Active Learning on

Approach 2 – Telling family stories to introduce
ideas about migration

‘Have I told you about my Uncle Frank?’

It’s not just the question itself that introduces family and maybe something different – it’s the tone. It needs saying to the class in a conversational, chatty, informal, ‘unteacher-in-the-classroom’ way. The key words are ‘my Uncle’ – I’m revealing something about me and my family, I’m letting you in on my secret life away from school.

Uncle Frank (left) and Dad in 1951So, why Uncle Frank?

I wanted a way into migration and to get students thinking about two things –why people migrate and whether there’s really any difference between emigrants and immigrants despite the fact that different vocabulary is often linked to these ‘groups’. ‘Emigrants’ are often seen as pioneering, brave and adventurous, ‘immigrants’ as ‘needy’, ‘selfish’ or ‘demanding’ – when really they’re the same peoples and the labels just vary according to geography.

So I began with two stories, Uncle Frank first, which went roughly like this:

Frank was my Dad’s eldest brother, born in 1905 in Liverpool – how do you think his life as a boy was different from yours? TV? Radio? Car? None of these etc – all this trying to develop brief sense of time. Then, when Frank was 9, came the war and his father joined up – which countries were involved in the First World War – quick list, ideally including Australia. All this is building up a picture of Frank’s background – left school, started work. In 1922 he heard of a scheme to go abroad – the government of South Australia had contacted many industrial towns in England seeking young men to go out to replace men killed in the war – they needed workers. Frank decided to go to Australia – aged 17, 5ft 6 inches, 8st 10lbs, according to his migration papers. He went as a farm apprentice though he had no experience of farm work at all.

What kind of young man was he? Even his daughter, my cousin, says he was quarrelsome, always looking for an argument. The papers she sent me recently which record his early time in Australia show him moving on from farm to farm after some unspecified ‘friction’. This maybe suggests his migration was more about getting away from home than an adventurous nature. But eventually he married and had a family. He came back for a visit in 1950, the first time my Dad had met him since 1922 when Dad had been only 9. Pictures can bring these people closer – including recent pictures of Frank’s daughters, grandchildren etc.

Then I told another story – asking what did Frank have in common with this man?

This is the story of Barates, a young man from Palmyra who joined the Roman legions and ended his days in Britannia living near Hadrian’s Wall – he married a British girl, she took a Roman name ( Regina) and both of their gravestones survive, which is how we know this story.

Now – what do Uncle Frank and Barates have in common – despite the chasm in time? Which of them was the immigrant and which was the emigrant? Answer – each man was both. How would we describe them – what words would you use? Why might each of them have migrated?

So, it’s been a story-telling start, based on real people and it takes you into the heart of some basic issues about the history of migration. Any real people will fit the bill but the personal link creates a more intriguing, inclusive, even intimate, beginning.

BACK to START                        NEXT APPROACH

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Using Family Histories

Using Family Histories

  1: Generations

  2: Migration

  3: Sense of Period

  4: Industrial Revolution

  5: Changes in Everyday Life

  6: Overview of 20th Century

  7: Outbreak of WW2

  8: GCSE Medicine


The entire article (PDF)

My mother’s 1930s (PDF)

Dad’s 20th Century Lifetime (PDF)

My mother’s Wartime (PDF)

What do we owe our lives to? (PDF)