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How to be a Woman in Tehran: Sample Lesson Plan

This lesson plan is based on Teaching Idea #1 for Habibe Jafarian’s personal essay “How to Be a Woman in Tehran.” (You can find the Teaching Ideas by clicking on the Learn toggle, and then navigating to the far-right tab next to the essay.)

A woman journalist in Iran, Jafarian writes about the many cultural and personal messages she receives about “how to be a woman,” and the conflicts between those messages and her individual aspirations. Her essay provides students with an excellent model of how to use dialogue and quotations to powerful effect in nonfiction writing.

  • Subjects: ELA, writing, Composition
  • Student levels: Grade 10 to college
  • Time required:  90 minutes to 2 hours
Standards Addressed
  • Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading: 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10
  • Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing: 1, 3, 4, 9
Student Objectives

Students will:

  • Closely read and analyze selected dialogue from the essay
  • Discuss the author’s use of dialogue to highlight gender expectations in Iran
  • Use dialogue in their own personal essays

Habibe Jafarian’s personal essay “How to be a Woman in Tehran,” available online. Students can access the essay either:

  • Online, in which case they can click on the Context tab for more information about the author and culture, OR
  • As a printout (via “print” option on the bottom right of screen)
Classroom Activities
    1. Share the essay’s title: “How to be a Woman in Tehran.” Explain that Tehran is a city in Iran and ask for students’ immediate responses to the title. “What questions or thoughts does this title bring up for you?”If students need additional prompts, you might ask a few provocative questions: What does the title suggest about being a woman in Tehran? Is there a definitive answer to the question of “how to be a woman”? Do some people think there is? How might it feel to be told “how to be a woman”?
    2. Have students read “How to be a Woman in Tehran.”As they read the essay, have students mark or note dialogue that stands out to them—
      because it’s surprising, makes an interesting point, resonates with their own experiences, or for a different reason. (Review the definition of “dialogue” if needed.)Some of the passages students might select include Jafarian’s conversations with the receptionist at the Topography Division, her father, or her boss. 
    3. Have students meet in small groups to read aloud the passages they marked or noted from the essay, and then discuss these questions: (a) What are people telling Jafarian to do or to be? (b) Based on these comments, what are some expectations for women in Iran? (c) What are the emotions Jafarian feels when she hears these messages? How can you tell?
    4. Have students present their responses to the rest of the class.
    5. As a whole group, discuss Jafarian’s use of dialogue. Ask students to consider: “What does dialogue add to a personal essay? Why use it?” Then, select a passage and work together to replace the dialogue with a mere summary of what happened.

For example, for the conversation with her boss, a summary to replace the dialogue might look something like:

Jafarian and her boss talk about a rumor at work. He suggests she stop trying to explain her side of it and tells her to take a week off.

  1. Ask students to read aloud and compare the two versions of the passage: Which is more interesting to read, and why? Which gives a better sense of what it’s like to “be a woman in Tehran”?
  2. Ask students to free-write about a conversation they recently had that stirred up strong emotions within them. This free-writing can then form the basis of an essay that includes dialogue.
Student Assessment and Reflection
  1. A personal essay that incorporates dialogue
  2. A reflection on how they chose which dialogue to use (which can lead to further lessons on selecting relevant and interesting dialogue)

The format of this lesson plan is based on that of the instructional plans posted on the NCTE website and the New York Common Core website Engage NY.