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Meet the UNC student who wrote his own English textbook

First-year Amirsaman Zahabioun turned his detailed notes into a guide for other high school students.

Amirsaman Zahabioun
Incoming first-year Amirsaman Zahabioun began high school enrolled in classes for students learning English as a second language. By the end of high school, he had published his own textbook. Photo courtesy of Amirsaman Zahabioun.

Many incoming students start their college careers at UNC already fairly accomplished. First-year Amirsaman Zahabioun — already a published author — is no exception. 

Zahabioun emigrated from Iran at the age of 13 and has been taking English classes since first grade. At the beginning of high school, he was enrolled in classes intended for students learning English as a second language, but transferred to an honors-level class in ninth grade and eventually took International Baccalaureate English classes. 

Throughout all his courses, Zahabioun took meticulous notes. He compiled them in a document, which he originally intended to share with his freshman English teacher as a study guide of sorts for other students to use. He quickly realized he could reach a greater number of students.

“The file was so huge that I was like, ‘Well, this could be a whole book,’" Zahabioun said.

He then spent the summer of his junior year editing the material and sent the manuscript to Amazon. By December of his senior year, “The Complete Guide to High School English Literature" had been published. The guide contains everything from grammar rules to poetry analysis. 

Zahabioun said he believes supplemental books like his, written by students, carry a unique perspective and can be even more effective for their peers, as students understand their own language better than adults. 

Utilizing the experiences of ESL students, or “multilingual learners,” can be a particularly helpful strategy in learning English, Kristin Papoi said. Papoi is a clinical assistant professor in UNC’s School of Education and program coordinator for the Masters of Arts in Teaching.

“What this book that (Zahabioun) wrote speaks to, is kind of flipping the script of looking at our multilingual learners through an asset-space lens rather than a deficit of, ‘They can't do this,' or 'They need something,’” Papoi said.

Zahabioun’s book will even be implemented in some English classrooms this year at his former school, Myers Park High School. Lisa Patrizio, Zahabioun's ninth-grade English teacher who he dedicated the book to, will be using it with her ninth and 10th-graders.  

“How he put it all together and how he vertically aligned it, it just completely blows me away," Patrizio said, "Because, like I said, I've been teaching 23 years and I have colleagues who haven't made that effort to connect what you learn in the ninth grade to 10th, 11th and 12th.” 

Patrizio said Zahabioun’s work ethic and passion for learning were inspirational to her. 

“It just gave me the incentive to want to keep helping other students, and made me realize that all the long hours and hard work that I put into it — how it's just so worth it,” she said. 

This summer, Zahabioun worked to incorporate material he learned in his 12th grade English class to create a second edition of his book, which will be available through Amazon on Aug. 26 in both paperback and e-book versions. The e-book will be free to the public, a factor Zahabioun said he intentionally ensured to allow high school students the opportunity to improve their mastery of skill regardless of the rigor of their English courses.

Although he applied to UNC intending to pursue medicine, Zahabioun said he hopes to continue exploring his interests in writing and journalism.  

“Writing has always been a great passion for me," he said. "And I believe that you must master your writing skills regardless of what skills you are studying."

Zahabioun said the second edition of “The Complete Guide to High School English Literature” will likely be his last book, but he would advise ESL students or those with ESL backgrounds to not be afraid to explore the language and all its challenges.

“Once they start going deeper into the process of learning the language, digging a little more deeper, they would soon realize that it's actually fun to find all those relationships that would make writing more precise and more beautiful and more effective,” Zahabioun said.

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