Resource of the Week: Amnesty International - Why the pen is mighty

Improve students' literacy - and champion human rights - through letter writing

In the days of multimedia, when text messages and Twitter reign, how important is the skill of letter writing?

Jacqueline Wilson, author of the acclaimed Tracy Beaker series of books, is certainly a firm supporter. The books have been widely praised for encouraging young people to engage in reading and writing, and the author receives thousands of items of mail from young people around the world.

Ironically, it is the letters from UK fans - and the poor quality of the writing compared with those from abroad - that concerns Wilson. She believes that letter writing is an art that needs to be rediscovered.

TES Connect partner Amnesty International also promotes the power of the pen, and each year inspires thousands of people to write letters of protest against human rights abuses. These missives show solidarity, protect lives and hold governments to account. Over the years, letters have led to huge success, with political prisoners being released or their conditions being markedly improved.

Now Amnesty International has merged the concepts of literacy and protest in its free education pack, The Power of the Pen. The aim is to help young people to boost their level of literacy while discovering the importance of clear self-expression and persuasive writing in helping to right wrongs.

In the lessons, students write letters on behalf of named individuals whose rights are at risk - real people in real danger. The pack includes a literacy scorecard, which students can use to peer-assess each other's writing and evaluate its effectiveness. The cases in the pack are online and will be updated regularly.

One success story is that of Khun Kawrio from Burma. In 2008, he was sentenced to 37 years in prison for his peaceful protests against the referendum for a new constitution announced by the military government of the time. His campaign included spray painting "No" on buildings and releasing balloons and paper boats. Amnesty became aware of his case and encouraged activists to write letters to the Burmese government calling for his release. He was freed in July 2012.

The pack is aimed at teachers of 11- to 14-year-olds in subjects such as English, citizenship and geography, as well as literacy coordinators and teachers who are seeking to build literacy across the curriculum.

The free resource has been developed by literacy specialists. It can be taught as two one-hour lessons or as one lesson with homework. It includes two lessons, a PowerPoint presentation, activity sheets, case studies, literacy scorecards for peer assessment, a film clip and curricular links.

Download the free education pack at

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