How I Teach - Never too young for justice

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
Primary students have much to gain from human rights lessons

Some teachers believe that the subject of human rights is too complicated, controversial or upsetting to be taught to children who are under the age of 11. If this is your position, I would argue that you are underestimating your students.

I regularly teach my class of seven-year-olds about human rights. I tailor lessons to suit their age, yet I am always surprised by their grasp of the issues and level of engagement.

It is important to make the lesson relatable and interesting. A good way to introduce the subject is to talk about needs as opposed to wants. Guide students through the discussion, asking if needs and wants are the same for everybody - in the class, the school, the country and around the world.

Amnesty International has produced a child-friendly version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a great resource for demonstrating what rights every person is entitled to. Remember the age of your students, though: they will not absorb the information solely through discussion.

Try games and activities to make the topic fun. A good one involves the book If the World Were a Village by David J Smith and Shelagh Armstrong, which converts world population statistics proportionally to a village of 100 people. Ask students to find 100 Lego men in the classroom, then gather the figurines together. As you read out the estimates of how many people in the world lack basic rights, count out the corresponding number of Lego men. Extend the task for older students by getting them to present the data in different forms.

Such activities do not have to be randomly inserted into lessons: human rights is a topic that lends itself to many areas of the curriculum. For example, in my class we have been focusing on Judaism as our religion for this term, and the children learned about the Jewish holiday of Succoth. After creating a "succah" (walled structure) in the playground, we discussed what shelter means in the 21st century. This led us to consider homelessness and homeless people in the local community. The talk had a profound effect, so much so that the children wrote to their MP asking what the government was doing to help the homeless.

Younger children are able to understand ideas that we sometimes believe are too complex for them. If you can relate the concept of human rights to their lives, they see how it affects everyone, and the topic becomes less intimidating to teach.

Human Rights Day is on 10 December. Dominic Lee is a teacher at St Mary and St Peter's Church of England Primary School in Somerset, England.


1. Needs must

Is a personal computer a want or a need? Students may surprise you with their answers during this activity from children's charity Unicef, in which they must categorise aspects of life depicted on a set of illustrated cards. This will help them to understand the link between needs and rights.

bit.lyNeeds Must

2. Universal rights?

A detailed lesson plan to prompt discussion on gay rights. Should countries get involved in determining one another's human rights standards?


3. Illustrate the point

These eye-catching illustrations of children's rights can be used as posters or flash cards.


4. Responsible roles

Introduce your students to the ideas of taking responsibility and helping one another with this lesson plan and activities from the Citizenship Foundation.


5. Stick to the task

Use this cut-and-stick activity to help your class understand the real impact that the Human Rights Act has on people's lives.


6. Torture on trial

Address the sensitive topic of torture using a lesson plan and resources from Amnesty International. Students consider what constitutes torture and whether governments should be allowed to use such methods.


7. Raising awareness

Consider how human rights can be abused using this PowerPoint. Get students to take the topic further by completing a creative task to raise awareness of human rights infringements.


8. Global citizens

Discover more about human rights in this lesson introducing children from five different countries. Students learn about the rights and responsibilities they have and the role they play in the global community.


9. Case of abuse?

Encourage students to debate whether human rights have been breached in a selection of UK case studies.


10. Poster presentation

This poster from Unicef outlines the 45 articles that make up the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and offers explanations and definitions for each one.


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