Why did Iran become an Islamic republic in 1979?
Fourth edition. July 2019.
PREVIEW THIS UNIT. Preview includes the table of contents, a student reading excerpt, and one lesson plan. PREVIEW ALL UNITS.

In 1978, millions of Iranians risked their lives to protest against the shah. Marching in the streets, Iranians sought to end repressive rule, bring justice and opportunity, and rid Iran of the influence of foreign powers—particularly the United States. But Iranians were not unified about how to achieve these goals, nor were they sure what kind of government they wanted. With the departure of the shah in January 1979, a tremendous struggle began for the future of Iran. The Iranian Revolution traces the history of Iran to this period of debate and uncertainty. Students explore Iran’s cultural history, its efforts to establish a representative democracy early in the twentieth century, and the role the great powers played in shaping events in Iran. A central activity helps students recreate the debate Iranians had about their own future in 1979. The reading concludes with a survey of the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979. The unit is divided into three parts. Each part includes:

  • Student readings
  • Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
  • Lessons aligned with the readings that develop analytical skills and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit also includes an Options Role Play as the key lesson and additional synthesis lessons that allow students to synthesize new knowledge for assessment. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.

“I love the parallels between all of the Choices revolution units. Students typically see the Iranian Revolution as something very distant and removed from their own lives but when they evaluate it following the French Revolution, they can see that revolutions (and for that matter, people) tend to follow similar patterns of uprising. It makes the Middle East seem far less different for them.” – Cheryl, History and Government Teacher, Wyoming

Part I: From Cyrus to Reza Shah

Part I examines early Iran, the arrival of Islam, the Safavid Dynasty, and the Qajar Dynasty. It addresses the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911 and the emergence of Reza Shah and the Pahlavi Dynasty. There is one lesson aligned with Part I: Iran's Constitutional Revolution: 1906-1911.

Part II: Mossadegh to Khomeini

Part II explores Mohammad Mossadegh and Iranian oil nationalization, the British and U.S. overthrow of Mossadegh, the dictatorship of the shah, and the emergence of Ayatollah Khomeini. There are two lessons aligned with Part II: 1) Iranian Oil Nationalization, and 2) The 1953 Coup.

Part III: The Islamic Republic

Part III explores developments following the Iranian Revolution, including Iran’s new constitution, the U.S. hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq War, and key political developments in the twenty-first century. There are no lessons aligned with Part III.


Iran's Constitutional Revolution: 1906-1911

Students examine documents and sources surrounding the Constitutional Revolution and create a newspaper article.

Iranian Oil Nationalization

Students explore the points of view of the parties involved in the Oil Nationalization Movement led by Mohammad Mossadegh.

The 1953 Coup

Students use primary source documents to identify the motivations and interests of the Iranian and U.S. governments in regard to oil nationalization in Iran and the coup of 1953.

The Options Role Play

The Options Role Play is the key lesson in the unit, and it asks students to examine three distinct options for Iran’s future. Students participate in a simulation set in 1979 in which they assume the roles of Iranians at Tehran University debating their future.

Charting Iran's Political Climate

Synthesis Lesson: Students chart Iran's swings between representative and authoritarian politics during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Assessment Using Documents: Causes of the Iranian Revolution

Synthesis Lesson: Students identify the value and limitations of using different types of sources to draw conclusions about the causes of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. They integrate their findings into a coherent written response.

Synthesis Lesson: Students explore their perceptions of women in Iran, gather information from videos about women living in Iran, and consider the effect of perceptions on international relations.

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