Afghanistan Women Writers Project: Researching Stories (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT determine main idea by reading Afghan women's writers' memoirs online.

Big Idea

Afghan women tell their stories in a powerful online collaborative,; our students respond with focused empathy and insight!


Toward an Active and Empathetic Stance.  This unit is the third installment in a unit on The Kite Runner and informational texts.  More than that, this final unit seeks to ask students what they will do with what they have learned.  By creating a poster/glogster and by writing a letter, the summative projects of this unit guide students to take a step forward in grappling with the legacy of the events that we have studied in Afghanistan.  The reason is simple, my students will be voting Americans in a few years, some may even serve in the military, and everyone is responsible to the veterans who return from Afghanistan.  This unit will nudge them (and me!) toward a thoughtful, compassionate, and more active response than is typically required by a unit of literary reading.  But that's what makes this study of Afghanistan so important: the material, the people, the events, and the insights ALL combine to make it matter. 

Introduction-- History and Mission of AWWP

10 minutes

Hook and Roll.  Normally, a lesson hook for my classes focuses on the visual, and I will have the title image for this lesson projected for the students while I read to them the message from the AWWP website.  I am doing this because I think it is compelling and because it so powerfully sets up the ideas of author's purpose (RI.9-10.6) as a democratic ideal, as a fundamental human right, as a way to honor women who have suffered and died in Afghanistan.  And since this unit focuses on fostering and active and empathetic stance toward the war and its victims, the AWWP is a great place to start because it gives voice to the silent. 

Storytelling on Day 1.  Jim Knight, in his book High-Impact Instruction, points out that storytelling can be a powerful instructional mode.  Typically, I use personal stories of my own experience to draw students into a given topic or controversy.  Here, I will attempt to evoke a storytelling posture and mode by reciting (or even reading) the story of the Afghan Women's Writer's Project.  I will be looking very intently in my students' eyes to make sure that I am connecting with them in the way of a story, that they are hanging on the details.  I will endeavor to use variety in vocal pitch, volume, and pacing to draw out the pathos of this story, as it will fuel their engagement in the readings that will follow.  I am very excited to present them with something that they can tangibly do to address the suffering under aggression in Afghanistan these past 35+ years.  At the end of the unit, students will have the chance to write a glogster/poster and a letter to one aspect of the legacy of the conflicts in Afghanistan, and I am sure that some will choose to support the AWWP! 

What follows is an excerpt from the AWWP website

History + Mission

Dear Visitor,

Thanks for coming by the AWWP site. Your involvement in this project—by reading the work of these Afghan women and offering comments of support—is crucial. This project began as a kitchen table idea, but has grown to include passionate and committed and talented people from across the U.S. and abroad, and that collaboration has made AWWP far richer than it would ever have been otherwise.

AWWP is dedicated to Zarmeena, a mother of seven who was executed by the Taliban in the Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium on November 16, 1999, for allegedly killing her husband. A videotape of the execution was smuggled out by RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) and ran on the AP wire, where I happened to see it. Watching the videotape of taliban-execute-zarmeena-in-kabul-in-1999 was beyond disturbing. Without knowing any particulars, I wondered if in fact her act hadn’t been criminal, but instead had been one of enormous courage. I was determined to find out about her so that I could in some personal way honor her memory.

But few details were available, and this brought home to me that not only were women hidden beneath burqas, but their stories were silenced. After many years as a journalist, I had come to believe that telling our own stories is as important to a certain kind of survival as food and shelter. In response, I began to learn what I could about Afghanistan, reading books and articles, attending lectures. Through this process, I became further convinced that the voices of women were primarily available only through the media or their men; we heard little from them directly.

This interest led to my first visit to Afghanistan in 2004. I visited women in prison in Kabul and Kandahar, interviewed child brides, did shiatsu on women in Wardak, spoke to the matriarch of a family of opium growers outside Kandahar. The mood among women at that time was hopeful. When I returned at the end of 2008, though, I found the mood much more somber; the Taliban, never fully banished, was regaining strength, and women were concerned. This led to the founding of the project in May 2009.

Our mission is to support the voices of women with the belief that to tell one’s story is a human right. Though it sounds simple, I cannot say how important I think this is in a country where women have been told their stories do not matter, and urged to be silent, and warned against honesty.

But why should we care about an essay by a woman from Kandahar, or a poem by a woman from Logar? Because in telling their own stories, we’ve seen these women gather strength, courage, and self-confidence. They become empowered to make change within their homes, their communities, and eventually their country. They also gain computer literacy and skills of language and critical thinking, which increases their job-related skills. A number have used as part of their job or school applications work written for AWWP, shepherded through by our award-winning mentors and editors, and put up on a site updated constantly by our volunteer webmaster. They have become lawyers, journalists, parliament members.

Additionally, the voices of women tend to be moderating influences, and this makes it more important than ever that they become part of the national dialogue and eventually perhaps part of a movement that will speak out on issues important to women, issues of job and educational equality, healthcare, and more.

Thanks for the time you spend on this site, and for your support of these sisters of ours half a world away. I finish with the words of one of our writers, Roya, and with all my thanks.

Warmly, Masha Hamilton

I took my pen to write and at first I was afraid: what to write? about what? But this was a project to write about everything, and I took the pen; I didn’t write from outside of my heart, I began to write about whatever was in my heart… The writing project gave me a voice, the project gave me courage to appear as a woman, to tell about my life, to share my pains and experiences. I wonder how big the change in my destiny is because of your work and this project. Who would trust an online class, a writing project, to change a destiny and a faith? AWWP gave me the power to feel I am not only a woman; it gave me a title, an Afghan woman “writer.” … I took the pen and I wrote and everything changed. I learned if I stand, everyone will stand, other women in my country will stand. —Roya


Quick Search on Website -- Teen Voices

10 minutes

Pre-Reading by Glossing the Website:  In this section, I am looking for students to get the basic gist of the concerns, voices, interests, and plights of the teens that might relate to them in age, if not experience.  This section of the lesson is meant to be a basic introduction for my students to the types of authorial purposes that might exist, and this will provide some leverage for them as they read longer excerpts that I have printed and that they will analyze; too, the students will be conducting legacy-research in the coming lessons (RI.9-10.7) that will integrate several sources as they investigate an important issue of their choosing.

AWWP Teens

Short Reading: I will give students 10 minutes to read (RI.9-10.2) one of the following links that are taken directly from the AWWP website: 

Stories and Essays




Follow-up/I will ask.  After 10 minutes to read these excerpts, I will ask the students to consider the following questions:

- What seem to be the concerns of your teen writer?

- How have the events that we have been studying affected her?

- What call to action or other purpose do you think the writer has?

- What would you want people to know about your writer?  (This will lay the seed for our future glogster/poster project, a final unit assessment.)

- What would you say back to the writer if you could?  (This will lay the seed for our future letter writing project, a final unit assessment.)


Follow-up Discusion

10 minutes

Discussion Towards Activism.  We will talk through the students' initial impressions, I will seek to elicit evidence (SL.9-10.1) as well as a thoughtful response to the topic (SL.9-10.4).   I will also be pressing the students to give an accurate summary of the texts (RI.9-10.2).  

In a way, this lesson introduces students to the beginning of the end of their three-unit-long study of the topic.  It's been a fantastic journey, but they need to switch modes from being receptive to the events in the novel and other non-fiction sources to now responding with a more activist stance: how do they want others to see the topics that they will research this week and next?  What will they attempt to communicate about all of this?  

This is a two-day lesson, and the students are to finish up their reading of The Kite Runner (if not already done).  No additional homework.