Students trace the history of Iran from its early dynasties to the present and explore Iran’s cultural history, its efforts to establish a representative democracy, and the role the great powers played in shaping events in Iran.
- Review the current status of U.S.-Iran relations.
- Consider the history of U.S.-Iran relations and its relevance to current events.
- Develop media source analysis skills.
- Analyze different perspectives on the current situation.
Videos: These short videos from the Choices Program are used in this lesson:
- What major historical events have shaped relations between Iran and the United States? (Jo-Anne Hart)
- What are the historical reasons for tension between the United States and Iran? (Trita Parsi)
- How have different groups in Iran perceived the United States since the 1979 Revolution? (Narges Bajoghli)
- What do Iranians want for their future? (Narges Bajoghli)
- What are some misunderstandings that people in the U.S. have about Iran? (Narges Bajoghli)
Source Sets (one per group)
Note: This lesson introduces many influential moments in the history of U.S.-Iran relations, but it is not exhaustive. Teachers interested in providing a more comprehensive history of Iran should consider using The Iranian Revolution—a multi-day curriculum unit that includes readings, videos, and six engaging lessons.
In the Classroom
1. Activate Prior Knowledge
Have students, individually or in pairs, brainstorm what they know or have heard about the recent crisis between Iran and the United States. What are the immediate events that led up to the crisis? Why is the crisis significant?
Write the focus question on the board: “How does the history of U.S.-Iran relations affect the current crisis?”
2. Build New Knowledge
Explain to students that, before watching short videos that present perspectives on the lesson’s focus question, they will read a text that provides information about the history of the relationship between the two countries. Distribute the handout, “A Short Overview of U.S.-Iran Relations.” After reading, have students turn to a classmate and share the new information they underlined in the text. Invite students to share any questions the reading raised for them. Answer clarifying questions about the information in the text.
Tell students that they will be viewing a series of short videos about the history of U.S.-Iran relations. Distribute the “Video Worksheet” and ask students to read the instructions. Before viewing the videos, you may wish to review the definitions of terms that are used in the videos and defined on the handout.
Show the first set of videos. Students should record notes in the chart as they watch. After viewing, review each of the key events listed in the chart. Show the second set of videos, then review student responses. What questions did the videos raise for students? Was there anything in the videos that surprised them? Based on the videos and the text they read, how would students describe the history of U.S.-Iran relations?
3. Source Analysis
Divide the class into groups of three or four students each. Distribute the handout “Analyzing Media Sources” to all students. Assign each group one Source Set (Source Set 1, Source Set 2, or Source Set 3) and distribute the set to each student in the group. (The handouts include excerpts from longer sources. For the full text, please see the links at the top of each source.) Review the introduction with your class, making sure that students understand the difference between a news article and an editorial. Remind students that the difference between facts and opinions is not always obvious, and that an author may selectively use or omit facts to support their opinion.
*Note: Students may notice that the sources contain different spellings of Qasem Solomeini’s name. The reason for that is that there are no universally agreed upon rules for translating names from Persian into English. Students may encounter differences in spellings for names translated from Arabic into English for the same reason.
4. Share Findings
Reconvene the class. Ask students to share their findings, focusing in particular on their responses to the “Key Question” for their Source Set. Have students take notes based on the responses given from students in other groups.
Ask students to reflect upon their source set analysis. What are some of the key differences of opinion expressed in the sources regarding the Trump administration, the Iranian government, and the assassination? Why do they think these differences exist? What predictions or concerns for the future do the sources present for the United States, Iran, the Middle East, and/or the world? Ask students to recall what they learned in “A Short Overview of U.S.-Iran Relations” and the videos that they watched. How did the long-term history of U.S.-Iran relations affect the way the current crisis between the two nations unfolded? Based on everything they have read, viewed, and analyzed, how would students describe the current status of U.S.-Iran relations?
5. Monitoring the Situation in the News
Distribute the handout “Monitoring the Situation.” Tell students that they will be following the coverage of U.S.-Iran relations in the coming weeks. As a starting point, refer students to the list of news sources below. Encourage students to seek out multiple sources from both the United States and other countries. Students should consult at least two or three news sources every week and write a short summation of developments. You may also want to suggest to students some steps for verifying sources, checking facts, and recognizing biases.
Encourage students to seek out a diverse set of domestic and international news sources. Here are some suggestions:
The New York Times
The Washington Post
The Boston Globe
The Los Angeles Times
The Denver Post
Wall Street Journal
The Weekly Standard
The National Review
International (English language)
The Guardian (UK)
Al-Jazeera (Qatar/Middle East)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
CBC News (Canada)
Der Spiegel (Germany)
France 24 (France)
The Japan Times (Japan)
The Nation (Pakistan)
The New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Daily Monitor (Uganda)
The Sunday Times (South Africa)
The Hindustan Times (India)
The Times of India (India)
Asia Times (Hong Kong)
The Korea Times (South Korea)
Buenos Aires Times (Argentina)
Let Your Voice Be Heard: Encourage your students to express their views on U.S. policy towards Iran.
- Contact Elected Officials
Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at www.whitehouse.gov/contact and their U.S. senators and representatives at https://www.congress.gov//
- Write Locally
Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper or write articles for the school or community newspaper.
- Social Media Challenge
Challenge students to create their own hashtag slogan and campaign to raise awareness about U.S.-Iran relations through social media.Encourage students to create inventive TikTok videos or Instagram posts that express their views on what they have learned about U.S.-Iran relations in order to raise awareness.
Image credit: Mehr News Agency (CC BY 4.0).