Families: Different and the Same
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Grade Level 4 through 6
Subject Areas Language Arts,
California State Standards
A. Listening and Speaking
1., 2. Make organized and detailed oral presentations.
B. Written and Oral Conventions
1. Use language correctly.
1. Write multiparagraph compositions.
A. Listening and Speaking
1., 2. Present orally about new information.
2. Write multiparagraph narrative and expository compositions
that develop the topic, use precise details and include conclusions.
That's a Family! takes a tour, from a child's point of
view, through a wide range of family structures. The activities
in this lesson are designed to help children explore their own
family's composition and that of their classmates'.
Students should be able to
describe six different family structures.
define all vocabulary words and use them in original
tell how their own families are similar to and different
families in the video.
list specific ways they can support classmates whose families
different from their own.
Videotape That's A Family!
Book The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (optional)
Go over the general ideas and vocabulary presented in the video.
You may wish to make a poster of the points below and display
it during the unit.
General Ideas Presented in the Video
There are many ways to be a family.
Families come in all sizes and configurations.
Families of all kinds have things in common.
All families are "normal" families, even though
there may be more of some kinds than others.
Conflict is part of being a family.
Families are not happy all the time.
Teasing can lead to hurt feelings and low self-esteem.
Individuals can interrupt teasing and be allies
Families change, just like people change.
Different kinds of families can support each other
and be stronger than any one type of family on its own.
Key Vocabulary and Other Related Terms
Mixed family: When people of different racial backgrounds
are part of the same family it is a mixed-race family. People
of different ethnic, religious or national backgrounds can also
form families that are "mixed" in terms of culture, skin color,
language and religious practices. Emily's family is mixed because
her father is Asian (Chinese-American) and her mother is Caucasian/White
(German-American). Sofia's family, shown in the adoption section,
is a mixed family because she is Latina, her parents are White,
and her brother is African American. The word "mixed" is used
in That's a Family! because that is the expression the
children in the film use. Other terms include "blended," "double"
Note that trying to define race and ethnicity in simple terms
for children is challenging. There are many different ways to
define race and ethnicity. These terms are complex and fraught
with strong feelings, as terms, categories and labels have been
used as excuses to divide people. The intention here is to be
respectful, to teach children to be respectful and to be inclusive
rather than exclusive.
Adoption: A situation in which adults take children into
their families and legally become the parents of those children.
Birth mother: The biological mother, the woman who gave
birth to a child.
Birth father: The biological father, the man who created
a baby with the birth mother.
Divorce: When people legally separate and end a marriage.
Stepparent: When a divorced parent marries a new person,
or has a new committed relationship with a new partner, that person
can become a stepparent.
Blended family: Two families that come together to form
a new family.
Single-parent family: A family in which one parent raises
the child or children.
Gay: Describes a man who loves another man in a romantic
way and a woman who loves another woman in a romantic way.
Lesbian: Describes a woman who loves another woman in
a romantic way.
Guardian: A person entrusted by law with the care of
a child, a person other than the biological parent who protects
and takes care of a child.
Foster parent: A person entrusted with the temporary
care of a child who is not currently living with his or her permanent
family. Sometimes foster parents go on to become adoptive parents
FOCUS FOR VIEWING
Watch one segment at a time and review the vocabulary words
above to reinforce learning. Then have students write their (anonymous)
questions about the video and about families on cards and put
them in a question box. After you watch the tape you can lead
a discussion based on students' questions. This activity can help
you become familiar with students' questions and give you a chance
to clarify any misconceptions they might have. It helps to have
a question box available throughout the unit.
This activity is for students to process the information presented
in the film.
1. Use the following questions for discussion and suggestions
for journal writing (these can be done individually, in pairs
or in small groups).
Draw or list the different family structures
presented in this video.
Make a list of facts you learned from this video.
Which part of this video felt the most familiar to
you? Does anything in this video remind you of something that
has happened to you?
Which part of this video felt the most unfamiliar
What was your favorite part of this video? Why?
How did you feel about some of the teasing these children
experienced? Have you ever seen people in this school tease other
children because of their families? What did you do? What else
could you have done?
Do you think there is such a thing as a perfect family?
Why or why not?
How would you feel if someone said bad things about
your family? What would you do about it?
If you are being teased because of your family situation,
what can your classmates or adults in school do to support you?
An ally is a person who comes to the aid of someone
else. Sometimes when someone is being teased or bullied they are
too upset to know what to do. It helps to have an ally interrupt
the teasing and say that it is not OK. Has anyone ever done that
for you? Have you ever done that for someone else?
Why do you think the filmmakers decided to make this
What did you learn from this video? from the different
kids in it?
The purpose of the following activities is for students to explore
their own and others' family compositions. You may pick and choose
the activities that you think will best work for your class.
1. Have students write books about their families. On each page,
have them draw a picture of one family member, describe that person,
and tell about things they like to do with that person. If their
families are touched by any of the issues raised in That's
a Family! suggest that they write about them and other important
issues as well.
2. Have each child make a booklet about That's a Family!
each page describing a different kind of family from the
video and featuring a picture of that family. This could be a
ribbon book where students glue 3- by 5-inch cards onto a ribbon
so they fold into a book, or hang with the story sequenced from
top to bottom. Have them finish the following sentences (or similar
ones) for each family in the video:
Montana's family likes to...
3. Ask students to bring in a family memento or important artifact.
Sit in a circle and talk about each object and its meaning in the
child's family. Create a class "museum," with each object labeled
by the student who brought it in. Use the museum as a lead-in for
descriptive writing and story-telling exercises.
Montana's parents are divorced. That means...
The people in Montana's family are...
Montana's family is like mine because...
Montana's family is different from mine because...
4. Have students interview someone they know who is part of
a family that is different from their own.
5. Find ways to help students talk about their families. What
are some of the things that families have or do together? Many
families go through change. What changes can happen in families?
What helps children cope with change? What skills did the children
in this video use to cope with change? How do families solve problems?
Did you ever feel upset about something that happened in your
family? What helped you feel better?
6. Make connections between the families in the video and people
your students know. Do they know anyone who is divorced? a single
parent? adopted? Gay or Lesbian, or has Gay people in their family?
7. If there are several children in the room who fit in each
category of family (adopted kids, Gay or Lesbian parents, divorced
parents, biracial family members and so on.), ask students to
form subgroups and discuss what they would like the class and
world to know about their way of being a family. Ask them to discuss,
write down and report to the class the benefits and challenges
of being in this type of family (adopted, in a single parent family
and so on.). Do this activity only if there is more than one child
for each group.
8. Have students write a poem about That's a Family!
9. Ask students to choose a person from the video. Have them
describe five ways that person is similar to or different from
10. Invite significant adults from students' families to come
to school and be interviewed by the class. Let the class generate
the questions they want to ask. Write letters home as invitations
and to thank the families.
11. Think about That's a Family! and complete some of
the following phrases:
|| I can't really understand...
|| I began to think of...
|| I noticed...
|| If I had been...
|| I was reminded of...
|| I can't believe...
12. Write or dictate a letter to a friend describing That's
The purpose of this activity is for students to think more
deeply about how laws and cultural attitudes affect family compositions.
1. Assign a research project on families. Have some students
research the history of laws about mixed-race marriages in the
United States and one other country of their choice. Have others
find out statistics on mixed-race, mixed-religion, and bilingual
families in your state and one other state, comparing these statistics
to those from 10 years ago. Other research topics could include
the history of adoption, Native-American perspectives on adoption
or international policies on adoption. Brainstorm similar research
topics on divorce, single-parent families, Gay parents and so
2. Have students read Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango
Street. Use each chapter as a model for students' writing.
If students write multiple pieces, they can create their own book,
titled "The House on ________ Street."
Related Art Projects
1. Make a version of That's a Family! in your classroom!
Filming with a home video camera, have students introduce themselves
and the members of their families and describe what they would
like others to understand about their families. You can do this
activity with actual family members present or just by interviewing
the students themselves. Students can work in groups running the
camera, asking the questions, and being interviewed.
2. Collect all the statements about windows and mirrors (explained
in the "Before You Begin" section on the Web site) and make a
windows and mirrors bulletin board. Point out again that the same
items may be a window for some people and a mirror for others.
3. Have students draw a picture or design a poster that explains
the many ways to be a family.
4. Have students make torn-paper self-portraits (provide many
choices for skin colors). Students use small bits of different
colored paper to paste a collage, using paper instead of paint
or crayons. These can be displayed in class and used later as
covers for student autobiographies.
5. Have students create a family tree, but without prescribed
family slots (mother, father, grandparents and so on). In this
version, the child is the trunk; he or she decides which ways
the roots and branches will grow, and how they will be labeled.
This more flexible structure validates many different kinds of
families, leaving space for stepparents, birth parents and so
6. Ask each student to draw a picture of his or her family and
label it with names. (Students should decide whom to include.)
Discuss whom they consider to be part of their families: pets?
people they live with? people who live far away? Display pictures.
7. Have students bring in family photos and make a collage.
Ask students, "What way(s) of being a family are not yet represented
in this collage? How can we include them?" 8. Have students look
through magazines and find pictures of families. Make a collage
called "That's A Family!" As a class, make lists of what the families
shown are doing together.
9. Create "family mobiles" using hangers, yarn, 5- by 7-inch
cards, crayons and markers. Hang mobiles around room.
10. As a class, paint a mural that represents the different
Home Activities Students Can Do With
1. Interview the adult(s) in your family about the different
family structures they and their parents grew up in. Include the
siblings of your caregivers and your grandparents.
2. Emily's family celebrates Christmas like her mother's family
and Chinese New Year like her father's family. Do you have family
traditions that come from different sides of your family? What
are they? With a family member, tell and write about the holidays
and traditions your family celebrates. Bring your work to school
to share with the class.
3. Discuss with your family ways you can be supportive of people
who are different from you.
4. Work with your family to complete the family tree assignment
given by your teacher.
5. Read one or more of the books from the related list or the
further resources list with a family member.
6. For each segment of the video, fill out the following chart
(find an adult in your family to help you fill in this chart):
Ways our family is the same:     Ways our family is
7. With an adult in your family, find a memento, photograph,
or artifact that has significance for your family. Talk about
its history and why it is important to you. Write down or dictate
to the adult the story of this artifact. Bring the story and,
if possible, the artifact to school to share with your classmates.
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