Lesson 3: Mothers without Children and Children without Fathers

Lesson Information

About this Lesson:

In this lesson, students use Arabic fiction to explore the lives of those who do not fit into the traditional Arab family and understand the impact that has on personal reputation and daily life. As students will have seen thus far, family plays a central role in Arab society. The value of parenthood can be seen in the tradition of referring to parents as the father or mother of their eldest son (Abu Mohammed or Um Ahmed, for example). Having offspring is so important that even adults with no children will sometimes be given such a title, with a fake child’s name.

In “Um Ya’qub’s Chickens”, by Mikhail Nuaima and translated by Admer Gouryeh and Naomi Shihab Nye, the main character is a childless widow portrayed as an angry and bitter woman with no remaining personal connections or friendships. The only meaningful relationship in her life is with her hen, who serves as a proxy for loving relatives. When Um Ya’qub perceives that her hen has abandoned her, she dies of loneliness; only then does the hen return with a flock of hatched chicks, thereby completing the tragedy of the story.

The biographical short story, “My Mother,” by Fadhma Amrouche, tells of a child born out of wedlock and the consequences faced by her and her mother for living outside of the family honor. As a fatherless child in a patriarchal society, children born out of wedlock remain outside the circle of family support.  Through this story, students understand the importance of family associations to daily functionality as well as personal reputation in the Arab world.

Time

50 minutes

In this lesson, students will:

  • read “Um Yaqub’s Chickens” by Mikhail Nuaima and translated by Admer Gouryeh & Naomi Shihab Nye and “My Mother,” by Fadhma Amrouche.
  • write an essay about the role of family.
  • analyze short stories to understand the values demonstrated in the stories.

Key Terms:

  • Kabyle: The Kabyles are the largest of the Berber-speaking groups who inhavit the Kabyle Mountains located east of Algiers, although many Kabyles also live elsewhere. Set apart by their habitat, language and well-organized village and social life, Kabyles have a highly developed sense of independence and group solidarity. Pronounced: kah-bile
  • Kabylia: A region in northern Algeria where the Kabyle Berbers live.
  • Tajmaat: Village council in a Berber village. They meet occasionally to discuss village affairs. Pronounced: taj-mat
  • Um: Mother. Pronounced: oom
  • Yaqub: The Arabic name Jacob. Pronounced: ya-koob


Enduring Understandings

  • Family is the central social and economic structure in Arab society and kinship stands at the root of social, economic and political decision-making.
  • Relations of kin serve as the primary affiliation, resource and responsibility for individuals in the Arab world.
  • The Arab family structure, extending well beyond the nuclear family, supports and protects its members by prioritizing family unity and well being above other obligations.

Curriculum Framing Questions

  • What is the role and function of family in Arab culture?
  • What aspects of an individual’s identity determine their role in the family?
  • How do familial associations and networks increase and/or restrict an individual’s voice and agency?
  • What can we learn about the Arab world from the depiction of families in film and literature?

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • identify the value behind having a family in Arab society by reading two short stories in translation.
  • infer attitudes about family expressed through fiction and memoir.

Assessment & Evaluation of Student Learning:

  • Complete dialectical notes worksheet
  • Discuss the relationship between cultural attitudes and plot in short stories
  • Write an essay responding to one of the lesson’s essential questions


Curriculum Standards Information

Reading: Literature

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Speaking and Listening

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Language

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

History/Social Studies

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Reading: Literature

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2 Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Speaking and Listening

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Language

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

History/Social Studies

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

National Standards for Foreign Language Education

Standard 2.1: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied.
Standard 2.2: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied.
Standard 4.2: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.



Implementation

Materials Needed in Class:

“Um Yaqub’s Chickens,” by Makhail Nuaima

“My Mother,” by Fadhma Amrouche (page 71)

Dialectical Worksheet

Implementation Overview:

Click here to download PDF version

Before Class:

1.

Assign students to read “Um Yaqub’s Chickens” by Mikhail Nuaima and translated by Admer Gouryeh and Naomi Shihab Nye and “My Mother” by Fadhma Amrouche before coming to class. (“My Mother” is found on pages 71-74 in Are You Listening? ( At the end of the anthology, you can also find valuable background information to help understand the story).). Tell students to highlight any mention of family or lack thereof in the stories.

In class:

1.

Allow 5-10 minutes for students to respond to the stories and discuss their highlighted notes.

2.

Distribute the Dialectical Worksheet to students. Instruct students to complete the worksheet as follows:

  • Select one of the two stories to analyze
  • In the Quotation Column, copy select passages from the story that relates to family
  • In the Attitude Column, write the attitude or value expressed by the quotation.
  • In the Impact Column, write the impact of the quotation on the plot and message of the story.

3.

Allow students time to share and discuss their notes.

Homework:

Students will use their dialectical notes and the knowledge gained from previous lessons to write an essay in which they respond to one of unit questions.

  • What is the role and function of family in Arab culture?
  • What aspects of an individual’s identity determine their role in the family?
  • How do familial associations and networks increase and/or restrict an individual’s voice and agency?
  • What can we learn about the Arab world from the depiction of families in film and literature?

Supplemental Resources

Shadya (2007): This episode of Independent Lens tells the story of Shadya, a world champion in Karate, a feminist in a male-dominated culture, and a Muslim Arab living in Israel. Click here for the ITVs lesson plans