September 30, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

Lesson of the Day: ‘How to Paint 50,000 Miles of Lines’

4 min read

This lesson is a part of our new Accessible Activities feature, which aims to welcome a wider variety of learners to our site and to The Times in general. Learn more and tell us what you think here.

Featured Article: “How to Paint 50,000 Miles of Lines” by Ross Mantle and Heather Murphy

Have you ever stopped to wonder how our roads, streets and crosswalks are painted?

In this lesson, you will learn about the art of line painting, or pavement marking, and how it keeps all of us from bumping and smashing into each other. Then, you will document and celebrate other kinds of overlooked work that make our communities run.

The roads in your town or city are probably full of painted lines that help people know where to drive and walk, like these:

Now, imagine they have all washed away. And the mayor has asked you to help repaint them.

How would you go about painting the lines on the streets? What supplies would you need? How would you make sure that the lines are straight and even? And keep in mind, you can’t take all day with one single line. There are a lot of roads to cover!

Take a few minutes to come up with a good plan. Then, turn to a partner and share your ideas. Which of your ideas do you think would work best?

Here are 10 words you’ll find in this article that you may not know:

1. contractor 2. essential 3. epiphany 3. opposing 4. aspirational 5. crispness 6. technique 7. stave off 8. chaos 9. stencil 10. consistency

Which words are you familiar with? Which are new to you?

Use this list of words and their definitions on to learn what each means and to practice using the words.

Click through the article, reading the text and viewing the photos and videos. Then answer the following questions:

1. What did you learn about how city workers paint the lines on roads and streets? What was the biggest surprise?

2. Compare your plan for painting streets from the warm-up activity with how the city workers do it: What was similar? What was different?

3. What kinds of skills and knowledge are needed to be a good line painter? Give two examples from the article.

4. What are some of the challenges and joys of painting our roads and streets with lines?

5. The article says that the people who paint lines help to “stave off chaos.” In your opinion, why is line painting important? What do you think would happen if all the lines painted on streets and roads washed away?

6. Why do you think The New York Times published this story about something most people see every day but give very little thought to? What can readers learn from it? What lessons or inspiration do you take?

7. Would you want to be a street line painter for a living? Why or why not?

The article celebrates line painting — a skill and art that is not usually noticed or valued. There are many jobs in our world that are underappreciated. Brainstorm a list of at least five jobs that you think should be respected more.

Then, pick one job from your list and write about or discuss with a partner these questions:

  • What is the job? Describe it for someone who might not know anything about it.

  • Why do you think it isn’t appreciated enough?

  • Why is it important? What role does this job play in your life and in your community?

Additional Teaching and Learning

  • Celebrate someone’s work. Interview someone in your community whose job you think deserves more appreciation. Find out what they like most and least about their work and one thing they wish the public understood about it. Take a few photographs, and make a slide show of your best interview quotes and images.

  • Learn more about the unrecognized work that makes our communities thrive. Watch “The Midnight Gardeners of Mumbai,” a short film about the lives and dreams of two men whose job it is to water the gardens of India’s capital city. Answer the questions that follow. Afterward, discuss with a partner: How does this work compare with that of the line painters? What did you learn about the skills, joys and challenges of this job? What does it make you think about when considering your own future work or career?

Learn more about Lesson of the Day here and find all of our daily lessons in this column.

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