Strength, Courage, Perseverance, and Grit. These are just a few traits that describe the women that blazed a tremendous trail through history. Women’s History Month is in March, and it is a time to honor females from past and present who have made an iconic impact.
For a couple of weeks, our blog will highlight specific women, books, and activities you can utilize in your classroom to honor these wondrous women. We will start with Malala Yousafzai.
Malala Yousafzai is a young woman I heard about in the news. However, I never delved into her life until I saw her autobiography on my school’s curriculum list. I Am Malala, Yousafzai’s autobiography, details the rise of the Taliban in her community, Swat Valley, in Pakistan. Malala details how slowly, yet tremendously her life changes in a matter of a couple of years.
Her father, Ziauddin, the owner of the very school Malala attends, comes under scrutiny as a huge protector of women’s education rights in a country that is vastly trying to do away with it. Yet, the threats on his life do not stop him from speaking out against the Taliban. Malala’s father encourages her to do the same. Malala uses a pseudonym to write a diary piece for the BBC. Furthermore, she starts to appear at speaking engagements that stress the importance of women’s education rights. As she proceeds, she becomes a target among the Taliban herself.
On the way home from school, Malala’s bus is pulled over. A member of the Taliban shoots fifteen-year-old Malala point-blank in the head. Their aim was to kill her, but Malala was too strong for that. After surviving two surgeries to save her life, Malala came out the victor. She used this as an opportunity to spur on her cause, continuing to speak out against the Taliban and for women’s rights. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and continues her work today by creating and operating The Malala Fund, an organization that globally advocates for girls’ education.
There are two versions of Malala’s autobiography. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban was written by Christina Lamb and Malala together. It is the longer, more detailed version of her life. It contains real-life in-color photographs, an extensive history of Pakistan, and overall more information about Malala’s ordeal. I recommend this particular book for grades 8th and up.
There is a young reader’s edition that I recommend for grades 5th-7th. This book is an easier read. It contains the main details of the Taliban taking over Swat Valley, and is not quite as detailed, yet less is also more for students, in this particular case.
Here are four activities I utilize when teaching the above novel:
1. Before the Taliban & After the Taliban: Drawing & Text-Based Evidence
Malala is a young woman who underwent tremendous adversity. Before the Taliban infiltrated Pakistan, Malala was an ordinary girl, enjoying her television shows, outdoor games of Cricket, her school, and friends.
I have students draw a picture of Malala before the Taliban comes to her community. Around this drawing, students write down five quotes from the book that details what her life was like beforehand.
Once we finish the book, students draw another picture of Malala. They focus on how she does look a bit different due to the shooting. Next, they focus on what life is like for Malala after the Taliban and shooting. They then place five quotes from the book around this new picture to detail how her life had changed.
2. Newspaper Article
In her book, Malala talks of Ugly Betty, her favorite show, about a young girl in New York City who strives to be a journalist. Even though Malala had different aspirations, she did become a pseudo-journalist when she wrote a diary for the BBC detailing what her life was like in Taliban-controlled Pakistan.
An activity I complete with students is to have them pretend they are journalists. They use a digital newspaper template to write a 4-5 paragraph news article detailing the events of what is happening in Pakistan during the 2001-2011 era. They use quotes from Malala as their eye-witness account, insert photographs from that era, and make sure to use strictly the facts and not their opinion on the matter. This is a great activity to incorporate the history along with writing skills practice.
3. Comparison/Contrast Essay
Since the book contains so many historical details and facts, an end-of-book test could be a bit difficult, so I like to use an in-class essay as a summative assessment.
The essay I utilize with I Am Malala is for students to write 4 paragraphs on how Malala and one other person they admire were ordinary people who became extraordinary. The other person could be a personal relative, friend, or a well-known historical individual or celebrity. Since I use this as an end of unit test grade, we complete an outline in class and a rough draft beforehand.
Students can then use their outline during their in-class essay.
Malala, at the age of eleven, volunteers to write a diary for the BBC. Under the pseudonym, Gul Makai, she writes about her life as a child in a country that’s quickly being taken over by the Taliban.
She writes about how her life is entrenched with fear. At one point, her diary entry was about how a man following her on her way home from school whispered, “I will kill you.” Then, as she walked quickly home, she believed the man was following her, only to realize he had been speaking on his cell phone the entire time.
She pens entries about going to school and about how proud and brave she was to walk down the streets in her school uniform.
After reading this particular chapter about her diary entries for the BBC, we learn about primary sources. Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event. Next, we discuss how this autobiography and her BBC entries are primary sources.
I then tell students they are primary sources to living in the Covid pandemic. Next, I task them with the assignment of writing four diary entries to describe what life was and is like since 2020. I ask my students to think of specific instances that relate to the pandemic to write about, whether that is an entry about staying home from school in March-June 2020, virtual learning, receiving a vaccine, or even just getting used to wearing a mask. They will one day tell their grandkids all about this. They are a witness to history and should record it, just like Malala did herself.
Above is the free diary that I use for students to record their primary source entries. Furthermore, the primary sources diary is not I Am Malala specific. Therefore, please feel free to use for separate activities.
If you prefer, the above activities can be adapted to work with the book, For the Right to Learn.
Malala Yousafzai is the perfect young lady to honor and study this Women’s History Month. With her physical and emotional strength, she can teach our students to have the courage to overcome any kind of adversity.