A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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A Thousand Splendid Suns Lesson Plans

Student Activities for A Thousand Splendid Suns Include:

After 9/11, most Americans could name one thing they knew about Afghanistan: the Taliban. The Taliban came into power in Afghanistan in 1996, and they remained in power until 2001. What many people don’t realize, however, is that Afghanistan was not always ruled by extremists; in fact, they were once a free people with a constitution, and the women had rights equal to those of men. Once Osama bin Laden and the Taliban took over, much of that went away. Khaled Hosseini recaptures the beauty of Afghanistan, and in particular the city of Kabul, in his novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. He follows the journey of two young women who are forced into oppressed lives, yet he highlights their strength and resilience throughout their ordeals: a reminder of the spirit of the women of Afghanistan, in spite of those who try to strip them of their dignity. Through Mariam and Laila’s stories, Hosseini illuminates important themes such as the rights of women, hope, the importance of sacrifice, and the importance of family.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

A Thousand Splendid Suns Summary

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example A Thousand Splendid Suns Plot Diagram


Mariam is a harami, a bastard, the product of her mother Nana’s affair with wealthy businessman Jalil. Mariam loves Jalil, but on her 15th birthday, he refuses to take her to Herat to one of his cinemas. She waits outside of his house all night, and discovers that he is hiding inside. Upon her return, she finds that Nana has hung herself. Jalil’s wives marry Mariam off to a shoemaker named Rasheed, and Rasheed takes Mariam away to live in Kabul.


At first, Mariam is nervous, but content in her marriage to Rasheed. He makes her wear a burqa, but he’s nice to her otherwise. Then, Mariam can’t carry a child. Rasheed begins to physically abuse Mariam and their marriage becomes a nightmare for Mariam.

Rising Action

A girl named Laila lives near Rasheed and Mariam. Laila’s brothers are off fighting with the Mujahideen, and her mother, Mammy, suffers from bouts of depression. Her father is a book-learning man, and places great importance on Laila getting her education. After Laila’s brothers are killed and her best friend Tariq’s family flee, her parents are killed in a bombing of their house. Rasheed rescues Laila from the rubble. Laila is pregnant at 14 with Tariq’s child and agrees to marry Rasheed for safety.


Mariam and Laila’s relationship is strained at first because Mariam is jealous of Rasheed’s affections for Laila. She is also jealous of Laila’s daughter Aziza. However, they soon become friends and plot to flee together. They are caught, brought home, and Rasheed savagely beats them. After Laila gives birth to Rasheed’s son Zalmai, she discovers that Tariq is still alive. Mariam kills Rasheed with a shovel as he strangles Laila.

Falling Action

Laila, Tariq, and Zalmai recover Aziza from the orphanage where Rasheed had sent her, and Mariam turns herself in for Rasheed’s murder. She does this so that Laila, Tariq, and the children can escape from Afghanistan. Mariam is executed in Ghazi Stadium in front of thousands of people.


Tariq works in a hotel in Muree. After the fall of the Taliban, Laila feels pulled to return to Kabul, but she wants to stop in Herat first. She meets Mullah Faizullah’s son Hamza, who takes her to the kolba where Mariam grew up. He gives her a box that Jalil tried to deliver to Mariam years before, with an apology note, a copy of Pinocchio, and Mariam’s inheritance money. Laila uses the money for the orphanage in Kabul, and she is pregnant again. If it’s a girl, she will name the baby Mariam.

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of A Thousand Splendid Suns.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Character Map Graphic Organizer for A Thousand Splendid Suns

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Use a character map to help track the different characters that are discussed in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Characters Example


  • Physical Traits: Dark hair; green eyes; long face; not particularly pretty; weathered by years of living with Rasheed

  • Character Traits:Timid and broken; afraid of Rasheed until she finds strength through Laila and the children; becomes like another mother to the children; sacrifices her own life so that Laila and the children can have a new beginning with Tariq

  • Quote

    “‘For me, it ends here. There’s nothing more I want. Everything I’d ever wished for as a little girl you’ve already given me. You and your children have made me so very happy.’”

Other characters included in this map are: Laila, Rasheed, Tariq, Jalil, Aziza, Zalmai and Babi.

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Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "Cultural" or other appropriate tabs to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical Traits, Character Traits, and a Quote.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Literary Conflict Student Activity for A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflict. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the Storyboard Creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.

Literary Conflict in A Thousand Splendid Suns


After Tariq hears that neighborhood bully Khadim had sprayed Laila with urine from a water gun to mock her “yellow hair”, he attacks Khadim with his prosthetic leg. After the fight, Khadim never bothers Laila again.


Laila wakes up after her parents are killed by a rocket that hit their house, finding that she has been saved and taken care of by Rasheed. She also knows that she is pregnant with Tariq’s child, and that as an unwed mother, she will be in danger. Despite Mariam’s objections and obvious anger at the threat she feels Laila poses, Laila agrees to marry Rasheed to protect herself and her baby.


Laila and Mariam try to escape on a bus to Peshawar with Aziza. However, they cannot board the bus without a male family member, so they enlist the help of someone they deem to be a friendly man. He turns them in to the authorities, who send them back to Rasheed. It is a crime for a woman to run away from her husband, according to the Taliban.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

  1. Identify conflicts in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Student Activity for A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Rights of Women

The primary theme in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is the rights of women, especially under the Taliban. Mariam and Laila grow up during regimes that are not oppressive, including during the Daoud Republic and the Soviet takeover. Although Mariam’s father’s family pushes her into marriage with Rasheed, it is ultimately her choice to agree to marry him. Under the Soviet regime, Laila is able to go to school, and her father wants her to hold off on marriage until she has finished her education. With the arrival of the Taliban, all of that is taken away. Women are expected to wear burqas, be escorted by male family members, and to be obedient to the rules and regulations of the regime. Laila and Mariam suffer at the hands of Rasheed because he is given all of the power over the women and the children, according to the law. The unfair treatment of women is horrific and brutal, and epitomized with Mariam’s execution in the stadium.


Hope drives Mariam to seek out Jalil in Herat, in her hopes of being enfolded into his family with his wives and her half-siblings. Hope is also what Nana lost as she watched her daughter walk away from her to seek out her father instead. Hope drives Mariam to try to make her marriage work, but is ultimately lost when she discovers she cannot have children. Hope keeps Laila’s spirits up, especially when she finds out that Tariq and his family have to leave Afghanistan. Laila’s hopes of seeing Tariq are dashed when Rasheed hires a man to tell Laila that Tariq is dead; it is this loss of hope that drives her to agree to marry Rasheed. Hope comes back to Mariam as she develops a bond with Aziza, and then with Laila. The two women hope to escape from Rasheed one day, despite their botched attempt. And while Mariam loses her freedom by taking the fall for Rasheed’s murder, her hope follows Laila and her children, so that they can begin a new life together, free from prosecution, and finally free from Rasheed.

The Importance of Sacrifice

Many characters make sacrifices for each other throughout the novel. Laila’s first sacrifice comes when she does not marry Tariq and run away with his family, because she knows she cannot leave her Babi. Her second sacrifice comes when she learns that Tariq is “dead”, but she knows she is pregnant and therefore in danger: she agrees to marry Rasheed to protect her baby. Mariam sacrifices her freedom so that Laila, Tariq, Aziza, and Zalmai can escape to a better life by turning herself in for Rasheed’s murder. It is this ultimate sacrifice that leaves a deep impression on Laila’s soul, who returns to Herat to better understand Mariam’s life, and uses her inheritance from Jalil to help the orphanage in Kabul.

The Importance of Family

Family becomes something that is not defined by blood throughout the novel. Jalil is family, but he essentially rejects Mariam. Mariam’s Nana, who was so unkind to Mariam throughout her childhood, feels so betrayed by her blood that she hangs herself in despair. While Rasheed is Mariam’s husband, his violence and rejection from her lack of ability to carry a child makes him her oppressor. Mariam ultimately finds her family with Laila, Aziza, and Zalmai. Mariam and Laila develop a sister-like bond, and she becomes a second mother to Aziza and Zalmai. It is this devotion that leads Mariam to make the choice to turn herself in for Rasheed’s murder so that Laila and the children can live their lives in freedom.

Motifs, Imagery & Symbols


An important symbol in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is the city of Kabul. The title of the novel is based on 17th-century poet Saib Tabrizi’s poem “Kabul.” In lines 15-16, Tabrizi writes, “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs/ And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” His poem is a love song to the city of Kabul, the same city where Laila and Mariam form their bond, and the city that, while ravaged by war, pulls Laila back to help rebuild. It is a seat of horror with the Taliban, but later, it becomes a symbol of hope for a new start for Afghanistan.


An important recurring symbol in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is Pinocchio. For her 15th birthday, Mariam thinks carefully about what she wants from Jalil, and she decides that she wants him to take her to see the new movie Pinocchio, which has just begun playing in his theaters. He had told the whole story of the movie, and his words make her long to see it in person. It is this wish that changes the atmosphere between them, as Mariam comes to realize that his weekly visits are all she will ever have of him as a father. He is ashamed of her. Years later, Jalil waits outside of Mariam’s house in Kabul, but she refuses to see him. Laila later receives what he was trying to give to Mariam from Mullah Faizullah’s son: a box with an apology letter, money, and a copy of the movie Pinocchio.

Chai Tea

Another important symbol in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is the chai tea. Mariam begins to see Laila in a new light when she intervenes during Rasheed’s beating of Mariam. Eventually, she begins to bond with Aziza, who holds tight to her finger. Then, one night, Mariam acknowledges that no one has ever stood up for her before the way that Laila did for her. Their newfound truce results in Laila asking Mariam to go outside with her to have a cup of chai in the yard. While Mariam insists that she has chores so she can’t stay for long, one cup turns into three, until Rasheed yells for Laila that Aziza is crying, and the two women exchange knowing looks. They were not enemies any longer.

The Bamiyan Buddhas

Another symbol in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is the Bamiyan Buddhas that Babi takes Laila and Tariq to see. The Buddhas were once part of a thriving Buddhist center until the 9th century. They are carved into the mountainside, and they have thousands of caves behind them, in the mountain itself. Here, Laila sees the love that Babi has for Mammy, despite her selfishness and her anger at Babi for having “no convictions”. Babi thinks about moving to America, and making sure that Laila still gets a good education, but she knows he’ll never leave Mammy, and Mammy will never leave Kabul. The Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from A Thousand Splendid Suns you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

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Close-Reading Envelope Assignment for A Thousand Splendid Suns

The close-reading envelope assignment is a great way to get students from all levels to focus on important themes, ideas, and character developments within a novel. Storyboarding the results can help take this strategy to a whole new level!

Teachers should hand out an envelope to each student that is only identified by a number. Inside the envelope, there should be index cards and a slip of paper that tells the student what his or her assigned topic is. This topic will be the student’s responsibility to track and report throughout the course of the chosen novel. The student will write the quote or a summary of where the example of their topic appears, and then an explanation of how the quote or summary relates to the topic.

With Storyboard That, the students can keep track of their findings visually, too. For each topic, have students visually depict a scene of their chosen example from the novel, and underneath, explain how it relates to their topic. Some topics to consider using for A Thousand Splendid Suns include:

  • Examine how Mariam’s sense of self changes throughout the novel
  • Trace the treatment of women in Afghanistan throughout each of the regime changes
  • How does physiognomy play a role in character development?
  • Trace the theme of violence as it appears throughout the novel
  • Trace the themes of honor and pride as they appear throughout the novel
  • Examine the role of the importance of education in the novel

An example of an Envelope Assignment for half of A Thousand Splendid Suns is depicted in the storyboard below:

Examine the themes of honor and pride as they appear throughout the novel.

Page NumberExplanation
Example 1pg. 27Nana tells Mariam that she doesn’t matter to Jalil. She will never be wanted in his house because she is a harami, an embarrassment to his honor and pride.
Example 2pg. 49Jalil allows Mariam to be married off to Rasheed at the request of his three wives. His honor will be preserved as long as the reminder of his affair is sent far away.
Example 3pg. 70Rasheed gives Mariam a burqa, after telling her that he thought that women who were allowed to walk around uncovered were shameful. He thought that the men who allowed them to do it were spoiling their own honor and pride. He says that where he comes from, a woman’s face is her husband’s business only.
Example 4pg. 94Mariam cannot carry a baby, and that is the ultimate dishonor a woman can do to her husband.
Example 5pg. 214Rasheed insists that he marry Laila, to legitimize the fact that she is an unmarried girl staying with him. It looks dishonorable. Mariam tries to argue, because she sees allowing the girl into their marriage as a sign of disrespect to her.
Example 6pg. 219Laila agrees to marry Rasheed because it was dishonorable and dangerous to be an unmarried pregnant woman. She will pretend the baby is Rasheed’s to protect his honor and pride.

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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from A Thousand Splendid Suns. Many of the words throughout the story are in Urdu, and they are important to understanding not only the Afghani culture, but also the character development and political events in the novel. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the novel, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

  • kolba
  • burqa
  • tandoor
  • jinn
  • hijab
  • nikka
  • tahamul
  • harami
  • jo
  • jihad
  • brusquely
  • imprudence
  • rueful
  • wistful

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in A Thousand Splendid Suns by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Women Under the Taliban

A Thousand Splendid Suns traces the journeys of two young women throughout a series of important time periods for Afghanistan: the fall of the Shah monarchy; the rise and fall of Mohammed Daoud’s republic; the Soviet intervention and subsequent war with Mujahideen forces; the fall of Soviet-backed President Mohammed Najibullah; and the rise of the Taliban. Students will no doubt be familiar with the oppression of women in Afghanistan.

Since A Thousand Splendid Suns continues much of the same ideas that are presented in Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, a great resource that can be utilized for teaching both novels is distributed by Amnesty International.

In Appendix 4 of the above guide, the rules for women set by the Taliban are listed. Some of the more surprising ones for students include:

In addition, many Taliban rules apply to both sexes, including: no music, TV, or movies; men may not shave their beards; no internet; no dancing at weddings; and no clapping at sporting events. An interesting way to introduce the shock value of these rules is to have students keep a log for homework of what they do throughout the day, from breakfast until bedtime. Have students come in and share some of the things they do in a day. Then, hand them the list of Taliban rules and ask students to examine how many of these rules they violated in just one day! Have students discuss questions such as:

Current Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Many students will wonder if the conditions for women have improved under the governments instituted after the fall of the Taliban. The truth is, it’s complicated. According to an article published by Al Jazeera in July 2015, 90% of women in Afghanistan are still facing abuse, violence, or forced marriages. According to the Trust in Education Foundation, 85% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate, and the percentage of women who die in childbirth is high. According to a CNN report from April 2015, women’s rights activists are being actively targeted and murdered. While the country implemented the EVAW law in 2009 (Elimination of Violence against Women), in 2013, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released a report showing a 20% increase in murders of women.

Clearly, the fight for equal rights and treatment of women still has a ways to go in Afghanistan. Students might be inspired by reading the story of Malala Yousafzai, who after several awards for her activism in promoting girls’ rights to attend school in Pakistan, was shot in an assassination attempt carried out by the Taliban in 2012. She won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17 in 2014, making her the youngest Nobel Prize winner. Malala continues to advocate for girls’ education, most recently opening a school on the border of Syria for teenage Syrian refugee girls. Her story and links to the documentary made about her life and work can be found at:

Essential Questions for A Thousand Splendid Suns

  1. What motivates people to take action and make changes in their lives?
  2. What impact do war and violence have on the people who live through it?
  3. How can hope serve as an important tool for survival?
  4. Is family always defined by blood? Why or why not?
  5. What are some ways that women can assert their strength in an oppressive society?
  6. How much do parents influence their children’s ideas about the world around them?
  7. What is sacrifice? What are some reason why people make sacrifices?

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•   (English) A Thousand Splendid Suns   •   (Español) Mil Soles Espléndidos   •   (Français) A Thousand Splendid Suns   •   (Deutsch) Tausend Strahlende Sonnen   •   (Italiana) Mille Splendidi Soli   •   (Nederlands) Duizend Schitterende Zonnen   •   (Português) Mil Sóis Esplêndidos   •   (עברית) אלף שמשות זוהרות   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) ألف شمس رائعة   •   (हिन्दी) हज़ारों सूर्य से भी अधिक चमकदार   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Тысяча Сияющих Солнц   •   (Dansk) A Thousand Splendid Suns   •   (Svenska) Tusen Strålande Solar   •   (Suomi) Tuhat Loistavaa Aurinkoa   •   (Norsk) Tusen Strålende Soler   •   (Türkçe) Bin Muhteşem Güneş   •   (Polski) Tysiące Wspaniałych Słońc   •   (Româna) O mie de Splendid Suns   •   (Ceština) Tisíce Planoucích Sluncí   •   (Slovenský) Tisíc Nádherných Slnkov   •   (Magyar) A Thousand Splendid Suns   •   (Hrvatski) Tisuću Sjajnih Sunčeva   •   (български) Хиляда Прекрасни Слънца   •   (Lietuvos) A Thousand Splendid Suns "   •   (Slovenščina) A Thousand Splendid Suns   •   (Latvijas) A Thousand Splendid Suns   •   (eesti) Tuhat Hiilgavat Päikest