Fight for your rights with songs of protest

18th April 2014 at 01:00

It all began with a student's curiosity, as the best lessons often do. Greg always astounded his classmates with his general knowledge. One day, he mentioned Amnesty International during a class discussion on human rights; another student asked what it was and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

I asked the class to research the organisation for their homework - and I did some exploring of my own. On the Amnesty International website I found the Power of our Voices pack on protest songs, and an accompanying lyric-writing competition that my class could take part in. Teaching students about human and civil rights through popular culture, particularly music, seemed such a great idea, and I spent the rest of the weekend hastily planning lessons on this theme.

We started by listening to and analysing protest songs from various decades. Then I asked each student to research an area of human rights that particularly interested them and write a song about it.

To help, I played the class some video clips of rapper and poet Kate Tempest (pictured) that took them through the writing process step by step. They were excited about having the chance to compete against each other and really embraced the task. I have rarely seen my students more engaged with their work.

The finished results were read aloud: the songs were moving, inspiring and at a depth that surprised us all. Then we put our efforts into a large envelope and sent them off to be judged in the Amnesty competition.

We were thrilled when two students ended up in the final - these 11-year-olds held their own in a contest that was eventually won by sixth-formers. Our pride knew no bounds.

We will definitely be trying this again next year: great lessons need to be repeated.

Mary McCrystal is a religious studies teacher at the Wye Valley School, Buckinghamshire, England. To order a Power of our Voices pack, go to bit.lyPowerVoices

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