We all stand together

29th February 2008 at 00:00

Protesting monks and police shootings - Douglas Smith makes it personal for pupils when he teaches human rights


Asking your class to empathise with victims of human rights abuses and to campaign on their behalf is a great way of teaching the topic at key stage 3. I put a picture of some Buddhist monks protesting against Burma's military government in 2007 on PowerPoint with the caption "What is happening here?" But any current picture of human rights deprivation would do.

In pairs or groups, get pupils to discuss their views. Ask for their comments and conclude by explaining the link with human rights.

Then talk about the learning objectives and tell them what they will be doing in the lesson.

Next, distribute a sheet listing 10 of what you consider to be the most important human rights. I choose voting, religion, decent homes, enough food, clean water, the right to a fair trial, education, money, freedom of movement and the right to protest against a government.

These were taken from a variety of sources such as the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), the Human Rights Act (1998) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

In pairs, get them to put the rights in what they consider to be their order of importance, then collate their results on the board to find the five most important according to the group. Ask each pair to explain why they chose a particular right as number one.

Next, give out six scenario sheets describing particular human rights abuses. You can find plenty of examples at www.amnesty.org.uk, www.hrw.org and www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk. One I use is from Jamaica, where seven young men were shot by the police in 2001. The officers claimed it was self-defence, but six of the seven youths had gunshot wounds to the backs of their heads.

Now put a seat at the front of the class. Explain that they have to imagine each volunteer who sits in it is playing the part of someone who has had one of their civil rights taken away. The group has to find out as much as possible by asking probing questions.

It is interesting to see the empathetic skills of the person in the hot seat as well as the disgust of their classmates at what they have suffered. One pupil played the part of the girlfriend of one of the dead Jamaican youths. She really got into it as she gave her account and shed so many tears that we had to hand her a hanky.

With a good group, hot-seating is not a problem, but a weaker group might need you to demonstrate it yourself first to get the idea.

After this activity, distribute a sheet listing all six scenarios. Get the pupils to complete a four-column table, with the name of the abused person, the country where the incident took place, the date, and a summary of the human rights violations they have suffered.

Explain briefly how Amnesty International tries to combat human rights abuses and the letter-writing campaigns they run to target countries where such abuses take place.

Finally, pupils choose one of the scenarios and write a letter to the government of that country, protesting at the human rights abuse, as if they worked for Amnesty International. At the end of the lesson, ask a few pupils to read out their letters.

This lesson develops pupils' knowledge and understanding of human rights, improves communication skills and encourages responsible action.

Douglas Smith is a citizenship Advanced Skills Teacher at Swanshurst School in Birmingham.

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