Active Learning on

Approach 5 – Using family memories to explore
changes in everyday life

Download the attachment – my mother's memories of growing up in the 1930s [ click here ]

The attachment is my mother’s account of growing up in 1930s Liverpool. Until the early 30 her family had lived in a terraced house in Everton but then:

My mother in 1930 with her father and brother‘On moving to West Derby we had a house with 3 bedrooms, big living room, good kitchen and the most important thing – a bathroom – it was a miracle to have hot water coming out of a tap and an inside toilet. At first we would run round the house switching the lights on and off!!’

The excitement of hot water and electricity!

This is the kind of information and reaction that can be captured in family memories and oral history although this didn’t happen without prompting. One Christmas I gave my mother some homework – an A4 notebook empty apart from a question at the top of each page – ‘What was Christmas like when you were young?’ ‘What kind of home did you live in?’ ‘Did you have holidays?’ etc etc. Without that structure I doubt I’d have persuaded her to start writing.

Using a Memoir

How could you use such a memoir at KS2 or KS3, whether from the now distant 1930s or a more recent decade? Here’s a possible sequence of activity:

a) use a short extract such as that above with the class, asking ‘what can you learn from this about …?’ It helps to use a photograph of the writer to personalize and get a sense of period.

b) What other questions would you like to ask? Create a class list, sort and organize into categories.

c) Now the research phase, either though students undertaking oral interviews or using the rest of the memoir you’ve obtained or researching in books and the internet or a mix of them all. Which of their questions can they find answers to? Do the people they talk to provide the same answers as the books?

d) The reporting back and writing up phase, maybe including podcasts or other oral and pictorial media. What was everyday life like in …? How varied was life? What was changing? How fast was life changing? What were the similarities and differences between then and now?

Personal memories can take you into all kinds of areas. My wife’s sporting experiences in the late 1960s show how far attitudes to women have changed. As a county athlete at school she was not allowed to enter a race longer than 800 metres – anything else was too far for girls! And while she played hockey for South of England under 18s there was no England team at that age – international competition was too much for young women. It wasn’t until she played for England Universities that she got her international shirt.

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Using a memoir


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)