NCSS Notable Trade Book Lesson Plan
Lesson Plan Author: Diane K. Brantley, Ph.D

Title of NCSS Notable Trade Book:
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan (Jeanette Winter, 2009)
Book Summary:
Nasreen’s Secret School is the story of a young girl named Nasreen who lives with her grandmother in Herat, Afghanistan. While it has been written in a colorful picture book format, the story is based on the real life of a young, unnamed girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. For safety reasons, her name and those of her family members have been changed to protect their identities.

The story begins by describing how Nasreen’s world changed the day the soldiers came and took hold of the city. Nasreen’s grandmother narrates the story and tells about how “dark clouds now hang over the city” and people live in fear of the Taliban. Soon after the soldiers came to town, Nasreen’s father was taken away. Not long after her father’s abduction, Nasreen’s mother snuck away to find him, leaving Nasreen alone with her grandmother in a place where women were forbidden to go outside if unaccompanied by a man. School was now forbidden for Nasreen and she sunk into a state of despair. She no longer sang, drew or smiled, nor did she utter a single word. After a time her grandmother heard whispers about a secret school for girls that was hidden behind a green gate in her neighborhood.

Fearing more for the well-being of Nasreen, grandmother quietly took her to the school each day, hoping that one day she would speak again. The story goes on to describe how school helped to mend this young girl’s heart and open her mind to a new world inside its gates.
NCSS Standards:
  1. Culture
  2. People, Places and Environments
  3. Individual Development and Identity
  4. Global Connections
  1. A map of Afghanistan containing its cities, topography and relationship to its neighbors,
  2. Five copies of the book entitled, Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan (Winter, 2009),
  3. One copy of the Open Minded Portrait Handout for each student found in Appendix C of the lesson plan,
  4. Individual copies of a reading journal/learning log containing blank pages- color code them for each group
  5. Individual copies of the DL-TA sheet found in Appendix A of the lesson plan,
  6. Teacher made comprehension questions based on the four levels found in the Q-A-R questioning strategy discussed in Appendix B of this lesson plan.
The learning objectives for this lesson are as follows:
  1. To introduce students to the Afghani culture, traditions, historical background and geographic location,
  2. To develop inferential and literal comprehension,
  3. To prepare an oral or written retelling containing detail in the appropriate sequential order,
  4. To develop cultural awareness and understanding of other people from around the globe.
Exploration/ Introduction:


Pre-reading Activities:
Prior to reading the text to the students have them engage in a carousel walk in which they go to five or six stations around the classroom containing artifacts from the Afghan culture. The stations would include such items as maps, various Afghan kites, copies of different non-fiction and fictional texts about Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, photos of notable sights in Afghanistan, a copy of the Dari alphabet and the Pashto alphabet- the two official languages of Afghanistan, articles of clothing, household items, the currency of Afghanistan called the Afghani, and any other items of interest.

Students will be given 5-10 minutes at each station to touch, observe, draw and write about the items found at the station in their learning logs. After the carousel walk has been completed, hold a whole class discussion on what they found and what they think these items have in common. This will lead into an introduction of the text in which the teacher does a picture walk through the book further eliciting information from the students about the text. Before reading the book aloud to the students, use the Directed Listening-Thinking Activity Sheet (DL-TA) (See Appendix A) to help students to think about the story vocabulary they expect to see in the story as well as to make a prediction about what might happen in the story. This can be done as a whole group activity in which the teacher draws the DL-TA chart on the board and the students orally respond to the teacher’s questions as he or she records their responses. The students may each copy this information onto their own copies of the DL-TA sheet for use at a later time in the lesson.

The teacher will read aloud the book one time without stopping for questions or comments so that the students are able to take in the entire content of the story in an uninterrupted fashion. The teacher will then read the story aloud for a second time, stopping to ask questions to further the students’ understanding of the story. These questions will be developed ahead of time using the Q-A-R strategy so that all four question levels are included. See Appendix B for a copy of the Q-A-R question levels. Sample questions have been provided in Appendix B to encourage students to develop a deeper understanding of the Afghani culture and the gender issues faced by women and girls in this society. It will also provide them with an understanding of the Taliban and how our countries have existed under very different governmental models.

On day two of the lesson, the students will work in groups to reread the text on their own and will then use the six boxes found on the DL-TA text to write six sentences, sequencing the main events in the story as they occurred. This can then be used to assist them in conducting an oral or written retelling of the story.

On day three of the lesson, the students will begin to develop an open minded portrait of Nasreen or her grandmother in order to come to a deeper understanding of the feeling experienced by them throughout the time portrayed in the story. To create an open-minded portrait have the students draw a large outline of a head with no features except the face outline. They will fill their portraits with words, symbols, phrases or other information to accurately develop a picture of the character under study. Students will then share their portraits with one another as a part of their character study based on the text.
The students’ learning will be assessed using the following procedures:
  1. The teacher will assess the students’ learning logs and carousel walk by utilizing a cooperative group scoring sheet that can be found in Appendix C of this lesson. The students will use it to self-assess and the teacher will also use a copy to assess each group.
  2. The teacher will assess the students’ written or oral retellings of the story using the attached narrative retelling sheet found in Appendix D of the lesson plan.
  3. The teacher can assess the open minded portraits using a class developed 4 point rubric in which together they decide upon the four most important aspects of creating a solid open minded portrait.
In the Author’s Note found in the front of the book, the author speaks about the fact that many of the various forms of art, music, dance, writing and other cultural expressions were banned during the Taliban’s reign. Even though the Taliban is no longer in power, much of the culture of the Afghan people has yet to return due to a fear of retaliation by some in the remaining Taliban community. One of the big cultural traditions that have not yet returned is kite flying and kite fighting. Not only was kite flying seen as a sport but it was also seen as art. As an extension activity, ask the students to research the history of kite flying and kite fighting in Afghanistan to understand just how it important it was to the Afghan people. Have the students use the graphic organizer found in Appendix B to record the information gleaned from their research. They will then use this organizer to develop a two-page report on the history of kite flying in Afghanistan.

After the students have completed their kite reports, schedule a kite flying contest for your students. Based on the designs found in their research, have them each create a kite using tissue paper and bamboo or some other material easily acquired in your local area. Here is a link to information regarding the design and development of an Afghan kite:
References & Web Link
Meet the Author and Illustrator at:
Book produced by Global Fund:
US Dept. of State- Facts About Afghanistan
BBC News Profile of Afghanistan
Green Village Schools in Afghanistan
CBC News Online from Canada
The Advocacy Project
Afghan Children’s Clothing
Other Books About Afghanistan