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Seda: Voices of Iran

Teaching and Learning about Iran

Homa Bazrafshan, Mythology, 2009, Mixed Media 


Contemporary Art

There is a section in Seda, Contemporary Iranian Art, which presents a number of modern paintings and sculpture.  The activities below can be used when viewing and working with the pieces.

Taking a Look

  • It has been said that the average amount of time a person views a piece of art in a museum is 30 seconds.  Select a piece of art and look at it for approximately 30 seconds. 
  • Turn away from the art and jot down what you remember: form, colors, feelings, mood/emotions evoked.
  • Return to looking at the piece.  Note what you didn't see the first time you viewed the piece. 
  • Determine what questions you may have about the piece.  What questions does it pose for you? 
  • Lead a discussion with others about the piece starting out with your thoughts and feeling about it.



Cartoons make us think, connect things in new ways, invite us to see below the surface of the cartoon, relate what we see to what we know and feel.  There are a number of cartoons offered in Seda.  Explore the meaning and impact of these works by doing the following:

  • Write a detailed description of what issue the cartoon is addressing.
  • Use a cartoon to brainstorm a topic related vocabulary.
  • Exploring the theme of humour by exploring: What does the cartoon mean? Why is it funny?  What techniques are used to make it funny?
  • Use a selection of cartoons to discuss the different parts of an issue.
  • State why you agree or disagree with the cartoonists opinion.


Persian Poetry 

Background Information. Rumi’s poems and the famous Rubaiyyat by Omar Khayyam follow the centuries old, classical Arabic poetry structures.  A rubayat is organized in quatrains.  It has a rhyme scheme across four lines that may take the form AABA, or ABAB, or ABBA, etc.  The root of the word ruba’i means four.  The Persian form of a rubayat is organized in two lines instead of four, with rhyming occurring in the middle and the end of each line as a consequence.  Edward FitzGerald made the first translation into English of Khayyam’s Rubaiyyat, thus introducing the quatrain structure into English poetry.  The ghazal is an ode and consists of rhyming couplets and a refrain.  After reading examples from Rumi or Omar Khayyam, have students write their own ruba’i or ghazal on a topic of their own choosing.

Source: World Savvy Monitor



Proverb Definitions.  Proverbs are popular sayings which contain advice or state a generally accepted truth. Because most proverbs have their origins in oral tradition, they are generally worded in such a way as to be remembered easily and tend to change little from generation to generation, so much so that sometimes their specific meaning is no longer relevant. For instance, the proverb “penny wise, pound foolish” is a holdover from when America was a British colony and used the pound as currency. Proverbs function as “folk wisdom,” general advice about how to act and live. And because they are folk wisdom, they are often strongly reflect the cultural values and physical environment from which they arise. For instance, island cultures such as Hawaii have proverbs about the sea, Eastern cultures have proverbs about elephants, and American proverbs, many collected and published by Benjamin Franklin, are about hard work bringing success. Proverbs are used to support arguments, to provide lessons and instruction, and to stress shared values.

Proverbs are not Clichés.  Clichés are widely used, even overused, phrases that are often metaphorical in nature. Clichés often have their origins in literature, television, or movies rather than in folk tradition.  Some examples of clichés are: She was white as a sheet, the tension was so thick you could cut it like butter, he stood as still as a deer in the headlights, I’m as fit as a fiddle, you could read her like an open book.

Some Common Features of Proverbs 

  • Proverbs are passed down through time with little change in form. 
  • Proverbs are often used metaphorically and it is in understanding their metaphorical nature that we can unravel their meaning. While “a stitch in time saves nine,” “don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched,” and “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” are common proverbs, few of us stitch clothes, count chickens, or throw out bathwater. 
  • Proverbs often make use of grammatical and rhetorical devices that help make them memorable, including alliteration, rhyme, parallel structure, repetition of key words or phrases, and strong imagery. 

Questions for Working with Proverbs

  1. What do you think the proverb means?
  2. Why do you think these proverbs are referred to as “common?”
  3. Do you know proverbs from other countries that are similar to proverbs from Iran?  If so, what are they?  How are they similar?
  4. Which proverbs are more difficult to understand?  Why are they difficult?
  5. What general statements can be made about Iran after having reflected on these proverbs?

Source:  Read Write Think NCTE/IRA.  Reproduced for educational purposes.


Social Studies

Most Americasn know little about Iran or its relationship with the U.S. and other countries since the end of World War II. Several possible subjects for independent and small-group inquiry are listed below.

Prepare two or three questions about a subject from the list below. Present the questions to your group.  Decide on which subjects you want to conduct further research.  Use the timeline in Seda to help inform your choices.

  • The origins of Shi'ism
  • The 20th century origins of Iran
  • Iran's relationship with Sunni-led Middle Eastern countries
  • The Mossadegh government
  • The CIA plot to overthrow Mossadegh
  • The rule of Shah Pahlavi
  • The 1978-1979 revolution
  • The 1979-1980 hostage crisis
  • U.S. support for Saddam Hussein in Iraq's war with Iran
  • Iran's 2001 support for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan
  • Iran's oil wealth
  • Iran's nuclear program
  • Divisions among Iranian leaders today
  • Iran's women
  • Presidential candidates' views of U.S. policy on Iran 
  • U.S. overthrow of the 1953 Iranian government 
  • U.S. support for the Shah 
  • 1979 Iranian revolution 
  • 1979-1981 hostage crisis 
  • U.S. support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war 
  • Hezbollah 
  • Hamas 
  • Iraq-Iran relationship 
  • Israel-Iran relationship 
  • Nuclear weapons issues raised by the readings 

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. Please email author Alan Shapiro at:


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