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Changing families and households

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In this lesson, students examine data about families in Canada in the first half of the 20th century. They will reach some conclusions about the changes in population, the movement of families to cities, and the rise of a consumer society. They will use their imaginations and information from online versions of the Canada Year Book to create dramatic tableaux to show the changing Canadian families.


  • To locate relevant information using historical documents.
  • To analyse, classify and interpret information from historical documents.
  • To read a variety of graphs, charts and tables for specific purposes.
  • To scan text for specific information.
  • To use vocabulary specific to the topic.
  • To make inferences and draw conclusions.
  • To communicate information using a series of tableaux.
  • To demonstrate their understanding of three general trends in families in Canada over the first half of the 20th century: a greater proportion of families living in urban settings, families having fewer children and people consuming more goods.

Suggested grade level and subject areas

History, Social Studies, Family Studies


15 to 30 minutes for the introduction (steps 1 to 3)
60 minutes for research and class discussion (Part A – steps 4 to 6)
45 to 60 minutes to create and rehearse tableaux (Part B – steps 7 to 9)
30 to 60 minutes for presentation of tableaux (step 10)

Vocabulary (as used in the context of this lesson)

Character – a person depicted in a novel, a play or tableaux. 
Dramatic tableaux
 – a drama consisting of a series of 'frozen' pictures represented by a person or group, with no dialogue, put together in sequence to tell a story. The actors in the tableaux arrange themselves in poses to represent people and ideas, and then they freeze. They hold their poses for a few seconds before moving to the next frozen picture.
Family – people living in the same dwelling and related by blood or marriage.
Household – any number of people living within the same dwelling. They do not need to be related to one another.
Plot – outline of the main events in a play, a film or tableaux.
Retail trade –  the sale of goods to the public.
Rural – related to country life.
Trend – a general tendency or pattern.
Urban  – related to town or city life.


Canada Year Book resources

1927/1928 (PDF)

1947 (PDF)

1967 (PDF)

Classroom instructions

  1. Present the following outline to the class:
    1. We are going to explore the question "What were some big changes in Canadian families during the first half of the 20th century?"
    2. In Part A, we are going to look for answers in the online versions of the Canada Year Book. We will find information on three topics:
      • Population changes in urban and rural Canada, 1911 to 1961
      • Family size changes in Canada, 1881 to 1961
      • Canadians and a consumer society
    3. In Part B, we will research information and imagine what it was like to be part of a Canadian family during the first half of the 20th century. We will present dramatic tableaux (see definition) to show what we have learned.
  2. Divide the class into six groups. Assign two groups to each subtopic and distribute student worksheets 1, 2 and 3 to the appropriate groups.
  3. Take students to the computer lab and have them find the Statistics Canada website. Direct them to follow the instructions for Part A on the worksheet for their group. Each group will investigate the data and make some inferences for its assigned subtopic.
  4. Have each group use the appropriate Canada Year Book to complete its worksheet. Direct the students working on Student worksheet 2 to concern themselves with family, not household. Decide which province(s) will be the focus of research for each group: the province of residence and possibly one other for comparison, or just the province of residence.
  5. Use the overhead projector and a transparency of the Summary worksheet to record the information and conclusions from each group.
  6. Discuss this focus question with the class: What are the trends we can see from the statistics about Canadian families?
  7. Assign the following task to the six groups of students:

    Your group is a documentary film crew for a history channel on television. You need to find information about families in Canada in the first half of the 20th century. Use the information to create dramatic tableaux for your documentary film. Each of the three topics has been researched by at least one group. Group members will prepare tableaux to present their findings about their particular topic.

    Show students the Evaluation rubric (printer-friendly format) so that they are clear about the expectations for tableaux.

  8. Discuss the elements of dramatic tableaux with the students:
    1. It is a 'frozen' drama with no dialogue: several frozen pictures are put together in sequence to tell a story.
    2. There are usually appropriate props.
    3. The actors in each tableau arrange themselves in poses to represent people and ideas. They make sure the audience can see them clearly; then they hold the position in silence for a few seconds before moving to the next frozen picture.
  9. Have students fill in Part B of their worksheets. Have them develop ideas and use information from the Canada Year Book and other sources for inspiration. They can find the Canadian Encyclopaedia online through the website; information is also available on the Library and Archives Canada website. Help the groups refine the their tableaux, where necessary. When the outlines are ready, have students collect props and rehearse.
  10. Have students present their tableaux.


  1. Have the students compare family location, size and consumer habits with those of contemporary Canadian families, using Statistics Canada's Community profiles and E-STAT.
  2. What is happening to family size and the distribution of people in urban-rural locations in other countries today? Have students search the Internet to find information to make comparisons between the historical data they have reviewed for this lesson and the situation in various countries of interest today, such as the United States, China, France and Mexico.
  3. Have the students film one another's tableaux, to follow through on the documentary theme. Have them critique their own group's and other groups' performances.