The word “family” has taken on a new definition along with “new” faces in America. Today, families are much more diverse ethnically, racially, and religiously, than they were twenty years ago.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.
Excerpt: The Changing American Family By Natalie Angier, The New York Times
“Kristi and Michael Burns have a lot in common. They love crossword puzzles, football, going to museums and reading five or six books at a time. They describe themselves as mild-mannered introverts who suffer from an array of chronic medical problems… Today, their blended family is a sprawling, sometimes uneasy ensemble of two sharp-eyed sons from her two previous husbands, a daughter and son from his second marriage… The typical American family, if it ever lived anywhere but on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving canvas, has become as multilayered and full of surprises as a holiday turducken —Yet for all the restless shape-shifting of the American family, researchers who comb through census, survey and historical data and conduct field studies of ordinary home life have identified a number of key emerging themes.
Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen. Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.”
THE BABY BOOM FOR GAY PARENTS
“The Schulte-Wayser family is like the Jetsons: a blend of midcentury traditional and postmodern cool. One parent is the breadwinner, a corporate lawyer who is Type A when it comes to schoolwork, bedtime and the importance of rules. The other parent is the self-described “baby whisperer,” staying home to care for the couple’s two daughters and four sons, who dash through their days as if wearing jetpacks… A growing number of gay men and lesbians are pursuing parenthood any way they can: adoption, surrogacy, donor sperm.”
THE WEDDING WILL HAVE TO WAIT
“Ana Perez, 35, who moved to New York from the Dominican Republic at age 5, has an open smile, afirm handshake and a vivid, scrappy manner just this side of a fireplug… For the past six years, Ms. Perez has lived with Julian Hill, 39, the father of her third child, Bubba, 4… He is devoted to all three children and involved in their everyday lives… Ms. Perez worked for a financial services firm, and she has been the family’s primary earner. Mr. Hill, equally ambitious, has worked as a notary public, mortgage closer and occasional stock investor. He and Ms. Perez recently started a small notary-mortgage business. I think like Warren Buffett, Mr. Hill said. My plan is to be a billionaire, but if I fall short and end up a millionaire, that would be fine. If you’re talking about their relationship status, he and Ms. Perez have been engaged for more than a year, and they plan to go more than another year before getting married.”
TO ATLANTA, BY WAY OF SRI LANKA
“When people first meet Dr. Indran Indrakrishnan, a gastroenterologist with a busy private practice near Atlanta, they take note of his unusual name, his crisply lilting accent, his tan complexion and wavy black hair, and they ask, “So, doctor, where are you from?… when I finally tell them I was born in Sri Lanka, they look more confused than ever. ‘Sri Lanka? Where is that?’ Though much of the immigration debate has focused on Latinos, the fastest-growing immigrant groups are not Hispanic but Asian.Dr. Indrakrishnan is part of a new tide of immigration that has been sweeping America. Dr. Indrakrishnan, 53, who also teaches at the Emory University School of Medicine, is something of a celebrity among South Asian immigrants.
He lives with his wife, Gayathri, 49, a tax accountant, and their daughter, Harini, a high school senior, in a gated enclave on the banks of a glistening artificial lake.. The house feels like a castle, only bigger — 15,000 square feet of vaulted, chandeliered ceilings, an enormous alabaster fireplace, matching ornate staircases that curve together like an upside-down heart, and an elevator if you’re too tired for the stairs.Indran and Gayathri Indrakrishnan independently identified the same key to long-lasting marital harmony. It’s tolerance, she said.”
FOR CAREER JUGGLERS, LIFE GOES BY FAST
“Jan Glusac, 51, a first-grade teacher with a first-rate tolerance for contradictory ideas. A few years ago, she and her family participated in a landmark study by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles… a close anthropological look at the daily lives of 32 typical middle-class American families. The average middle-class family has two children, and seated next to Ms. Glusac are her two children, Katie and Chris. Katie, 17, is a high school senior; Chris, 21, is a Santa Monica College engineering student who still lives at home but plans to transfer next year to the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mr. Glusac, was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but grew up in Montreal. Glusac points out that her family is better off than most, with a household income nearly four times the national median of about $51,000.”
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Ask students to read the titles of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then have them examine the photos. Based on these sources, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about American Families. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart by Education Oasis for assistance.
- The Burnses seem atypical as an American nuclear family.
- The daughter divides her time between prosaic homework and ancient Hindu dance.
- The Glusacs of Los Angeles, have their litany of middle-class challenges.
- There is the alarming number of families with incarcerated parents.
- Researchers study the structure and evolution of the American family.
- Researchers express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years.
- Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all.
- Mothers are bringing home more of the bacon, and of the mortarboards, too.
- One parent is the breadwinner, a corporate lawyer who is Type A when it comes to schoolwork, bedtime and the importance of rules.
- Both parents know when rules and roles are made for subverting.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
The ___American family, if it ever lived anywhere but on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving canvas, has become as ___ and full of surprises as a holiday turducken — the all-American seasonal ___of deboned turkey, duck and chicken. Researchers who ___the structure and ___of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the ___often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago. This churning, this___ in our intimate partnerships is creating ___families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University.
“It’s a mistake to think this is the ___of enormous change. We are still very much in the___ of it.” Yet for all the restless shape-shifting of the American family, ___who comb through census, survey and___ data and conduct field studies of ordinary home life have___a number of key emerging themes.
complex, portmanteau, multilayered, turnover, typical, identified, evolution, researchers, study, transformations, historical, endpoint, midst
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from this lesson and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives. For a review of Adjectives visit ESL Voices Grammar.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students fill in the last column of the KWL chart if they used one in the pre-reading segment of this lesson.
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics
- The article states, “Yet across the divide runs a white picket fence, our unshakable star-spangled belief in the value of marriage and family. We marry, divorce and remarry at rates not seen anywhere else in the developed world. We lavish $70 billion a year on weddings, more than we spend on pets, coffee, toothpaste and toilet paper combined.” Restate this idea in your own words and provide examples.
- According to the article, “In charting the differences between today’s families and those of the past, demographers start with the kids — or rather the lack of them.The nation’s birthrate today is half what it was in 1960, and last year hit its lowest point ever.” In your opinion, why has the birthrate dropped in America?
- Write a description of your family and share it with the class.
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: One Big Happy Family by Rebecca Walker
In this video clip Rebecca Walker discusses her new book, “One Big Happy Family,” a series of essays about the changing makeup and profile of American families.
While Listening Activities
Directions: Review the statements with students before the watching the video. As students listen to the video if a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Rebecca Walker has 3 children in Hawaii.
- Her new book One Big Happy Family is about open adoptions, single parents, mixed marriages, and other non-traditional families.
- Rebecca stated that many of her friends were from non-traditional families.
- One example of an American television sitcom family Rebecca mentioned was Father Knows Best.
- Polyamory means having an open marriage involving several people.
- Her book also covers mixed and gay marriages.
- Rebecca is a product of a mixed marriage.
- She states that there are two million men incarcerated in America and are part of American families.
- Rebecca wants to write another book about Native families in Hawaii.
- Through her book Rebecca wanted to show that love, and coming together are important issues in families.
Questions for Discussion
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
1. After listening to this video, has your personal idea of non-traditional American families changed in any way? If yes, describe in what way. If no, describe your original opinion.
2. Did you agree with everything Rebecca Walker said? Discuss which comments you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with. Explain why.
3. With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask Ms. Walker, or people involved in non-traditional families.
ANSWER KEY: Changing Families