Lesson Plans

Depicting War: Examining the Conflict in Yemen

Abdullah Abed al-Abdeli, age 12, whose father died in an airstrike in Northern Yemen. Image by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times. Yemen. 2018.

Abdullah Abed al-Abdeli, age 12, whose father died in an airstrike in Northern Yemen. Image by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times. Yemen. 2018.

Objectives:

Students will be able to…

  • define different types of wars and how they apply to the Yemeni conflict
  • identify war’s direct and indirect effects on civilians
  • analyze the purpose and efficacy of narrative and investigative journalism
  • evaluate how the order of a story affects its meaning

Warm-up:

1. What is war, and what forms can it take? Work individually or together as a class to fill in only the definitions on this graphic organizer.

2. Discuss as a class:

  • How many wars is the U.S. currently involved in? Can you name them? (Note: some wars are declared, some wars are covert; as a result, there is much debate, and it is difficult to say with certainty.)
  • Have you seen any wars in the news recently?
    • If so, which ones?
    • What images and words have you seen journalists use to depict these wars?
    • Why do you think some wars get a lot of attention in the media, while others aren’t reported on as much?
  • How can wars affect civilians, directly and indirectly? Brainstorm as many examples as you can.

Introducing the Lesson:

Yemen’s ongoing civil war dates from 2014. Since that time, the UN estimates that 17,000 civilians have died as a result of the war, while another 2 million have been displaced. In addition to the bombings and killings, the hunger, disease epidemics, crumbling infrastructure, and collapsed economy have led many to single out Yemen’s humanitarian crisis as the worst in the world. (Explore the Council on Foreign Relations Global Conflict Tracker - Yemen for sources and more information.)

In this lesson, we will explore who the actors in this war are and why the country’s humanitarian crisis has become so dire. However, we will go beyond the facts and figures of this humanitarian crisis and will engage with its human face: who is on the ground, and how are their day-to-day lives affected?

Introducing the Reporting: “From Arizona to Yemen: The Journey of an American Bomb”

1. Read the following excerpt from the introduction to Jeffrey E. Stern’s reporting:

[This reporting] brings readers inside a remote village subjected to a brutal day-long aerial attack in which American bombs and rockets were dropped by American planes, with American logistical support, on civilians and the water well they were digging. The project is part narrative: introducing readers to the victims, and showing readers what it looks, sounds, and feels like to be in a village under attack by American weapons.

The project is also part investigative reporting: tracking one of the laser-guided bombs used in the attack from the moment it rolled of the factory floor at Raytheon Inc.’s Tucson, Arizona facility, until the moment it was dropped on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen—reducing the disconnect between cause and effect and tying readers more viscerally to the effects of their country’s policies.

Comprehension check: What two types of journalism will Jeffrey Stern use in the story you are about to read? What is the purpose of each?

2. Read “From Arizona to Yemen: The Journey of an American Bomb.” While you read, fill in the remaining blanks on your graphic organizer.

3. When you’ve finished reading, turn to a partner to briefly review each other’s graphic organizers. Did your partner write down anything you missed? Do you disagree with any of their answers? Take a moment to discuss with them.

Discussion:

1. Share your answers to the second question on your graphic organizer: How is Yemen’s war affecting civilians? Cite evidence from Jeffrey Stern’s reporting. How does the list on your graphic organizer compare with the list you brainstormed during your warm-up?

2. Take a look back at the images and words journalists use to depict wars, which you brainstormed during your warm-up. How is “From Arizona to Yemen: The Journey of an American Bomb” similar to other news you have seen / heard about war? How is it different?

3. In the introduction to Jeffrey Stern’s reporting, he notes that this project is part narrative, part investigative journalism. Consider:

  • How effective do you think the narrative part was in “introducing readers to the victims, and showing readers what it looks, sounds, and feels like to be in a village under attack by American weapons”?
  • How effective do you think the investigative part was in “reducing the disconnect between cause and effect and tying readers more viscerally to the effects of their country’s policies”?
  • Are the narrative and investigative parts separable? How so, or why not?
  • This story is about an airstrike, but the bomb doesn’t even appear until the ninth paragraph. Why do you think Stern begins with the narrative? How would this story be different if it began with these alternative scenes?
    • The airstrike
    • Shadowing Dr. Abdullatif Abotaleb
    • Interviewing the Raytheon employees
    • Explanations of the conflict and humanitarian crisis
    • The first-person section on meeting the airstrike victims
  • What is the job of a journalist? Before he could write this story, what work do you think Jeffrey Stern had to do? What work is particular to the narrative part, what is particular to the investigative part, and what is common to both?

Extension Activities:

Option 1: Data Visualization

Stern asserts that “[t]ogether, the bombing campaign and blockade have spurred the worst continuing humanitarian crisis in the world.” Throughout the article, what evidence does he cite to support this claim? Do some outside research to find out more facts and figures about the current situation in Yemen, using the Pulitzer Center reporting archive as a starting point. (TIP: you can search by country.) As a class, compile a list of these facts and figures, fact-check them, and select the ones you find most significant. Then, create a data visualization that conveys the information in a clear and compelling way. Build your data visualization in one of two ways:

  1. Digitally. Create graphics and/or interactives, and share them on social media and/or your school website.
  2. Manually. Create posters and display them in a school hallway to raise awareness.

Send your digital files or photos of your poster display to education@pulitzercenter.org; we will publish them to spread the word even further.

Option 2: United Nations Assembly

Turn your classroom into the United Nations General Assembly. Assign each student  country delegation and ask them to research their country’s alliances and interests with regard to the major players in the Yemeni war (the Houthis, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United States…). As the UN, all delegates’ goal should be to prevent and hold countries accountable for war crimes, provide humanitarian aid, and foster peace; however, delegates must keep their country’s political interests in mind. The class’s objective is, through moderated debate as well as collaborative writing and revision sessions (“unmods”), to draft a resolution that will effectively aid Yemeni civilians and that will be supported by a majority of members present, including all present members of the P5.

Consider using your in-class practice as the first step toward leading a school-wide (or school district-wide!) Model UN assembly dedicated to passing a resolution on the Yemeni crisis.

Option 3: Different Ways of Depicting War

Write an essay that answers the following question: What makes a piece of journalism about war effective, and what media do you find most effective for reporting about war?

To arrive at your conclusion, explore the following Pulitzer Center reporting projects, and use evidence from at least two in your essay:

Educator Notes: 

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.5

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

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.RH.9-10.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

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