LESSON

Family Colors: Interviewing Our Families

This lesson is the fourth in a series called “The Different Colors of Beauty.” The goal is to help students develop their racial or ethnic identities in a safe and open classroom environment, while being aware of our multicultural, diverse world.
Grade Level

Objectives

Activities will help students:

  • understand and implement interviewing skills, including planning, asking questions, taking notes and reporting on interviews
  • consider issues from multiple viewpoints
  • make connections between their family’s values and the values of their school community
  • develop vocabulary for discussing race, skin color, beauty and history
  • gain oral language skills for reporting and discussing information
Essential Questions
  • What is an interview? Why do we use interviewing as a research technique?
  • What are values? What are beliefs?
  • What is beauty? What does it mean to be beautiful?
  • Do different people have different perspectives on race, skin color and beauty? Why?
  • How can it help us to see an idea from different perspectives?
Materials
  • chart paper
  • individual notebooks or journals
  • small digital audio recording devices (optional)

Because this lesson involves family interviews, plan to use two different class periods to give students time to conduct an interview in between the two class periods. An alternative would be to invite one family member into the classroom and do a collective interview during a class session. Students could then conduct similar interviews with their own family members as an optional homework assignment.

girl holding piece of paper with interview questions
Illustration by Shannon Anderson

 

Framework

Making connections between home and school environments helps elementary students feel safe and productive while they are at school. Learning specific strategies for talking to their families about what they are discovering and discussing in school is one of the best ways to make such connections. Particularly when a classroom community is working on talking about issues pertaining to bias, it is essential for students to find common ground between home and school. 

This lesson aims to teach students interviewing skills so they can draw on their families’ histories and perspectives. Interviewing is also a necessary skill in conducting social studies research. Furthermore, by delving into their families’ narratives, students will contribute to diverse and rich classroom conversations.

 

Professional Development

Interviewing is a crucial aspect of social studies research. For more insight into how to bring interviewing and other authentic skills into your social studies curriculum, read If This Is Social Studies, Why Isn’t It Boring? by Stephanie Steffey and Wendy J. Hood. Similarly, Social Studies for Social Justice, by Rahima C. Wade, addresses ways to connect academic curriculum and issues of social justice.

Strategies for Reducing Racial and Ethnic Prejudice offers a variety of ideas for dealing with themes of race and racial bias as they arise in schools and classrooms. How Schools Can Help also describes ways schools can actively fight racism.

 

Vocabulary

color [ kuhl-er ] (noun) the natural appearance of something, including how bright it is and what shade it is

skin [ skin ] (noun) the outer covering of a human or animal body

skin color [ skin kuhl-er ] (noun) the coloring of a person’s face and skin

race [ reys ] (noun) one of the major groups into which human beings can be divided. As a social construction, it relates to the grouping of people based on physical characteristics, such as skin color, often for the purpose of creating the perception of a superior race.
(Note: There are many different ways to define the term “race.” We provide a working definition, but one of the goals of this series of lessons is for students to come to individual and collective understandings of the term that make sense to them and their personal, developmental and communal needs.)

beauty [ BYOO-tee ] (noun) the part of a person—or thing—that makes us like how he or she looks
(Note: There are many different ways to define the term “beauty.” We provide a working definition, but one of the goals of this series of lessons is for students to come to their own understanding of the term and concept.)

interview [ IN-ter-vyoo ] (noun) a conversation where one person tries to find out information or ideas from one or more other people

value [ VAL-yoo ] (noun) something that a person or group of people thinks of as especially important or worthwhile

belief [ bih-LEEF ] (noun) something a person thinks is true and important; something a person has faith or confidence in

perspective [ per-SPEK-tiv ] (noun) a way of looking at things

 

Activities 

  1. Values or beliefs are things that we think are important and true. For instance, some people really value honesty. Others value kindness above all. In diverse groups or with partners, have students name one or two things they really value or believe in. They should talk about where they think these beliefs come from and why they are important.
  2. Come together as a class. Explain that you will be discussing skin color, race and beauty as they relate to the students’ personal values and the values of their families. (Note: This is a good time to build on definitions your class has encountered in previous lessons about race and stereotypes. Help students understand that when they talk to their families, they will likely hear a variety of definitions and perspectives on race—and that is fine. These different perspectives are part of what help us understand race as a social construct.) What is race? What is skin color? What is beauty? Discuss these questions with the students. Help them understand the complexity of the questions and that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Chart student responses and ask them how they think the themes of race, skin color and beauty relate to the idea of values.
  3. Explain that one important source of our values is our families. As a class, help students come up with a list of questions they could ask a family member about their values and beliefs as they relate to skin color, race and beauty. Chart a large list of student questions. Some possibilities to get students started might be, “When do you first remember noticing the color of your skin?” or “Why do you or don’t you think race is important to talk about?” Kids might also have more specific questions based on what they already know about their families, such as, “How did immigrating change the way you felt about your race?”  
  4. Once they have brainstormed a lot of questions, they should work with classmates to narrow them down to four or five really important questions. Students can work with the big questions on the chart paper. Older students may vary their interviews based on what they are interested in learning. In that case, they should be more independent in writing questions.
  5. Once your class has created a final interview, type and photocopy individual versions of the questions for students to take home. (Note: As your class brainstorms questions, or later as they conduct and report on their interviews, some students might share information that devalues a group of people or that may imply that one racial group is better than another, e.g., the white race as superior. It is important to follow students’ leads in this conversation, acknowledging their personal and family values but helping them see the harm in generalizations, stereotypes and perceptions of groups as either superior or inferior. At the same time, it is also crucial to remain aware of the feelings of students who are or who have been targets of negative remarks, teasing or bullying related to skin color, race or any other aspect of identity. These students may not choose to speak up, but you can recognize their feelings by reminding the whole class how hurtful and devastating it is to be a target.)
  6. Conducting an interview is an important research skill, a way to find out what another person thinks or believes. As a class, discuss some skills that are important for effective interviewing. Chart students’ responses and create a list of guidelines. These might include making eye contact, waiting through some silence, and, if your students do not yet write, thinking of strategies for remembering the interviewees’ responses.
  7. Using the questions you came up with as a class, allow students to practice interviewing skills with a partner. Encourage children to think about what they like and do not like about interviewing and being interviewed. Come together as a class to reflect on the experience.
  8. Have students take interview questions home and interview a family member using the questions you created. (Note: If your students are preliterate, you may want to send along instructions to the family member to read the questions aloud and jot down some responses. Even with older students, it would probably be helpful to send a letter home explaining the activity. Share with families the objectives of this series of lessons and explain what skills you are hoping they develop by conducting these interviews. Keep communication open between yourself and the families, just in case some family members may want to talk more in depth about the purpose of the lesson. If you have multiple home languages represented in your class, provide translations of the letter as well.)
  9. The next day give students the opportunity to share what they learned about their family’s values and beliefs about race, skin color and beauty in a small group. Be sure they listen to what their classmates learned as well. Discuss the different perspectives that came up as a result of these interviews. Do you think it’s complicated and challenging to define the term “race”? Why? What does race mean to different individuals?
  10. Come together as a class to share the main points students learned from their interviews and their partners’ interviews. Ask them if they think interviewing is a helpful tool for figuring out values and beliefs. How are their families’ beliefs and values similar to students’ own beliefs and values? Are they different in any way? What did students learn about race, skin color, beauty and themselves from doing this activity? Discuss these questions with your class.

 

Applying What You've Learned

After conducting interviews, interviewers and other researchers often send some sort of thank-you note to the people who have helped them with their learning. The best kind of thank-you note shows explicitly what you learned from conducting the research. Independently or as a class, write a thank-you note to the family members you interviewed. Your note should include answers to the following questions:

  • Why do you think this interview activity was useful?
  • What was the most important thing you learned as an individual from conducting these interviews?
  • What was the most important thing you learned as a class from conducting these interviews?
  • How did your interview affect or change your thinking about race, skin color and beauty?
  • If you were to conduct the interview again, what extra question or questions would you add?

Make sure your note also includes a “thank you.”

 

Extension Activity

Sometimes different people in one family might have totally different viewpoints, values or beliefs. Interview another family member, using the same questions. If you interviewed a man or boy the first time, try to interview a woman or girl the second time. If you interviewed a sibling the first time, try to interview a parent or grandparent the second time. Then think about how the two interviews were similar or different. Challenge yourself to think about why these similarities or differences exist. Share what you learned with your class when you return to school.

ELL Extension

When you conduct your family interview, you may want to do so in your home language. When you are finished, choose a few key phrases or ideas that you would really like to learn how to say in English. Along with your family member, research ways to express these words or ideas. You can use a dictionary, other people or the Internet as some resources for doing this translation. Practice the new phrases you learn. Challenge yourself to use them when you report your interview back to your class.


Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards from the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: CCSS: SL.1, SL.3, SL.4, SL.6, W.1