DoD photo by Sgt. KimberlyJohnson, U.S. Army

By Guest Blogger Hayley Vatch

Choices Teaching Fellow

The U.S. role in the Middle East is a surprisingly popular topic of interest for students in my 11th and 12th grade Social Problems class.  Although the class is focused on U.S. domestic social issues such as poverty and racism, I also make time to address more global issues such as the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the refugees who have left these countries.  Studying the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is not only important for my U.S.-born students with relatives or friends who serve in the military, but also for the high population of students at my school who are refugees.  The public high school where I teach in Denver, Colorado has students from over 40 countries, with the second-largest population being from Iraq (Mexico is first), so I mainly focus on the U.S. in Iraq in my teaching.

Since my Social Problems course is only a semester, there is limited time to delve into a topic as complex as the U.S. presence in the Middle East.  Below is a fairly flexible plan that I have used the past two semesters of this course.  Combining Choices’ Teaching with the News resources, the Choices unit A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq with a National Public Radio audio clip, a Veteran guest speaker, and information from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees makes for a concise but informative, well-rounded, and thought-provoking study of the U.S .in Iraq.


Days 1-2 – Essential Question: Where is Iraq and who are its people?

Resources: As a warm-up, students create a KWL chart for the U.S. war in Iraq.  At this time they complete on the “Know” and “Want to Know” sections.  The “Learned” section is completed at the end of the unit. A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq – Student Book p. 2-13, Teacher Resource Book p. 6-7 (Part I reading and study guide questions)


Days 2-3 – Essential Question: Who was Saddam Hussein and what was Iraq like before the U.S. invasion?

Resources: A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq – Student Book p. 14-25, Teacher Resource Book p. 29-30 (Part II reading and study guide questions)


Day 4 – Essential Question: Why did the U.S. invade Iraq?  How does the war in Iraq affect Iraqi people and U.S. military?

Guest speaker: I use a good friend who served in Iraq in 2004 and again in 2007 with the U.S. Marine Corps.  I have my students write down at least one question that they would like the speaker to address.  I give the questions to the speaker a day ahead of time to give him an idea of what the students know and might not know.  Students’ homework is to write a reflection on what they learned from the speaker.


Day 5 – Essential Question: What are the social, political, economic, and human costs of war?

Resources: Teaching With the News lesson The Cost of War. I print out the appropriate reading from the web site and give each group of 3-4 students the graphic organizer handout along with one of the three web site readings.  They complete their own portion of the graphic organizer using the reading, and then we share our notes as a class.  I also always show the Scholars Online video from the lesson plan entitled “Why is it important for high school students to understand the costs of the United States’ wars?”  Students answer this question using information from the video as well as their own opinions as their exit assignment for the day.


Day 6 – Essential Question: What effect has war had on the civilians of Iraq, particularly those who have been displaced by the war?  What is the refugee experience in America like for Iraqi refugees?

Online Resources:

UNHCR data and summary of Iraq’s refugees

NPR audio clip about the struggles of refugees in America


Day 7 – Essential Question: How do people of various backgrounds perceive and experience the U.S. war in Iraq?

Resources: A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq– Blogging Iraq activity found on p. 55-59 of the Teacher Resource Book

Complete the “Learned” section of the KWL chart as an exit assignment.


A Global Controversy: The U.S. Invasion of Iraq is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.