This companion document to the Issue in Focus provides educators with guidance on ways to incorporate the content into classroom teaching. This component is geared toward grade 6-12 teachers, with connections across subjects and disciplines.
Contents of this Classroom Companion include:
- Student Readings and Discussion Questions
- Lesson Ideas and Curriculum
- Additional Resources
- National Standards
Student Readings and Discussion Questions:
Below are student readings that provide some insight into Iran today and discuss some of the most relevant issues covered in the Issue in Focus on Iran. Each article is aimed at different age groups or reading levels, and is followed by some selected discussion questions.
The Iranian “Youth Bulge” – demographics of Iran’s youth
The Legal Battles Over The Persepolis Archive – lawsuit over Iran’s cultural artifacts, includes legal arguments
The Persepolis Archive – lawsuit over Iran’s cultural artifacts
Lesson Ideas and Curriculum:
This portion of the guide contains some suggestions for possible lesson plans and activities to teach students about modern Iran - across the disciplines. For complete lesson plans, see the recommended curriculum units listed at the end of this section.
- This edition of the World Savvy Monitor focuses on modern Iran. Using the annotated timeline in this edition, match the events of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s in Iran with events in the United States. What correlations or patterns do you see?
- Discuss the importance of geography to modern and historical Iran. This can be done by emphasizing geographic location and emphasizing topography and terrain. To discuss location, have students identify the countries and cultures surrounding the borders of Iran. Compare this list with the historical timeline in order to identify the cultures which have ruled the Iranian Plateau over the centuries. To discuss topography, identify major markers such as mountain ranges, rivers, expanses of desert, regions of arable land, etc. Use colored stickers to indicate easy, moderate or difficult places of passages for the type of land, and discuss how these places of passage connect to historical empires, modern movements of people across borders, and modern exploration of natural resources.
- National borders – The Caspian Sea is bordered by several countries whose relationships have traditionally been contentious. Have students identify the parties involved and investigate the nature of the disputes, the agreements that have been put in place, and the questions that remain unanswered.
- Foreign policy – Have students use the “US-Iranian Relations” section of the Monitor to learn about the foreign policy history between the US and Iran. Have students debate current US foreign policy, and whether they agree or disagree. What advice would they offer to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Would they support Obama’s statement that he is willing to negotiation with Iran?
- Creative writing – Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi is a beloved Persian poet who lived during the 13th Century. His work has been embraced and revered by many cultures and continues to be widely enjoyed by modern day readers. Have students find, read, and write a response to one of his poems.
- Understanding Persian poetry – Rumi’s poems and the famous Rubaiyyat by Omar Khayyam follow the centuries old, classical Arabic poetry structures. A rubayat is organized in quatrains. It has a rhyme scheme across four lines that may take the form AABA, or ABAB, or ABBA, etc. The root of the word ruba’i means four. The Persian form of a rubayat is organized in two lines instead of four, with rhyming occurring in the middle and the end of each line as a consequence. Edward FitzGerald made the first translation into English of Khayyam’s Rubaiyyat, thus introducing the quatrain structure into English poetry. The ghazal is an ode and consists of rhyming couplets and a refrain. After reading examples from Rumi or Omar Khayyam, have students write their own ruba’i or ghazal on a topic of their own choosing.
- Expository analytical writing – Is religion compatible with government? Have students analyze the relationship of religion and government in American society. Compare this analysis to the current Iranian government. What is the relationship between morality and government in creating a functioning, just society? Does religion play a necessary or unnecessary part in determining morality?
- Modern literature – Read Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. Use the graphic novel as a way for students to learn about the Islamic Revolution, as well as aspects of the society and culture of Iran. Persepolis is also an excellent coming of age story, and can be analyzed from this perspective as well.
- The Caspian Sea is the largest body of water on Earth that is enclosed by land. It is the world’s largest lake but its water has a high salinity, and so it was historically perceived as an ocean. It was actually part of a sea at one time but became closed off due to tectonic shift. It receives fresh water from over 100 rivers, the largest being the Volga. Having characteristics of both fresh and sea water bodies, but being a closed basin ecosystem, the Caspian Sea region has been a key area for the study of climate change. Have students investigate all the different characteristics of this region, from its topographical surroundings to its plant and animal life, to learn more about why scientists are so focused on this area.
- Oil and natural resources – In an earth science class, study Iran as a case study for how oil and natural resources on the earth are formed and why oil and natural resources are important to a country. Teach students about the vast natural resources Iran possesses – it has the third largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest natural gas reserves in the world, and is the world’s fourth largest producer of oil and the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas. What dynamic processes shaped the physical features in Iran? How does the supply of oil and natural resources in Iran impact its economy and relations with other countries?
- Energy – Iran has a robust nuclear energy program, but many in the international community fear that this nuclear energy program is actually a cover for developing nuclear weapons. In early 2009, reports surfaced that Iran might have enough uranium to build an atomic bomb. Learn the science behind these assertions. How is uranium used to create nuclear energy, and how is it used to build nuclear weapons? How does nuclear energy work? Is it a viable source of energy in today’s world?
- Know the numbers – Using the demographic statistics from the “Inside Iran: Society” section of this issue, create a profile of who lives in Iran today, using charts and graphs to show relevant statistics. Have students conduct research (using CIA World Factbook or other online data) to gather demographic statistics for the US or one of Iran’s neighboring countries and create a similar profile of charts and graphs. Analyze these statistics. What can be inferred about these countries from this data alone (and what cannot)?
- Track a trend – Track population and societal trends across generations in Iran. Have students chart out the generations in Iran by creating bar or pie graphs or other visual ways of representing population statistics. You may wish to do a brief study of United States demographics by generation first. Help students discuss the varying attitudes of different generations and how those attitudes usually have their roots in events that occurred during young adulthood. Partner up with a history teacher, and have students investigate what happened in the country’s recent history to make Iran’s current generation of young adults so large.
Recommended Curriculum Units:
These lessons and curricula offer an in-depth look at various issues in Iran, and offer full lessons ready for the classroom, complete with handouts and instructions.
Middle East in Transition, Southern Center for International Studies
This is part of an eight-unit World in Transition series. Each unit is comprised of lesson plans (including primary source materials), background essays, and a 15-minute videotape of historical events and news footage. The following skill sets are emphasized: research, critical thinking, role-playing, data analysis, problem-solving, discussion, and map analysis.
Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution, Choices Program
This unit traces the history of Iran and helps students understand the political and cultural conditions that led to the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath. Activities in the unit engage students in a simulation of the debate facing the Iranian people after the 1979 Revolution about the future direction of their country.
Coup to Revolution: US Foreign Policy in Iran, PBS Global Connections – the Middle East
Though a three-part lesson, students will examine the factors that shape US foreign policy, using Iran as a case study. A comparison of Iranian governmental politics in the 1950s and 1970s will help to illuminate the key issues. This lesson is available online, with additional multimedia resources available on the site as well.
International Forum on Iran’s Nuclear Program, Newshour Extra
This lesson summarizes international concern over Iran’s nuclear program and the mounting suspicions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Students examine concerns about Iran’s past and most recent actions and gain a perspective on Iran’s reasons for developing a nuclear program.
Gaining Background for the Graphic Novel Persepolis: A WebQuest on Iran
This lesson, from the National Council of Teachers of English, engages students in a webquest and creating a PowerPoint presentation to learn about the society and culture of Iran both before and after the Islamic Revolution, as a supplement to reading the graphic novel, Persepolis.
Books and Readings
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
This is Marjane Satrapi’s wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her childhood in Tehran, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. Volume 2 illustrates Satrapi’s life as a young adult, living in Europe, and returning to Iran as a young woman. See above for a lesson plan to accompany the novel.
All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer
Kinzer has reconstructed the CIA’s 1953 overthrow of the elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, who was wildly popular at home for having nationalized his country’s oil industry. The coup ushered in the long and brutal dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Shah, widely seen as a US puppet and himself overthrown by the Islamic revolution of 1979. Kinzer combed memoirs, academic works, government documents, and news stories to produce this blow-by-blow account, which reads somewhat like a spy novel.
Ancient Iran: Inside a Nation’s Persian Soul, National Geographic
The August 2008 cover story from National Geographic looks at the effects of the legacy of the Persian Empire on the culture and society of Iran today. The article examines some of the archaeological heritage throughout Iran as a window into the psyche of the Iranian people.
Iran: A People Interrupted, by Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. The position is America’s oldest and most prestigious endowed academic chair in Iranian studies. The book is a concise account of Iranian history from the 19th Century to the present. Dabashi captures the connections between art, cinema, history, and politics, from both an American and Iranian perspective, as well as delivering a particularly transnational perspective of modern, cosmopolitan, and globalized experiences.
Blood and Oil: the Middle East in World War I, PBS
This documentary examines the interplay of the discovery of oil and Middle East politics. After the end of World War I, most of the Ottoman Empire was carved up into “spheres of influence,” controlled greatly by the British and French. The remaining territories became the modern state of Turkey in 1923, after a five-year struggle against Western domination. The film traces the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the Great War in October 1914, the Allied victory and declaration of the new Turkish Republic, and the hostilities that have plagued the region since.
Forbidden Iran, PBS, FRONTLINE/World
This short film is a harrowing report from inside Iran, where FRONTLINE/World reporter Jane Kokan risked her life to secretly film evidence of the torture and murder of students and journalists opposed to the regime. Kokan, in disguise, escaped the constant surveillance of Iranian authorities to interview underground and jailed activists.
Showdown With Iran, PBS, FRONTLINE/World
This documentary from 2007 examines the rise of Iran as one of America’s greatest threats and most puzzling foreign policy challenges. Through interviews with key players on both sides, FRONTLINE traces the tumultuous history of U.S./Iranian relations since 9/11 – from unprecedented early cooperation in Afghanistan, to the growing crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Tehran’s open threats to drive America out of the Middle East. Accompanying Lesson Plans
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
This is the true story of Marjane Satrapi, a woman who grew up in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. This animated film, based on Satrapi’s celebrated graphic novel, illustrates her feelings and thought processes as a little girl and young adult, following her as government control in Iran got more and more strict. We also watch her struggle with adolescent issues, geographic separation from her family, and the repression of her freedoms as a woman. The movie blends both historical facts and personal issues into a compelling narrative.
The Films of Abbas Kiarostami
Abbas Kiarostami is one of Iran’s most prolific and celebrated filmmakers. He has made or been involved in more than 40 films, including Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us. As a member of the Iranian New Wave, Kiarostami is one of the few film directors to have remained in Iran after the 1979 Revolution. He has been honored at several international film festivals, including the Akria Kurosawa Prize at the 2000 San Francisco Film Festival.
Websites and Multimedia
Maps of War
The website contains a short flash animation about empires in the Middle East, answering the question: “Who has conquered the Middle East over the course of world events”? Using maps and timelines, the animation illustrates that many groups have, at one time, controlled the region – Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans, etc.
Bridge to Iran
This series of documentary shorts, available from Link TV, seeks to provide a unique glimpse into the lives of ordinary Iranians. It aims to shatter preconceived notions about a nation and culture that many Americans know little about and have never experienced firsthand. The series covers a wide range of subjects: young girls facing womanhood within an Islamic society; religious pilgrims who risk their lives to visit a holy site in Iraq; rural life and political awareness; and an energetic and surprising exploration of Tehran as a mega metropolis.
Unwrapping Iran, NPR
This 2009 series from NPR features a number of stories about modern Iran, for the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. A wide array of voices and perspectives are represented, from coffee shop customers to government leaders. Among the issues examined are Iran’s politics, economy and controversial nuclear program, as well as human rights struggles, censorship, and the Islamic Revolution.
Activities described in this Classroom Companion correspond to the following national standards from McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning).
World History Standards:
Era 3: Classical Traditions, Major Religions, and Giant Empires, 1000 BCE – 300 CE
- Understands how Aegean civilization emerged and how interrelations developed among peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia from 600 to 200 BCE
Era 9: The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes
- Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up
- Understands major global trends since World War II
World History Topics:
- Cultural continuity and change
- Cultural perspectives
- Development of ancient cultures and civilizations
- International diplomacy and relations
- Legacy of classical civilizations and ideals
- Safavid and Mughal Empires
- Tension and conflict in the contemporary world
- Understand and know how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
- Understands the historical perspective
What is the Relationship of the United States to Other Nations and to World Affairs?
- Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy
- Human and civil rights
- Impact of world political, demographic, and environmental trends
- International diplomacy and relations
2: Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment
6: Understands that culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions
13: Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth’s surface
- Cultural regions
- Group and national identity
- Impact of geographic features on historic events
- International diplomacy and relations
- Population density, distribution, and growth rates
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions
4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Understands Earth’s composition and structure
- Energy in the Earth System
- Environmental Issues
- Populations and Ecosystems
- Science, Technology, and Society
6: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis
9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics