Using classic fiction to talk about families in the English class


Since 1993, United Nation’s International Day of Families is observed on 15th May each year. This year the focus on families and climate action. “Although families all over the world have transformed greatly over the past decades in terms of their structure and as a result of global trends and demographic changes, the United Nations still recognizes the family as the basic unit of society” (UN website, 2019). This gives us the opportunity to talk about the importance of families, introducing very different family models and looking at how each family faces different challenges in life. We have collected seven amazing families from classic literature for a family-themed lesson in your English class.

Talking about families

The family is an recurring topic in English courses and exam preparation, but tends to be presented as a ‘traditional’ family. Students may find it difficult or uncomfortable to talk about their own families or feel that their family is in some way different. One way to introduce the topic is by talking about families in literature, looking at their lives, their challenges and their sources of happiness. Some of these families are funny, some of them are traditional, some are unusual or have curious members, and some face life-changing events. Together they create an inclusive extended family for your students.

You can use these activities in a special themed-based lesson or as an introduction to an extensive reading session. The families selected here are all from novels which have been adapted as a Helbling Reader. The level of the books vary between elementary and intermediate (CEFR A1-B1).

When you start the lesson, ask students if they know any families from books they have read or films and TV programmes they have seen. If necessary, revise the vocabulary of the family taking care to focus on different models and encouraging the students to talk about their families if they wish. Then share the titles of the stories below with the illustrations of the families. Invite each student to choose a family they would like to learn more about. Print the basic worksheet and ask students to fill it out at home: they can look for information in the readers if you already have them or search the Internet for answers. In the next lesson, students can share their findings in pairs or small groups. The best way to continue these activities is reading the stories!

7 families in fiction

Here are seven families from some of our favourite classics. You can use the original worksheet with any other ficitonal family your students would like to discuss.

1 The family in Five Children and It

  • written by Edith Nesbit
  • Helbling Readers Level 1 (CEFR A1)

The main characters in Five Children and It. Illustration by Viola Niccolai. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

2 The Darlings in Peter Pan

  • written by J. M. Barrie
  • Helbling Readers Level 1 (CEFR A1)

The Darling children with Nana in Peter Pan. Illustrated by Manuela Santini. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

3 Mowgli’s family in Mowgli’s Brothers

  • written by Rudyard Kipling
  • Helbling Readers Level 2 (CEFR A1/A2)

Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera in the jungle. Illustration by Roberto Tomei. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

4 Anne Shirley, Marilla and Matthew in Anne of Green Gables

  • written by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Helbling Readers Level 2 and 3 (CEFR A1/A2 & A2)

Anne Shirley with Marialla and Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables – Anne arrives. Illustration by Arianna Operamolla. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the stories here:

5 The Marches in Little Women

  • written by Louisa May Alcott
  • Helbling Readers Level 2 (CEFR A1/A2)

The Marches in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Illustration by Cecilia Tamburini © Helbling Languages

6 The Earnshaws and the Lintons in Wuthering Heights

  • written by Emily Brontë
  • Helbling Reader Level 4 (CEFR A2/B1)

Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff at the Lintons in Wuthering Heights. Illustration by Valentina Russello. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

7 The Bennets in Pride and Prejudice

  • written by Jane Austen
  • Helbling Reader Level 5 (CEFR B1)

The Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Illustration by Sara Menetti. © Helbling Languages

Read more about the story here:

The stories are available in these readers:

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