Cultural Connections and Writing for Change
Unit Plan

Language Arts Lesson Plan: Grades 3-5
Subject: Language Arts, Reading, Writing
Duration: Five 50 Minute Lessons

UNIT PLAN OVERVIEW: Awareness and true understanding of other cultures can create the desire to take action. In this lesson, students learn about Palestinian Arabs. After exploring the culture in a book and online, students identify a current social issue that concerns them. In a formal letter written to an appropriate official, students identify these issues and discuss suggestions of ways the problems might be addressed.

Literature helps learners develop, understand, and appreciate the culture of others. One way to make a strong stand for equality and justice for all groups is to add good books to the existing curriculum. Using books about Arab culture validates its importance, offers an opportunity for non-Arab students to be introduced to a new culture, prevents stereotypes from forming, and helps students develop a broader and deeper understanding of peoples of the world.

Al-Hazza, T.C., & Bucher, K.T. (2008). Building Arab Americans' cultural identity and acceptance with children's literatureThe Reading Teacher, 62(3), 210–219.

Levin, F. (2007). Children's Books Encouraging ethical respect through multicultural literatureThe Reading Teacher, 61(1), 101–104.

  • Standard: R.CM.04.03. Reading: Comprehension: explain relationships among themes, ideas, and characters within and across texts to create a deeper understanding by categorizing and classifying, comparing and contrasting, or drawing parallels across time and culture.
  • Standard: S.DS.03.01. Speaking, Listening, and Viewing: Speaking: Discourse: engage in interactive, extended discourse to socially construct meaning in book clubs, literature circles, partnerships, or other conversation protocols.


1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

3. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

4. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

5. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

6. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

7. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


Letter Generator

The Letter Generator is a useful tool for students to learn the parts of a business or friendly letter and then compose and print letters for both styles of correspondence.

Venn Diagram, 2 Circles
This interactive tool allows students to create Venn Diagrams that contain two overlapping circles, enabling them to organize their information logically.

1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with the book Sitti's Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye. In this book, an Arab-American girl named Mona visits her grandmother in the West Bank. Although the two do not speak the same language, Mona discovers many connections. When she returns home, she writes a letter to the president encouraging world peace.If Sitti's Secrets is not available, this lesson could be adapted to other children's books set in the Arab world. Suggestions include but are not limited to:

  • Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty (Knopf, 2004). This graphic novel tells the story of Alia, an Iraqi librarian, who knows that the library which houses thousands of irreplaceable books will become a military target. She begs the local authorities to intervene and protect the books, but they will not. Ultimately she and her neighbors smuggle over 30,000 books to safety.
  • The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt, 2005). The same story as in Alia's Mission, but using simpler vocabulary.
  • Sami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland (Clarion Books, 1995).The central figure in this book is 10-year-old Sami who has lived in a war zone all of his life and who takes action against war by spontaneously joining hundreds of children carrying banners pleading for peace.
You will need to either have a classroom set of the book or several books for students to share. You may also choose to read the book to your students if multiple copies are not available.

2. Visit Lines in the Sand to get background information on Palestinian culture and the Arab-Israeli conflict. You may also want to do your own research for information about the Palestinians, although it is imperative that you preview any online resources related to Palestine before using them in the classroom because many of these resources are deeply troubling and inappropriate for children. If you know anyone in your community who is Palestinian or of Palestinian descent, it would be instructionally appropriate to invite that person to visit the class to share their knowledge as well

3. Students complete a Venn diagram activity during Lesson 2; you may choose to use an online or print version. If you will be using the online version, visit and familiarize yourself with the interactive Venn Diagram tool and bookmark it on the computers students will be using. If necessary, reserve time in your school's computer lab.

4. Visit and familiarize yourself with the Letter Generator tool. Make necessary arrangements to have students use it during Lesson 4 and bookmark the tool on the computers students will be using. Make a copy of the Persuasive Letter Rubric for each student in your class.

Students will
  • Interpret illustrations by predicting setting, tone, story, and cultural attributes
  • Gain knowledge about a culture through shared reading and individual reading about Palestinian Arabs
  • Analyze what they have learned about Palestinian Arab culture and what they know about their own culture by using a Venn diagram to identify and draw parallels between their family and a fictional family
  • Demonstrate understanding of the problems they have read about and issues in their own lives by identifying a social issue that needs to be addressed
  • Learn the elements of a persuasive letter and then apply what they have learned by writing a well-written, properly formatted persuasive letter to an appropriate official
  • Work collaboratively to brainstorm ideas and write a finished, polished product