en zh es ja ko pt

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.


Jump to McRel Standards

Class Activities

This edition of the Classroom Guide is organized around two themes. The first, Festivals, has students exploring two festivals that are topics of articles in this issue
of Saudi Aramco World: The Cous Cous Fest in Sicily and the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. The second theme, Cultural Diffusion, looks at how elements of culture spread from one place to another, moving from the concrete (objects) to the abstract (ideas). Finally, the Visual Analysis has students consider a photographer’s intention and the meaning behind some everyday activities.

Theme: Festivals

Festivals come in all shapes and sizes. There are once-in-an-era festivals like Woodstock and recurring festivals like New Year’s Eve. There are festivals targeted to a specific audience, like “The Night of 100 Elvises,” and there are festivals that draw global participation and worldwide audiences, like the Olympics. In this section of the Classroom Guide, you will focus on two festivals highlighted in this issue of Saudi Aramco World, and you’ll use them as a springboard to think more broadly about festivals.

What is the definition of festival?

The first step in exploration of any idea is to understand the word. What exactly is a festival? Look for definitions. Write down the definitions you think are most useful, and use them to come up with your own composite definition. Then read “Couscous Crossroads,” “Kentucky’s Horse Olympics” and “Riding Higher.” Working with a partner, apply your definition of festival to the events described in the articles. In what ways are they festivals? With your partner, complete these two writing prompts:

  1. What makes the Cous Cous Fest a festival is…
  2. What makes the World Equestrian Games a festival is…

Share your completed sentences with other pairs of students to see if you have similar or different understandings.

Now pull back the lens and think about festivals more generally. As a class, brainstorm as many different festivals as you can. Have your teacher write them on the board. What patterns do you see on your list? For example, does the list include religious festivals? Patriotic festivals? Life-event festivals? Competitions? What other kinds of festivals are on your list? Create a chart that organizes the festivals into categories. Put the Cous Cous Fest and the World Equestrian Games in the category where they belong.

What makes a festival’s location significant?

Geographers are very interested in location, which they define as the point or position in space where something is found. People often go to a great deal of trouble to choose locations for festivals. Think about your own experience and the experiences of people you know. Do you celebrate specific holidays in specific places? Why those places rather than any others? Think about family events, such as weddings. Have weddings in your family happened in places that hold special meaning for your family? Think about festivals in your community or region. Why are they held where they are? For example, a seaside town might have a Chowder Festival to recognize and celebrate the importance of fishing and seafood to residents and to the local economy.

Look at the two festivals in Saudi Aramco World. Why is the Cous Cous Fest held in San Vito lo Capo in Sicily? To answer the question, you need to look both at a map and at history. First, find Sicily on a map, such as the one on page 8 in the print edition. What do you notice about its location relative to other places? Why has that location been significant throughout Sicily’s history? How does that significance relate to the Cous Cous Fest being held there? Now think about the World Equestrian Games: Why were they held in Kentucky? (You can find the answer in the story.) What is significant about that location? Why do you think some festivals move to different locations each time they are held, while others remain in the same place? How do changing or constant locations fit in with the significance of the festivals?

Look again at your class list of festivals. Choose one that you find most interesting. Find out where it is located and why it is located there. You may need to do some research to find out. Start a log to record information about your chosen festival because you will be coming back to it.

What do people do at festivals?

By definition, festivals are special. There are lots of things that make them that way. Go back to your class’s list of festivals. Which of the festivals include special clothes? What are they, and why do people wear them? Are there special activities that people participate in—such as the opening ceremonies at the Olympics? Do some of the festivals include special music? If so, what kind, and why? When you look at your list, what else do you see that makes the festivals special? Focus on your chosen festival. Make some notes in your log about what people do there and any other objects or activities that make it special.

What makes festivals significant? What do they symbolize?

Now that you’ve seen what makes festivals special, ask some deeper questions: What meanings are attached to festivals? What makes them significant? Go back and reread the articles about the Cous Cous Fest and the World Equestrian Games. They both talk about a larger meaning attached to the events. What do they say about what the events symbolize? (When you think about the Games, don’t forget to include the specific events described in “Riding Higher.”) What about your chosen festival? Add to your log some thoughts and information about the bigger significance of your festival. Make a poster about your festival to show others what you have learned about it. Display the posters.

Theme: Cultural Diffusion

Culture refers to values, beliefs, traditions and behaviors that a group of people share. Everyone is part of a culture, and as different people interact, their cultures mingle and spread from one place to another. Often commerce is at the root of the spread of cultures. People come into contact with each other because they are buying, selling or trading goods. In the process of meeting to carry out their business, they also share some of their values, beliefs and behaviors. That’s one way religions have spread. It’s also how foods from one place end up being eaten (and then, perhaps later, produced) by people in another place, and how words from one language get adopted by another language. Several articles in this issue of Saudi Aramco World provide examples of cultures spreading. The activities in this theme will give you a chance to explore the movement of objects, language and ideas.

What important objects do people share? How does that sharing contribute to the diffusion of cultures?

Read “Hafiz’s Gift.” To be sure you’ve gotten the main point, summarize the story with a partner. What’s being passed from one person to another in this story is horses. Given the definition of culture above, how were horses, in the early 1900’s, part of Arab culture? In other words, what did horses mean to the people Homer Davenport met on his travels—some who gave him horses, others who sold them? When Davenport brought the horses to the United States, how did they affect American culture? (Hint: “Kentucky’s Horse Olympics” can give you some ideas.)

Other elements of culture spread from one place to another. “Couscous Crossroads” describes Sicily as a “conduit through which cultural, artistic and culinary influences flowed to the rest of Europe.” Put that phrase into your own words. What is an example of a city today that is a “cultural conduit”? Go through “Couscous Crossroads” and circle or highlight the different elements of Arab and African cultures that arrived in Sicily. Mark on a map how they spread beyond Sicily.

Finally, read “Pioneer Physicians.” The article says that, as the religion of Islam spread, elements of culture spread with it. As you did with “Couscous Crossroads,” circle or highlight the elements of culture that “Pioneer Physicians” describes spreading with Islam. Chart them on a map. According to the definition of culture that you’ve been using, how is medicine an element of culture?

Sometimes something about a culture makes it easier for new ideas to take root than it might otherwise be. That was the case with Islam and Galen’s theories. Find the part of “Pioneer Physicians” that explains what made Islamic culture so receptive to the theory of the four humors, while at the same time, Christian culture was less receptive. Then revisit “Couscous Crossroads.” What made it easy for Sicilians to adopt the foods they did? What would have made it more difficult? As a class, discuss cultural diffusion today. Use these questions as a guide: How does the Internet facilitate cultural diffusion? What aspects of your daily life come from other cultures? Hint: think about foods, words, fashions, music. How did you become familiar with them? Look again at the festival you studied. How does it help spread elements of one culture to another culture? Have volunteers share their examples.

Visual Analysis

Above Iraq“Above Iraq” is a collection of photographs accompanied by two pieces of writing: photographer Jamal Penjweny’s explanation of what inspired his photographs and an interview with him. Read both. Then look at Penjweny’s photos. Think about the whole collection. How do the photos make you feel? Why? When you look at them, do you think Penjweny achieved the goal he set for himself? Why or why not? Then think about the photos separately. Tell a partner which is your favorite. Then explain as carefully as you can why you like it so much. For example: Is it the silliest? Is it the most visually pleasing? Is it the position of the person or people? Which photo do you find most surprising? What makes it so surprising?

Think about one activity that you especially like doing, similar to the way that Jamal Penjweny liked jumping when he was a child. Maybe it’s riding a bicycle, or cuddling a dog, or riding the waves. What is it about that activity that you like so much? Does it have a deeper meaning to you, the way that jumping, for Penjweny, has come to represent dignity for Iraqis? Make a photo essay of your own, modeled on Penjweny’s. Take pictures of different people engaged in the activity that you’ve chosen. (It will be easiest if you use people whom you know already.) Present your photos—either printed or as a computer slideshow.


JA10 Standards Alignment
McRel Standards


Couscous Crossroads

World History

Standard 13.Understands the causes and consequences of the development of Islamic civilization between the 7th and 10th centuries

Standard 19.Understands the maturation of an interregional system of communication, trade, and cultural exchange during a period of Chinese economic power and Islamic expansion


Standard 9.Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface

Standard 10.Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

Standard 11.Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface

Standard 17.Understands how geography is used to interpret the past

Haffez’s Gift

World History

Standard 37.Understand major global trends from 1750 to 1914


Standard 4.Understands the physical and human characteristics of place

Standard 10.Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

Kentucky’s Horse Olympics/Riding Higher


Standard 10.Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

Pioneer Physicians


Standard 13.Understands the scientific enterprise


Standard 10.Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

World History

Standard 13.Understands the causes and consequences of the development of Islamic civilization between the 7th and 10th centuries

Standard 19.Understands the maturation of an interregional system of communication, trade, and cultural exchange during a period of Chinese economic power and Islamic expansion

Above Iraq


Standard 10.Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics


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.