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        The War Show | Lesson Plan: Syria's Arab Spring: an Information and News Literacy Learning Case Study

        Syria has always been at the heart of the post-World War II struggle for the Middle East. Prior to the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, however, it was viewed as one of the more stable countries in the region, with a strong, autocratic and youthful leader, President Bashar Al-Assad. That mask of stability has slipped and today, after seven years of violent conflict that has left hundreds of thousands of Syrians dead, the country is at the nexus of every tension in the region: Iran versus Saudi Arabia, the United States versus Russia and even Islamist extremism’s resistance to secularism. Add the historical legacy of colonialism, as well as complex political systems that encompass tribal allegiances, monarchies, dictatorships and nascent democracies, and the complexity and horror of the ongoing war in Syria demands an examination of the ways in which policies play out in the real world.

        Among current policy considerations for the countries bordering Syria, and increasingly nations farther afield, including the United States, are the ethics and efficacy of responding to atrocities committed in other countries and the challenge of absorbing millions of refugees. At the same time, nations are confronting the challenge of getting accurate information in an era of actual and imagined “fake news.”

        This lesson combines these global and media studies concerns by using clips from The War Show to deepen students’ media analysis skills. It asks students to grapple with multiple types of news and information sources, including an examination of the ways in which documentary films can humanize statistics, policy statements and news reports.

        Lesson Summary

        This lesson combines these global and media studies concerns by using clips from The War Show to deepen students’ media analysis skills. It asks students to grapple with multiple types of news and information sources, including an examination of the ways in which documentary films can humanize statistics, policy statements and news reports.

        Time Allotment

        Two class periods

        Learning Objectives

        • Learn about the history and current status of the war in Syria
        • Reflect on media issues related to the Arab Spring, including the ethics and reliability of citizen journalism, the creation of government propaganda and the stakes involved in controlling the narrative 
        • Consider the strengths and weaknesses of different types of news or information sources and understand why checking diverse sources is important 

        Prep for Teachers

        NOTE: Several clips contain scenes that are graphic and disturbing. Please prepare students accordingly. All videos should be reviewed before sharing with students. A detailed description of the content flags can be found on the resources page for each clip.


        • Internet access
        • Film clips and equipment to show them
        • Printed handouts of assigned news stories (if not reading on a tablet or computer screen)

        Clip 1

        Clip 2

        Clip 3

        Clip 4

        Clip 5

        Clip 6

        Clip 7

        Introductory Activity

        Step 1: Introduction

        Begin the lesson by asking students to quickly jot down their answers to this question: “If you had to find credible information about the current situation in Syria before class ended, where would you look?” After 15 seconds or so, invite students to share their answers. What types of sources did they list? Why do they believe those sources would be credible (and what is the basis for that belief)? 

        Learning Activities

        Step 2: Analysis Tool

        Choose an analysis framework that suits the experience level of your students and review it with them:

        • F.A.I.R.: Fair, Accurate, Inclusive (of essential context and perspectives) and Reasonable (logical)
        • CRAAP Test: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose 
        • CARS: Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness and Support 
        • I’M VAIN: Independent versus self-interested; Multiple versus lone or sole source; Verifies rather than asserts; Authoritative/Informed versus uninformed sources; Named rather than unnamed sources

        Step 3: Practice

        To practice using the chosen framework and also learn about Syria, have students independently read: 

        “Why Is There a War in Syria?” (BBC, Apr. 7, 2017): This is a general background piece in the form of a Q&A.

        Then, as a class or in small groups, ask students to use the analysis framework to examine the piece. Have students focus on identifying the specific evidence they use to reach conclusions about each aspect of the framework.

        Step 4: Screen the Film Clips

        To help students see how much a second, divergent source can add to the picture, introduce the film. Show the film trailer so students have context for the clips they’ll see.

        Then show the clips, pausing very briefly after each one for students to reflect on and process what they’ve seen.

        After all clips have been shown, have students look again at the BBC backgrounder piece* and respond to the following:

        1. List key facts or assertions in the article that the film clips affirm.

        2. List key facts or assertions in the article that the film clips contradict.

        3. What insight does seeing/hearing an individual human story add? What do you know or understand now that you didn’t after only reading the article?

        * Less advanced students might reexamine only one Q&A section, with different small groups covering different segments of the backgrounder and then sharing their results.

        Step 5: Discussion

        Review responses and discuss what types of information (both factual and emotional) a documentary can convey that a typical news story does not. Help students see what they miss if they look only at headlines or brief summaries.

        OPTIONAL Step 6: Practice

        Assign students to analyze a second information source, using the news analysis framework and also considering how a documentary adds to what an information source says. Select a source that is different in form from both the BBC overview and the documentary film. Use your own source or Wikipedia: Social Media and the Arab Spring.

        Culminating Activity

        Step 7: Wrap-Up

        Have students do a short free write: “What I learned today (or from this lesson) about Syria is… and that matters because…”

        As time allows, invite students who are willing to share what they wrote with the class to do so. Discuss the connections to current policy debates over use of military force, regime change, and other possible responses to atrocities in Syria.


        Repeat the lesson with Dalya’s Other Country and/or Last Men in Aleppo. Also consider following up with the lesson from Return to Homs.

        Imagine that you are one of the young people featured in one of the films. It’s seventy years in the future and you are now a great-grandparent. Your descendants are looking back on the destruction of Syria and asking what you did and why. Write a letter to them that explains your choice to stay/leave, how you saw the situation, what was most important to you.

        Hold a pro/con debate: Armed revolution is superior to nonviolent civil disobedience in response to leaders like Bashar Al-Assad who are willing to commit atrocities against their own people.

        Choose a public policy issue related to Syria (e.g., the United States should send ground troops to protect Syrian civilians, or the United States should accept more Syrian refugees) and ask students to research it and write policy briefs reflecting their own conclusions. Have students share their briefs with their members of Congress and/or the president.

        Read a novel or poem by a Syrian author. Compare stories told in print to those told in documentaries like the ones in the lesson. Check: Arab Lit or The Culture Trip for suggested books.



        Dalya’s Other Country

        The War Show

        Last Men in Aleppo

        Return to Homs

        4.1 Miles

        From Damascus to Chicago

        The sites include general discussion guides with additional activity ideas and resources.

        POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films

        This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.

        Fake News "How to Spot Fake News"

        A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, this website aims to help readers identify propaganda and untruths.

        NPR: "Fake or Real:? How to Self-Check the News and Get the Facts"

        Wynne Davis provides guidance for readers trying to discern reliably sourced news from propaganda.

        Project Look Sharp

        This media literacy initiative offers lesson plans and materials for teaching media literacy.

        School Library Journal: "The Smell Test: Educators Can Counter Fake News with Information Literacy. Here’s How"

        In this article, Linda Jacobson explains how educators can counteract propaganda by teaching information literacy.

        School Library Journal: "Truth, Truthiness, Triangulation: A News Literacy Toolkit for a 'Post-Truth' World" 

        Joyce Valenza provides tools for reading reporting and analyzing its truthfulness.


        The Guardian: “Arab Spring: An Interactive Timeline of Middle East Protests”

        This timeline of the events of the Arab uprisings and government responses includes events in Syria.

        Institute for War and Peace Reporting: “Syria Stories”

        This website offers reports and blog posts from Syrian citizen-journalists, with a focus on women’s stories.

        United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: “Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic”

        This website provides reports about the Syrian conflict from the United Nations on an ongoing basis.

        U.S. Department of State: Syria

        This official U.S. government website offers an overview of U.S.-Syrian relations, including a set of links to additional information on Syria.


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