of mothers as nurturing and often associate this with teaching, mothers are also often disempowered and women’s voices are often silenced. In addition, composition courses generally privilege argumentation over collaboration which tends to make the teaching of writing gendered in a way that privileges traditionally masculine vs. famine values. How can we use narrative modes of thought to help students think critically about gender’s role in writing?
  • Tobin says that in the essays he collected for a writing contest, students often chose to write about pain and suffering. He says the students also seemed to “view their ethnic background as a serious problem, an albatross that has held them back from social or educational success” (p. 78). But these stories all have happy endings. How can we help students to learn from and make sense of their live experiences in meaningful ways?
  • Academia consistently privileges the voices of experts which is why citation is so important to scholars. How can we help students to feel more connected to the conversations in their fields?

The Power of Words (A Thankfulness Activity)

  • Every family and every family story is different, but whatever form that family takes, our family story shapes who we are
  • Even if your family is not perfect or holds problems, hopefully you have close people who have helped you along the way and this activity is designed to help you identify those people and their contributions to your life so you can give thanks
  • “In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”--Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
  • Spend a few minutes writing a memory about a family member for whom you are thankful; this writing will help you to preserve a little of that memory
  • Anyone who wishes to share a thought of gratitude is welcome to do so
  • “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”–G.K. Chesterton
  • How Words & Frequency Can Change Water
  • I encourage you to send a word of thanks to the person you chose from your family; I’m quite certain they will appreciate it

Story Assignment: Family Story

  • Begin writing the first draft of your Family Story