For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.
— THE EDITORS
Analyzing Visual Images
In the last Classroom Guide, you analyzed photographs of people. This month you’ll have a chance to look in depth at a photo of one person: Naguib Mahfouz. If you looked at the close-up photograph of him, even if you knew nothing about him, you would know that Mahfouz was a fascinating man. How? Let’s take a look.
What features do you see in Mahfouz’s face that suggest he was old when the photo was taken? List them. The photo actually emphasizes Mahfouz’s advanced age. How? Given that so many people find youth more attractive than age, why do you suppose this photo emphasizes old age, rather than trying to conceal it?
Now think about how physical features can serve as symbols that might suggest character features. For example, what physical features do you see in the photo that suggest that Mahfouz was a man with wisdom? Discuss why you associate those features with wisdom. What else does the photo tell you about who Mahfouz was as a person? What words come to your mind? Explain what parts of the photo “say” these things.
Then, choose one of the photos that accompanies “Birmingham 9 to 5.” Compare it to the photo of Mahfouz. How are the photos similar? How do they differ? What accounts for the differences? Why do you think the photographers approached their subjects in the different ways that they did?
Different species survive in environments that meet their needs. Think about plants, for example. A plant that needs a lot of shade isn’t likely to survive in the desert, where there’s a lot of sunshine. And a cactus, which needs very little water, probably won’t thrive in a rainforest.
Except sometimes species develop abilities to survive in places you wouldn’t expect. Charles Darwin—the scientist who wrote about evolution—wrote that species survive when they are able to adapt to their environments. In this issue of Saudi Aramco World, you will have a chance to read about a particular type of flower, the orchid, that has adapted to the climate of the Arabian Peninsula. You’ll also read about how people adapt to new environments. By doing so, you can think about adaptation as a means not just of physical survival, but also of social survival.
How do species adapt to different climates? How have orchids adapted to the climate of the Arabian Peninsula?
How do you adapt to changes in your environment? If it’s cold, you put on a coat. If it’s raining, you carry an umbrella. But adaptation in the evolutionary sense is more complicated.
Take, for example, an orchid on the Arabian Peninsula. It’s not true that an orchid plant grows and, noticing that there isn’t much water, develops thick leaves to help it hold moisture. According to Darwin, it happens more like this: Orchids crop up in many places, and many die because they can’t survive on the small amount of water in the harsh climate. But among the orchids, there are small, random variations. Some of the orchids, by chance, have thick leaves, and those individuals survive because they can retain moisture. When they reproduce, the resulting generations of orchids have thicker leaves, and those with the thickest ones survive best, and so on. That’s what writer Eric Hansen means when he says orchids have adapted to the Arabian Peninsula.
Now read “Orchid Arabia.” Highlight the places in the article where Hansen addresses adaptation. How does the concept of adaptation relate to the story he is telling about his own search for orchids?
Do some research to find other examples of adaptation. Working with a partner, choose a type of plant or animal—say desert plants or dogs—to research. Find out about how your plant or animal has adapted to different environments. Put your findings on a poster, and present the poster to the class. Based on people’s research, what generalizations can you make about adaptation?
What kinds of adaptations do people make to different environments?
Adaptation is sometimes necessary for physical survival, as in the case of orchids. But adaptation happens in less dire situations, too. In many cases, human adaptation involves social and emotional well-being. Immigrants, for example, adapt to new homelands, and members of religious, ethnic and other minorities adapt to life in places where people meet them with varying degrees of acceptance. How do you adapt? Here’s an example. Maybe you like to sleep until 10, but your school day starts at 8. You have to adapt your sleep schedule to accommodate the demands of your environment. You have to go to bed earlier than you’d like so that you can get up in time in the morning. What other adaptations do you make? (If you have ever moved to a new home, you might want to think especially about that experience.) Choose one or two adaptations you have made, and write a journal entry. Then, read “Birmingham 9 to 5,” which profiles members of the Muslim community in Birmingham, Alabama. Divide the class into pairs. Assign each pair one of the people profiled. What adaptations has your assigned person made? List as many as you can. Then, assume you are going visit the person and interview them again, just as Ann Walton Sieber did—except your topic will be adaptation. Based on what you read in the interview, can you imagine other adaptations? Remember:
- There are lots of different kinds of adaptations. For example, Rola Pacha has adapted to small-town life, although she comes from a big city. Maher Qashou’s family has adapted to his working long hours. Immigrants have adapted to different customs and language.
- Birmingham’s non-Muslims have also made adaptations to accommodate their Muslim neighbors and co-workers.
Share your observations with the class. Discuss how the adaptations people make are similar to and different from the adaptations plants and animals make.
Theme: Biographies and Autobiographies
People are endlessly interesting. Think about how many stories are about people, and how many different ways they are told. In these activities, you will have the chance to explore different parts of your own life and the lives of your classmates.
How can people help each other tell their stories?
In “Birmingham 9 to 5,” 17 people tell about themselves. You can assume that they didn’t just sit down with journalist Ann Walton Sieber and talk about their work lives in a way that Sieber could publish. No doubt she asked them questions on specific topics to get them going. Divide the class into pairs. Interview your partner, using these questions, which are adapted from the article. Of course, you can ask other questions that occur to you, but start with these.
- Where are you from? What do you like and/or dislike about where you live?
- What five words would you use to describe yourself? Examples: competitive, outgoing, optimistic.
- What groups are you part of? What do those groups do? Why do you like (or not like) being part of them? What do you value about them?
- What are your dreams for the future? If you could do anything you want, what would it be? Why would you do it?
- What events—in your family, town, school, among friends—have had the biggest effects on you?
- What assumptions do people make about you that are incorrect? How do you deal with their misunderstanding you?
Tape-record your interviews, because you’re not going to write the biography of the person you interviewed. You’re going to use the tape yourself, to write your own biography, an “autobiography.”
How can you tell your own story?
Listen to the recording of yourself being interviewed. (Try not to get distracted by how funny your voice sounds!) Choose one topic to focus on. For example, the people in “Birmingham 9 to 5” were all asked to speak about their work lives. Some also addressed their experiences as Muslims, while others talked about their families or their dreams. Think about what part of your life you want to write about. What is it about yourself that you want to tell others? Once you’ve decided, write it, using the profiles in “Birmingham 9 to 5” as models, keeping to the same range of length, about 300 to 700 words.
When you’ve written your account, give it to your partner. Read each other’s stories. Now, it’s your job to write an introduction to your partner’s story, again following the model in “Birmingham 9 to 5.” Keep your introduction to one paragraph. In it, introduce your partner just as Sieber introduces her interview subjects. Give whatever background information a reader would need to get a good sense of the person. When you’ve written the introduction, share it with your partner. Make any corrections he or she thinks are necessary.
Then, because it’s hard to know what other people are going to find interesting and easy to understand, edit your partner’s biography. Read it over again and ask him or her questions about parts that aren’t clear, or don’t seem to make sense to you, until the two of you have agreed on wording that works well for both of you.
Now there’s one final element to your biographies: photographs. Each photo in “Birmingham 9 to 5” reveals something about the person being profiled and his or her work environment. Either find a photo of you that relates to what you’ve written about yourself, or have your partner take one. Then lay out your biography—the introduction, your first-person account, and your photo—in a layout program like Pagemaker. Put together a class collection, similar to the collection of biographical sketches in “Birmingham 9 to 5.” If you can’t lay out your stories digitally, do them on paper.
How do people sum up their own lives?
Two articles this month are examples of how people presented themselves late in their lives. The author Naguib Mahfouz did so in a speech he wrote when he was 77 years old. Alexander the Great did so by creating an image of himself not long before he died.
Read “In Memoriam: Naguib Mahfouz” and “Ptolemy’s Alexandrian Postscript.” Both men understood their lives in the largest possible contexts. Mahfouz described himself as “the son of two civilizations,” and a citizen of the Third World. Alexander presented himself with icons that connected him both with his greatest accomplishment and with the gods.
Look back at your autobiographical piece. Although you’re still young, think about the larger context of your story about yourself. What might it be? Are you, like Mahfouz, a child of two civilizations? Are you, like Alexander, particularly proud of some accomplishment or character trait? Write a private journal entry about your larger context. Or, if you prefer, make a visual image, like Alexander did, that puts you in that larger context.
||Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.