One of the aspects of my life keeping me busy these days is launching a new unit with my ninth graders for Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, which I’ve never taught before. Our ninth grade curriculum definitely needed shaking up, and now that we’re diving in, I’m so glad we chose this book.
How we’re starting: for homework, I gave my students a list of 24 words that are either connected to or mentioned in the book, words like Shah, coup d’etat, democracy, royalist and pact, and asked them to find definitions, put the definitions in their own words, and then write a few sentences explaining their impressions of the book based on these words.
In our first class together, we watched a short clip that explains how to properly pronounce Marjane Satrapi’s name. Then we opened our books to the introduction, a brief but powerful opening written by Satrapi herself that sweeps through Iranian history, beginning in the second millennium B.C. and following up the Revolution in 1979, which the book covers. We took turns reading aloud sentence by sentence, while the girls annotated in their own texts with suggestions from me. We paused from time to time to define words like “assimilated” and “fundamentalism,” and to further explain, for example, what it means to nationalize an entire industry, like Iran did with their oil industry. I was thankful that I had purchased a map of Iran for my bulletin board, so I could point and gesture, and also that a colleague of mine in the History department had given the whole Upper School faculty and student body a Powerpoint presentation on the current crisis and negotiations in Syria. We made connections together to the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait, and talked about how the geography of the region affects its politics, as well as our own dependence on oil.
Once we had read and discussed the introduction, the students opened accounts on the National Geographic website so they could access articles, photographs, and video about Iran, past and present. I had written close reading questions for each resource to make sure they were gleaning the most salient points. I also asked them to read this NYT article on the banning of social media in Iran, and then asked students to write about what their world would be like without social media. Finally, after they had reviewed these resources, I asked them to write a paragraph comparing the introduction to Persepolis to some of the facts and images they had learned in their background reading. I planned this lesson to run long enough that they would finish the work for homework, helping to prepare them for our next class when we will start the book and work on strategies for reading graphic novels.
I’ve been watching the national conversation about the Common Core standards pretty closely, even though I teach at an independent school that isn’t requiring us to align with them. I know there’s a lot of controversy about the delivery/enforcement of them, but I’ve found a lot of value in reading them and thinking about how they do or don’t overlap with my own curriculum. Teaching Persepolis is my first time teaching a nonfiction text with ninth graders, and being able to connect it to current events and tell my students, “Yes, this is a true story,” felt really good today.
- Gender Roles in Persepolis (kikiyork.wordpress.com)
- Chix List: Important Social, Political and Autobiographical Comic Makin’ Ladies (comix-chix.com)