Analyzing Malala Yousafzai’s Speech to the United Nations

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Before I Get Started:  A Word about the Six Traits of Good Writing and Common Core

When my students revise and edit their essays, they must consider the 6+1 Traits of Good Writing:



Word Choice


Sentence Fluency


The traits of good writing are used to guide instruction in writing.  They are also used as the basis for assessment.  Once students are introduced to these traits, they can begin analyzing people’s writing as well as their own.  Using these traits also help the students become familiar with how the teacher will grade their essays.

Moreover, the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts emphasize the development of claims/theses and supporting them with relevant and well-chosen evidence.

The guiding questions that I use to help students analyze a text stem from these traits and the Common Core standards.  I’m sharing this with you, so you will understand how I arrived at the questions that guided our discussion of Malala’s speech to the United Nations.

In future posts, I will share how my students have used these traits to revise and edit each other’s writing.  However, it is also one of my goals that the students consider these traits as they develop outlines and compose their first drafts.


The Human Right to an Education

The stage is set.  Now it’s time to meet Malala Yousafzai.  My students were already somewhat familiar with her, because her book graces my whiteboard marker holder.  However, they really didn’t know her full story—except for the students who were curious enough to read the book.  And since her speech to the United Nations mentions how the Taliban attempted to murder her and that she’s passionate about education, I thought it would only make sense to introduce the students to her through short video clips.

I found a good one published by The New York Times titled “The Malala Yousafzai Story:  The Pakistani Girl Shot in Taliban Attack”.  It introduces the viewer to Malala’s family and their experience with living in a community in Pakistan that was transformed by the Taliban.  It is less than 20 minutes long.  Then I supplemented it with a video, only about 5 minutes, titled “Malala Yousafzai, 16, and Her Miraculous Story of Surviving Being Shot by the Taliban”.

Malala had a dream to become a doctor.  She attended the school her father owned.  Even after the Taliban forbid families from sending their girls to school, Malala and others risked their lives to get an education anyway.  One day she was riding the bus with her classmates.  At a checkpoint, the shooter opened the bus door and asked for Malala.  After she identified herself, the shots fired.  She was shot right through the side of her forehead.

After we watched the videos, we discussed it.  There were many responses.


Malala’s Speech: An Analysis

I then proceeded to give out Malala’s speech to the United Nations.  From there, I drew my students’ attention to a few questions on the screen:

What’s Malala’s claim?

What evidence did she use to support it?

What counterpoint or alternative viewpoint did she include in her speech?

How did she respond to the counterpoint/alternative view?

What did she recommend towards the end of her speech?

I reminded the students that when they write their argumentative essay, they will follow the same line of thinking.  Even though this is a speech, it is still an argument with a claim and supporting evidence.  Unlike in a typical composition, Malala added lines that readers will most likely not encounter in a traditional essay.  Speeches are meant to be spoken.  Essays are meant to be read.

And for any readers of this blog who did not read my other posts, I am sharing my reflections about the human rights writing unit we just about completed in class.  The purpose of the speech is two-fold:   It introduces the class to a human rights issue and activist.   It also encourages the students to begin thinking about claims, supporting evidence, alternative views, and conclusions.

I told the students to read the excerpt of Malala’s speech.  In addition to reading it, I told the students to draw a box around or highlight Malala’s claim.

After they finished reading, they shared Malala’s claim in small groups.   Then we discussed it as a class.  Malala’s claim is that all children have a right to an education, especially girls.  See the excerpt of her speech with the identified claim below:

malala speech_snip_1Some students also identified the following highlighted sentence, found a few lines down, as being part of the claim:

malala speech_snip_2I asked the students if they could restate her claim using these two sentences, how would they word it?  They wrote down ideas in their notebooks, shared them with their small groups, and then shared them with the class.  In short, we decided that Malala’s claim can be summed up in the following way:

All children, especially girls, have a right to an education.

Next, I told the students to go back to the speech and identify and underline two sentences or groups of sentences that support this idea.  Some are more descriptive or stronger than others.  I wanted them to find the pieces of evidence that best supports Malala’s case.  Again, they shared their evidence with their small groups and then as a class.  The sentences that the students identified can be found in the following clip of the text:

malala speech_snip_3As students identified the sentences, I highlighted them on the Smart screen.  Then I asked the students to explain how each set of sentences supports the claim.  They spoke about each set in their groups and then we discussed them as a class.

“Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons.  And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood.  Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get an education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.”

How does this statement support Malala’s claim that every child deserves an education?

The consensus was that Malala wanted to tell the world that Islam supports the education of all people.  So, she used her religion as an example so the world will know that a right to an education for every child is Islamic.  This is also important, because Malala was shot because of the Taliban’s Islamic, or what they think are, Islamic beliefs.  She and her classmates were shot because they were going to school and the Taliban didn’t like it.

“…peach is necessary for education.  In many parts of the world especially Pakistan and Afghanistan; terrorism, wars, conflicts stop children to go to their schools.”

Students agreed that terrorism, wars, and conflicts are keeping children from getting an education.  Therefore, these problems need to be solved for children to attend school.

“India, innocent and poor children are victims of child labour. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria…Young girls have to do domestic labour and are forced to get married at early age.”

The class agreed that these were extremely important points, because children cannot go to school if they are forced to work.  They can’t attend school if they are married, having children, and taking care of their families.  Children also cannot go to school if the schools don’t exist.  If children have a right to an education, then they can’t work like slaves in factories or get married at a very young age.

In this case, Malala is showing how there is a connection between living in a peaceful world and a children’s right and access to an education.  In the speech, Malala goes on to talk about the relationship between peace and education.  She goes even further by noting the Taliban’s use of force to stop the girls from going to school and responds by insisting that there is a way to respond peacefully through an education.

What’s Next?

And it is from this point where we began talking about the alternative view that Malala addressed in her speech.  Seventh and eighth grade students must acknowledge and include alternative views or counterarguments in their argumentative essays.  In the next post, I will share what the class came up with and how we discussed this very essential element of an argument.


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