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In This Issue

Classroom Guide

For students: We hope this 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. Click here to see how this issue’s articles align with McRel curriculum standards.


Class Activities

This issue’s Classroom Guide focuses on two skills that may seem easy, but in the activities that follow, you will find ways to better understand what you read and what you see. If we think of them as Reading Strategies and Viewing Strategies, we are ready to approach them as skills that can be improved with practice.

Reading Strategies

Sometimes you will read something—a book or an article—and you’ll find it difficult. It may contain words you don’t know, or it may make an argument that you have trouble following. There are skills you can learn to help you with difficult reading. With this issue, you’ll learn some of those skills using the article “Mexico’s Colors of Three Cultures.”

  1. Getting the Big Picture
    When you sit down with a magazine article or a book, it helps to get a sense of what it’s about before you actually start reading it. Some people call this “pre-reading,” and it can help you better understand what you are about to read. Do the following pre-reading exercises with a partner. Make notes of what you find as you do each step.
    1. Start with the opening spread of “Mexico’s Colors of Three Cultures” on pages 34 and 35. Without reading, describe the picture. What kind of place do you think it shows? What makes you think so? How would you describe the floor, the walls and the doorways? What do you think the people are doing? Given what’s going on in the picture, what do you think the headline refers to? Based on both words and images, what do you think the article will be about? Remember that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Notice that now you have some expectations and some questions—and this is exactly what pre-reading is about, because now you’re likely to read more carefully, because you’ll want to see if your ideas were right.
    2. Now look at the other four spreads. Again, don’t read the article unless something leaps out at you and you want to read it. (No harm in that!) Rather, focus on the pictures and the captions: Which images do you find most interesting? Why? What do the captions tell you about them? Discuss the spreads with your partner. Pause after each spread and ask yourself what new information you’ve gained about the article. Does the new information change your expectations of what the article is about? Do you need to revise your prediction? What questions come up for you as you look at the pages of the article? Write them down, because when you read the article, you may find answers
    3. After you’ve completed these activities, make a final prediction about what you expect the article to be about. As you read, you’re going to check to see how accurate your prediction is, and you’ll revise it again as you learn more.
  2. The Beginning: Finding out what the article is about
    Here’s a hint that will help you over and over again, not just with this article: Magazine articles often begin with a brief interesting story. It’s called a “hook” because its job is to hook readers so that they’ll keep reading. Once you’re hooked, the writer connects the brief interesting story to the articles’ larger topic. You want to pay particular attention to the hook because that’s where you’re going to find out what the article is about.

    Now, read the first three paragraphs of “Mexico’s Colors of Three Cultures.” In those three paragraphs, you’ll find the article’s thesis—what the author is going to show you. Underline it. With your partner, compare it with your predictions about the article. Revise your predictions if necessary.
  3. Organizing Information
    Remember that everything in the article is there to support the thesis. Write the thesis down on a piece of paper and keep it with you as you read. If you read something and you’re not sure why it’s there, reread the thesis. Ask yourself how what you’ve read relates to it. That should help keep you on track.

    Notice as you read that the author of this article uses two kinds of evidence to make his points: words and architecture. He writes about them together, sometimes explaining word roots while he is describing architectural features. As a reader, you want to be sure that you see and understand both types of evidence. One way to do that is to make a graphic organizer to help you sort out the information, like the table on the next page.

    Make your own copy of the table, with blank rows that you can fill in. In the left-hand column, write the Spanish word and what it means in English. Alarife, for example, means “architect.” In the next column, write the Arabic root of the word and what it means. In this case it’s al-arif, which means “the one who knows.” The third column here will be blank because alarife does not have an Aztec root. The right-hand column will also be blank because the word alarife doesn’t describe an architectural feature.

    Notice that not every column is filled in. That’s fine. The goal is not to fill in all the boxes of the chart. The goal is to use the chart to help you clarify your understanding of the content of the article.
    What you’re doing as you make your chart is separating out different threads of content. One thread defines word roots to show how three cultures have blended, and the other thread describes architectural features that also show how three cultures have blended. Separating threads, you can see each one more clearly, and that helps you understand the article.

    Term in Spanish
    & (English)
    Arabic Root & (English) Aztec Root How architectural meaning derives from two or three cultures
    the one who knows
    aljibe (cistern)
    al-jubb (cistern) Atl manalli  
    alfarjes al-farsh (carpet)   Joined wooden ceiling, similar to those in Fez, Marrakesh and at Alhambra; found in various places in Mexico

    At the end, when you’ve read the whole article, talk with your partner about what you’ve read and the chart you’ve made. Together, write a one-paragraph summary of the article. The first sentence should be the article’s thesis—its main point. Then write three or so sentences that explain how the article supports the thesis. Finally, write a concluding sentence that pulls it all together.
  4. Reflecting on the Process
    Another way to improve your reading comprehension—and your learning in general—is to reflect on how you learn. Think about the steps you took to read and understand this article. Which ones helped you most? Which would you be likely to use again? What other strategies might you have used instead of the strategies presented here? Why would they have been helpful? Are there other things you can think of that would be helpful? Discuss these with your partner or as a whole class.

Viewing Strategies

Empty Quarter spreadNow that you’ve improved your reading skills, you can improve another set of skills. As with reading words, there are strategies you can use to improve your understanding of visual images.

For these activities, you’re going to focus on the photos in “Empty Quarter.” If you read the words on the first spread, you’ll see that you’ll be looking at photos of a desert. Put crudely, you could say that you’re going to be looking at a bunch of pictures of sand. That doesn’t sound all that interesting, does it? But you’re going to find that these photos are extremely beautiful. Keep in mind this question: How did this photographer make such beautiful images of something that doesn’t sound at first as though it would be beautiful?

Start with the image on the first spread. Photographs often make their first impact on a viewer emotionally. When you look at a photo, you probably feel something. Look at this photo. In a small group, answer the question: How does the photo make me feel? Don’t think too hard about it. Just say whatever comes to mind. Do you feel lonely? Tired? Thoughtful? Scared? Now think about why you feel that way. In other words, what is it about the photo that inspires those feelings? One way to get at that is to ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were in that place?” To answer that, think about your senses: What would you see? What would you smell? What would you feel? What would you taste? What would you hear?

Now let’s look at more specifics in the photo. Notice that the photo is split in thirds horizontally. Run your finger over the two “lines” that separate the photo into thirds. How does color help you distinguish between the three segments of the photo? Why do you think the photographer decided to include so much more sky than earth in the photo? He could have aimed his camera a little differently, and the horizon line could have been across the middle of the page. Or he could have chosen to put the horizon line close to the top of the page, with only a small amount of sky showing. What effect does this way of dividing the photo have on you as a viewer?

The “earth” part of the photo makes up two of the three parts of the photo. How does the photo convey a feeling of depth? You’re looking, after all, at a flat picture. But the photo represents a three-dimensional place. Run your finger over the parts of the photo that let you know that the desert in the image is three-dimensional.

Compare this image with the photo on the four-page gatefold. This photograph uses a different technique to convey depth. How much of the photo shows earth, and how much shows sky? How many “horizon” lines do you see? What does this photo tell you about the Empty Quarter that’s similar to what the first photo told you? What does it tell you that’s different?

Now, working with a small group, choose one of the other photos in “Empty Quarter.” Make sure that all the photos have been assigned to at least one group. Use the viewing skills you have used—plus any others you can think of—to help you understand your assigned photo. Present your photo and your group’s analysis to the class.

Finally, apply what you’ve learned about viewing to take your own pictures. Choose something to photograph that you don’t think is very interesting visually. You might choose to photograph your desk, for example, or a book, or a glove. (No pictures of cute dogs for this activity!) If you have a camera, take different pictures of the object. If you don’t have a camera, make a square or rectangular frame out of cardboard or construction paper, and hold it up as if you were taking a picture. (You’ll be surprised how well it works.) Try different types of pictures, like viewing the object head-on in one photo and from an angle in another. You could center the object in the photo, or you can try having it be lower or higher than center, or off to one side. You might even try making an abstract photo of the object, one in which the viewer can’t be sure what the object is. How will lighting affect your object? How could you change that? If you can, make a display of your photos—either on a poster or on a computer. Look at your peers’ photo spreads. Discuss what you like about them.

Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Eliot, Maine. 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.