Learn about Students’ Lives Outside of School
Teachers can take concrete steps to learn about their students' rich lives outside of school.


This means learning about students' family lives — "family makeup, immigration history, language use, mobility, educational history, child-rearing philosophy and practices, major activities, labor history, [and] skills and knowledge used regularly" (p.81) — and students' social lives — "use of leisure time, favorite activities, language use, what students excel at, interests, hobbies, [and] concerns" (Villegas & Lucas, 2002, p. 81).  Below, you'll find a sample list of questions to guide your efforts to learn about students' family lives and social lives.

Learning about Students' Family Lives - Sample Questions

  • Who constitutes the student's family?
  • Has the family immigrated to this country? If so, from where and how long ago?
  • What language(s) is/are spoken in the home? How proficient are adults in English?
  • Has the student's family moved frequently in the past few years?
  • What is the educational history of family members?
  • What is the child-rearing philosophy that prevails in the household? Who in the family has major responsibility for child-rearing? To what extent are older children involved in the upbringing of younger siblings? How much autonomy and self-determiniation do children have in their own upbringing?
  • What are the student's responsibilities in the family?
  • What are the major family activities?
  • What are the aspirations for children in the family?
  • What is the labor history of family members?
  • What skills, abilities, and types of knowledge are regularlly used in the family?

Learning about Students' Social Lives - Sample Questions

  • How do students spend their leisure time?
  • What are students' favorite activities?
  • Are these activities organized along competitive or cooperative lines?
  • What language(s) do students use with friends?
  • What do students excel at?
  • Do students belong to community groups such as basketball teams or church choirs?
  • What are students' interests and hobbies?
  • What are the main concerns in students' lives?
  • Who do students look up to in the community?


Time Required

1 hour, or more

Preconditions for Success

Teachers can ask these questions in a variety of ways.  A survey at the beginning of the year, a cultural building circle or community builder, or through one on one conversations.  

As can be seen, some of the questions are personal and require a trusting relationship with students.  For these questions we recommend private conversations after rapport has been established.

Preferred Citation

Villegas, A., & Lucas, T. (2002). Educating Culturally Responsive Teachers: A Coherent Approach. Albany: SUNY Press.