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How to turn your students into human rights campaigners

Nicole Gardiner, phase leader and teacher at Merryhills Primary, Enfield, explains how entering the Amnesty Youth Awards last year brought multiple educational benefits and inspired her students to think about human rights  

Our participation in the Amnesty Youth Awards came at an ideal time, following straight on from a school-wide project on global issues, which had a particular emphasis on human rights. Taking part in the awards meant we could further the children’s interest in what they had been studying and also encourage them to explore issues they felt passionate about.

The category we decided to enter was the Young Human Rights Reporter Award. Those wishing to take part could submit a news story on a human rights issue, a profile of a human rights activist, a story about a specific campaign, or an investigation into the human rights record of a particular country. Whichever type of story they chose, they had to ensure their words brought human rights to life for the reader.

The research and writing the children conducted for their submissions fostered a real sense of independence, as they explored their own interests and developed their own views on what they were learning. This helped them engage fully with the project, something also helped by the fact many selected their research topic as a result of a personal connection.

What most impressed  – and surprised  – me was the willingness of the students to constantly revise their work to produce a fully polished piece. There was much drafting and redrafting, with the children conscious they were being entered for a national competition. Even up until the deadline we had set for final submissions, the children were continually re-reading and improving their writing.

Through taking part in this competition, the children’s ability to write for a specific purpose was markedly enhanced. The brief prompted them to hone a complex set of skills, for example mixing first-person writing with factual reporting and analysis. They were also able to choose suitable quotes and facts to reinforce their ideas and quickly overcame the age-old struggle of refraining from waffling or repeating themselves.

As well as the academic benefits of taking part in the competition, I certainly noticed more intangible benefits too. This project really brought home to the students how circumstances might affect individual children’s life chances. 

The icing on the cake was that one of our students, Ciara Griffin.(pictured) actually won in her age category. We will definitely be looking to repeat that success by entering again this year.

The Amnesty Youth Awards, in partnership with TES, provide an exciting way to get students interested in human rights issues. Open to 7-19 year olds, there are five categories – Reporter, Songwriter and Performer, Photographer, Campaigner and Fundraiser – and prizes for different age groups. The closing date is 30 January 2015. 

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