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Resources for Teaching about Syria and ISIS/Islamic State

Syria and ISIS/Islamic State

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The events in Syria came to the attention of the world over the summer of 2013. The events with ISIS/Islamic State have rocked the world. Here are some resources that may help you address the events in Syria and the Islamic State in your classroom (updated 4/2017).
ISIS = Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
ISIL = Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
A variety of news sites have pages dedicated to current events in Syria. I looked for news sites that have a long history and are known as reliable, although not necessarily unbiased. It may be a great opportunity to take news stories from different sources and have students read them to determine the "real" story - a great lesson on bias in the news!
*New - May 3, 2017
April 7, 2017
The New York Times has a page answering "key questions" about the Syrian civil war. About halfway down is a concise outline of the events in Syria through 2013. This was updated August 28, 2013, so it would not reflect changes in the last few years.  The NY Times also has a set of maps, photos and videos about the Islamic State (2015) that could be very helpful for student understanding. The Washington Post has an article "9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask" (2013)
The Washington Post has a map of the ethnic composition of Syria. Each color represents a different ethnic or religious group.  The Financial Times has an interactive map showing the advance of ISIS into Iraq (note that it has not been updated since mid-2016).  The Atlantic has a series of maps, entitled "The Many Ways to Map the Islamic 'State'" (note this is from 2014).  The Economist has an interactive map showing terrorist attacks related to Islamic State from 2002-2015.  Below the map there is some valuable background information and links to more resources.
I also found an interesting article on Business Insider: "Inside the Textbooks ISIS Uses to Indoctrinate Children" (2016).  This article actually has photos of textbook pages showing how indoctrination and rhetoric work with young children.  It's an interesting article for comparison to our own types of textbooks in the United States, a lesson on indoctrination, or a psychology class.  


Lesson Plans on Syria and ISIS/Islamic State

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There are some trusted sources who offer ready made lesson plans on Syria and ISIS/Islamic State.  This does not constitute endorsement; please check the lesson to ensure it meets your needs and the needs of your students.

The Choices Program (Brown University) has released a lesson plan complete with potential handouts on "Debating the U.S. Response to Syria". This is part of their "Teaching with the News" series. The handouts include a graphic organizer to help organize this complex topic. There is also a lesson in their "Teaching with the News" series on "ISIS: A New Threat". It includes primary sources and analysis of political cartoons.

The New York Times also offers a lesson idea on their Learning Network entitled "The Fog of War: Helping Students Make Sense of Syria". Note the posting date for this lesson was Sept 11, 2012, so it would not reflect events from the last few years. There is also a resource/lesson entitled The ISIS Threat: Teaching About the Complex War Raging in Iraq and Syria. The lesson plan has an inquiry base - "what do students already know? Let's analyze images and text sources" as well as general background information. There are a LOT of links to additional resources.

The Pulitzer Center has the lesson "Fractured Lands Focus Lesson: An ISIS Fighter's Background" by Patrick Reilly.  This is a primary source analysis of photographs, and of a special issue of the New York Times Magazine, which focus on a characterization of a former ISIS fighter.  It is meant to show the complexity of the topic and potential media bias.  

The Bill of Rights Institute offers a complete lesson in "ISIS and American Foreign Policy", including questions and potential extension activities.  

Alan Singer has a lesson plan on the Huffington Post entitled "Teaching About the Horrific: ISIS".  It is designed for secondary students and focuses on horrific events in terrorism and how to talk with students about them.  They encourage approaching the topics with sensitivity and seriousness, as well as alerting students that there may be issues that are upsetting.  

Finding Current News on Syria and ISIS/Islamic State

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Many major newspapers and news magazines have special sections on current events in Syria. I've tried to get sources that represent multiple viewpoints.

These sites also have special sections on the Islamic State (ISIS).