Daily Life in the Middle East

National Geographic Xpeditions Lesson

Overview:   This lesson will ask students to focus on the people of Iraq.  They will think critically about what the media delivers, why it focuses so heavily on war coverage, and how this may contribute to skewed views of Iraq and its people.  Students will explore Iraq’s rich cultural history and read online articles or print publications about daily life in Iraq.  Finally, in small groups, they will study further one aspect of daily life in Iraq (or another country in the Middle East) and create presentations for the rest of the class.

Connections to the Curriculum:  Geography, English, Journalism

Connections to the National Geography Standards:

Standard 1 – “How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective”

Standard 3 – “How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface”

Standard 4 – “The physical and human characteristics of places”

Standard 10 – “The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth’s cultural mosaics”

Time:  Two to three hours

Materials Required:

  • Computer with Internet access
  • Blank outline maps of the Middle East region – one for each student
  • Writing materials
  • Materials for presentations: paper, pens/markers, projectors, audio and/or video equipment, etc.

Objectives:  Students will:

  • explore maps of the Middle East region;
  • think about their perceptions of the Middle East and investigate whether their perceptions are accurate;
  • read a series of articles and websites about daily life in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East;
  • investigate the differences between the way the Middle East is covered in its native press and Western press;
  • fill in blank outline maps of the Middle East region to show their knowledge of the area; and
  • research in detail one aspect of daily life in Iraq (or another country in the Middle East region) and present information to the class.

Geographic Skills:

Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

Suggested Procedure

Opening:  Ask students what first comes to mind when they think of the Middle East region.  Are there specific countries that they know more about than others?  Write their responses on the board or on a large sheet of paper.  Where do they think these ideas came from?  Have they traveled to the Middle East?  Do they know anyone from there?

Development:  As an introduction to the region, ask students to form small groups and look at the maps on National Geographic’s Hot Spot: Iraq website (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/iraq/) .  Ask them to read the text accompanying the maps and take notes about whether the information in the text supports their original thoughts (or those of the class) about the Middle East region in general and about specific countries.  Ask them to write down anything they learned from the maps that surprised them.

Ask students to read the following series of articles by BBC journalist Kim Ghattas, documenting daily life in Iraq:

            Business as Usual in Iraq (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1945768.stm)
Iraq’s Middle Class Wiped Out (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1949205.stm)
Iraqis Seek Refuge in Religion (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1950517.stm)
Baghdad’s “Flourishing” Art Scene (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1957596.stm)
Surfing the Net in Iraq (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1959481.stm)
Iraqi Refugees Hope for US Strike (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1951039.stm)

Ask students to use what they have learned from these articles to consider what they would like to know more about.  The following sites provide a starting point for more information about daily life in Iraq and the Middle East:

            Washington Post: The Faces of Iraq
BBC: Iraq in Pictures
Frontline: Iraq – Truth and Lies in Baghdad
Washington Post: Iraq Eyewitness (photo galleries)

You may also wish to bring in newspapers and/or news magazines (or ask students to bring them in) and ask students to look for further coverage of Iraq and the Middle East on television and on the Internet.  If possible, bring in press from around the world.  What is most of the coverage about?  Can students find information about daily life in Iraq?  Are there any human interest stories that are not about war or conflict?  Compare American and European press coverage with coverage from the Arab world.

How do students think Western coverage influences the way Iraq and the Middle East are viewed by the world?

Closing:  Discuss as a class what students felt were the most surprising things they learned about the Middle East region, and about Iraq in particular.  What would they like to know more about?

Suggested Student Assessment:  Give each student a blank outline map of the Middle East and ask them to fill in the names of countries, capital (and other large) cities, bodies of water, and other important geographic features.

Ask students to form small groups and have each group choose one aspect about daily life in Iraq or the Middle East (for example, religion, education, sports, or the arts).  Ask the groups to find out more about their subject using online sources (starting with the ones previously mentioned) or books and magazines.

Have each group put together a brief presentation for the rest of the class about their topic.  Tell them to be creative; their presentation could be a simple talk but it could also include something creative such as a photo essay or other multimedia element.

Extending the Lesson:  Ask students to compare two countries in the Middle East based on one aspect of daily life.  What are the similarities and differences?  Why do students think the differences exist?

Related Links:

BBC: Iraq in Pictures (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/02/inside_iraq/html/img1.stm)
Frontline: Iraq – Truth and Lies in Baghdad (http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/iraq/index.html)
National Geographic: Hot Spot Iraq (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/iraq/)