Lesson of the Day: Learning With The Times’s ‘Family, Interrupted’ Series

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Lesson of the Day: Learning With The Times’s ‘Family, Interrupted’ Series

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Articles: The “Family, Interrupted” series

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of many American families. “Family, Interrupted,” a new weekly series from The Times’s National desk, takes readers inside the upside-down worlds of pandemic-weary Americans and chronicles the myriad irritations, sorrows, panics and even small joys of life right now.

In this lesson, you will reflect on how your own family has been affected by the pandemic, then read about how other families are navigating the new abnormal. In a Going Further activity, you will create your own portrait of a family using the Times series as a mentor text.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your family — its roles, rules, rituals and daily life?

Take a few minutes to write about or discuss with a partner how your family life has changed since the pandemic began, using the following prompts:

  • How is your family life different now than before the pandemic began? What has changed? What has remained the same?

  • How has the pandemic strengthened your family bonds? How has it tested or hurt them?

  • What lessons have you learned about your family, your parents and yourself?

Choose at least two articles in the “Family, Interrupted” series to read in their entirety:

Answer the questions below based on the articles you read.

1. Why did you select the articles you did? What drew you to these families and their stories?

2. How has the pandemic affected each family featured in your chosen articles? What did you learn from each? To which family’s story do you most relate? Why?

3. What’s your reaction to these family stories? What did you find most memorable, surprising, thought-provoking or moving? Why?

4. Media Literacy: The New York Times is full of stories about the coronavirus pandemic and the nation’s progress toward containing it. What does the “Family, Interrupted” series capture that traditional news articles might not about how Americans are experiencing everyday life in 2020? If you could interview any of the families profiled in the series, what would you ask them and why? As the “Family, Interrupted” series continues, what types of families and stories do you hope to see?

5. How did reading about other families living through the pandemic give perspective on your family and its hardships and joys? What has the crisis revealed to you about the importance of those relationships?

Option 1: Watch and Respond to a Times Video

In June 2020, The Times created the eight-minute film “Three Families. Nine Weeks. ‘Things Are Getting Annoying.’” which we recently featured in our Film Club. It profiles three families, each of whom filmed themselves to share what it has been like to work, parent, school, eat, sleep and hang out under the same roof for three months straight during quarantine.

Watch the film and respond to the following questions adapted from our Film Club:

  • What messages, emotions or ideas will you take away from this film? Why?

  • What do you think of the rules on parenting offered in the film like “Trust your kids to do their work,” “Don’t force mindfulness” and “Don’t forget to follow your own rules.” What rules for parents would you add?

If you want to engage with this film further, you can participate in our Film Club.

Option 2: Create Your Own Portrait of a Family Living Through the Pandemic

Imagine you have been hired to write the next entry in the “Family, Interrupted” series. What family would you profile and why? What questions would you ask? How might these experiences help readers of The Times?

You can, of course, choose to spotlight your own family. But whoever you choose, your portrait should include a photo, a brief preface introducing the family members — describing both their lives before the pandemic and their current situations — and an interview excerpt that you feel highlights the families members’ stories in their own words.

Keep in mind that even though the series is focused on short stories that give readers a glimpse into the challenging lives we’re leading behind closed doors, producing these short stories is still time-consuming. A Times Insider piece on the series notes:

“Short” is perhaps misleading. For while the interviews are distilled into tightly condensed pieces, National desk correspondents have spent considerable time getting to know their subjects through multiple lengthy conversations — not just about their current upside-down existence but also about their pre-pandemic lives.

Be sure to do some background research on the family you choose to profile and to develop a set of interview questions in advance. Additionally, when interviewing, remember to build trust, even with people you already know, and save the tough, more intimate questions for the end.

Read the entire Times Insider article for more insights into the process of creating the series, including the kinds of questions the writers like to explore. And for more interviewing tips, watch the five-minute video “Four Tips for an Effective Interview” by StoryCorps or read “Interview Tips Sheet” by What Kids Can Do.

If you are working as part of a class doing this as a project, you might bring your stories together when everyone is done and publish them somehow, whether on a school website or via social media, or by printing them and hanging them in a public place.


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