September 24, 2021

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Unit 1: Documenting and Reflecting on Teenage Lives in Extraordinary Times

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Our open-ended invitation to “show us — in words or images, video or audio — how the events of this extraordinary year have affected you” resulted in a deluge of extraordinary submissions. In the end, we received over 5,500 entries, and honored 245 finalists whose work included screenshots, charts, poems, plays, photos, paintings, diary entries, doodles, essays, Lego sculptures, posters, soundscapes, illustrated lists, comics, musical compositions, recipes and rants. Some of it was ultimately featured in special Times digital and print sections.

Now, as schools reopen, teachers have asked us to run this unit and contest again, this time to acknowledge a new set of issues and concerns.

We all hope to return to something that looks like “normal life” soon, yet we will all return changed. How can we make space for students to process their experiences, but be mindful that these months have been traumatic for many? How might a project like this one help bring school communities together? And how could teaching students to document and reflect give them skills they can use not just for this contest but for the rest of their lives?

This time we are asking, Who are you now? How do you think the last year and a half has shaped — and will continue to shape — you and your generation? What can you show or tell us that might help explain what it’s like to be a teenager in 2021? In answering these questions, students have an enormous amount of choice:

  • They can reflect on their own lives, or document the impact on their generation as a whole.

  • They can focus on any aspect — big or small, serious or silly, fleeting or fundamental — that might contribute to the story of what it means to be growing up in this moment.

  • They can work alone or with others.

  • They can send us work in almost any medium they can upload digitally.

Whatever your students choose to do, however, writing will be used as a tool throughout to help them brainstorm, plan, compose and edit. All students will also be asked to craft written artist’s statements to accompany their submissions.

Below, you’ll find everything you need, whether your students are submitting to our contest, creating work just for a classroom or school exhibition, or even using the unit to prepare for other tasks that require the same skills, like writing the college essay.

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