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
A region is an area—a physical space—that is defined by one or more specific characteristics. A region defines a place based on something that the different parts in that area have in common. For example, the pampas region of Argentina is a fertile grassland that is the heart of Argentina’s agricultural economy. That means that, as a region, the pampas is defined in terms of climate and vegetation, as well as economic activity. Regions, then, are really ways of thinking about places.
“Doha’s Grand Games” focuses on one large region, and on the smaller regions within it. “Tied With Tradition” and “Saudi Folk Music: Alive and Well” describe regions, too. What characteristic or characteristics define the regions each article is based on? Jot down a few ideas after you’ve read the articles. Then move on to the activities that will help you think more about regions.
What kinds of regions exist?
There are a lot of ways you can define a region. Some regions are based on physical characteristics such as climate. A desert can be a region, as can a rainforest. But regions can also be based on lots of other characteristics. As a class, brainstorm a list of regions and how they are defined. Start with the region where you live—you probably live in more than one. Then think about other regions, such as the Middle East or Western Europe. Think of kinds of regions—those defined by climate, language, economic activities and so on. How long can you make your list?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- A region can be defined by human activity. The north-central part of the United States was home to large-scale industrial production until about 50 years ago. Many people now call it the Rust Belt. Why? So much industry has left the region that the metal of heavy industry has—figuratively—rusted away.
- A region can be defined by population density. If you look at a population map of Europe, you will see that Western Europe is more densely populated than Eastern Europe.
- A region can be defined by history. Several countries in Eastern Europe used to be part of the Soviet Union, but are now independent, and they have characteristics in common that result from that part of their past. In fact, their lower population density may be one result of that past. Now, Eastern and Western Europe have more in common—so for some purposes they would be considered one region, not two.
- A region can be defined by cultural factors like language or religion. In most parts of Central and South America, for example, people speak Spanish. But Brazilians speak Portuguese— so in that way, Brazil is a distinct region of South America.
You get the idea. Write the regions on chart paper as people think of them. When you’ve got a good list, look for patterns. What specific regions have you identified? What kinds of regions are they? Are they defined by climate? By language? By economic activity? Into which category does each specific region fit?
“Saudi Folk Music: Alive and Well” defines regions in Saudi Arabia according to their traditional music. Writer Kay Hardy Campbell explains how traditional music took shape in specific regions based on the location, climate and human activities in those areas.
After you have read the article once, go through it and highlight the parts that mention specific regions in Saudi Arabia and the music that exists in those regions. Campbell sees connections between the music and physical locations; between the music and the climate; and between the music and the economic activities. Identify each kind of connection in the parts of the article you have highlighted.
How can maps help you see and understand regions?
A map is a visual representation of a part of the Earth. A map can help you see regions. Work with a group on this activity, using the map of Saudi Arabia on page 5. (A more detailed map from a reference book or on-line source may be useful as well.) Mark on your map the regions Campbell identifies. What does the map show you? For example, how has the music in Yanbu‘ been shaped by the town’s location on the western seacoast? Use different colors to identify the different regions. Discuss: What did the map help you see or understand that you didn’t see or understand as clearly from reading the article?
How do regions change when human activities change?
People define regions, and so regions change over time as human activities and other factors change. For example, during the 1930’s, the central part of the United States suffered a major drought. Coming on the heels of decades of bad farming techniques, the drought made the area so dry that the soil itself blew away. People called the region the Dust Bowl. By the late 1930’s, the drought had ended, and farming practices have since changed. You can still look at a historic map and see where the Dust Bowl was, but the Dust Bowl doesn’t exist as a region in 2007. “Saudi Folk Music” describes changes that are taking place in Saudi Arabia. Some of them have to do with the kinds of work people do. Others have to do with communication technologies, such as cell phones and radios. First, identify the changes the article mentions. How have those changes affected traditional music? Look at your map again. Do you think the regions will still exist in 10 years? Why or why not? What does Campbell think?
Theme: Descriptive Writing
No doubt you’ve done a lot of assignments over the years that are something like, “Describe a place you like to go,” or “Describe what you see in the picture.” The idea of those assignments is to get you to use words to convey something that you see. The following activities ask you to think about what words you use to describe something you see—or something you hear. What techniques work for conveying to a reader something that you’ve seen or heard that the reader may not have?
How do writers describe something they’ve seen?
Start by describing something you see. Work with a partner on this. Describe to your partner what the sky looks like today. You might say, “It’s blue,” or “It’s blue with some clouds.” Those are adequate descriptions, but they don’t do a lot for a reader. What kind of blue is the sky today? Is it pale blue, maybe like a robin’s egg? Or is it evening, when the sky is more like the color that the crayon box calls “midnight blue”? And are the clouds white and puffy like cotton balls, or streaky, like spilled paint? Or are they dark gray, as if a storm is approaching? With these questions in mind, describe the sky again. Have your partner write down the words and phrases you use.
Look at the words and phrases. What do you notice? Probably you’ve used similies. That is, you’ve probably used the word “like” a lot. “The sky is blue like a robin’s egg.” “The clouds are white like cotton balls.” What you’ve done is describe the sky by comparing what you see to something your partner has probably seen. If you were writing, you’d have compared something you saw to something your reader had probably seen, to help the reader see, in his or her mind’s eye, what you saw.
Writers use that trick all the time. In “Tied With Tradition,” writer Lucien de Guise has the difficult task of describing colors and color patterns on fabric. Read the article and, as you do, underline or highlight the places where he describes something visual. Discuss with your partner how he helps you see something you were not present to see.
Try it yourself. Choose one of the ikats that appears in “Tied With Tradition.” Write a description of it. See how much detail you can describe. You will want to find ways to describe the colors. For that part, use the skills you have learned describing the sky. You will also want to describe patterns. Is there a vertical or horizontal pattern you can see? Is there a central part and other parts that radiate out from it? Do the shapes remind you of something? If so, you could use those shapes as part of your description. You could even stretch a bit, and write about how seeing the pattern makes you feel. For example, does the pattern make you feel peaceful, the way you might feel standing by a lake? Does it excite you, the way you might feel before a big storm?
How do writers describe something they’ve heard?
How can you describe something you’ve heard? That’s a challenge when you’re writing about music, as Kay Hardy Campbell has done in “Saudi Folk Music.” Highlight all the places in the article that describe music. For example, on page 4, Muhammad al-Maiman says, “The drums sound like thunder.” What other similies appear in the article to describe music?
How else is the music described in the article? What musical terms does Campbell use? How much do those terms help you understand the music she is writing about? Can you hear it in your head? Go to the Saudi Aramco World Web site (www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200702/) and listen to one or more of the traditional Saudi songs there. Does it sound the way you had imagined? Look back at how Campbell described the music. Which descriptions did you find to be particularly helpful? Write your own descriptions for elements of the music. Do you think they would help a reader imagine how the music sounds?
Now try describing music that’s more familiar to you. Pick a favorite song. Listen to it, over and over if you have to. What is the rhythm like? What instruments can you hear? How do they sound? What similies can you use to help a reader “hear” the music you’re hearing? What other songs can you compare your song to? What musical terms might help your reader?
Write a description of the music you’ve been listening to. One paragraph is enough, but feel free to write more if you want to. Trade paragraphs with your partner, or read your paragraphs to each other. Do you “hear” the music your partner has described? If so, tell your partner what parts of the description worked well. (And think about how you can use those techniques to better describe your song.) If not, tell your partner which parts of the description don’t work as well. Ask questions that will help your partner describe the music better. You might say, for example, “Does the guitar sound more like in a folk song, or is it electric?” or “What sounds mark the rhythm? Are they like bells? Or like booms? Or like when you tap your fingers on the table?”
Take your partner’s advice and your observations of what has worked well, and rewrite your description. Read it again to your partner. Has it improved?
||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.