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A Teaching Guide for Middle and High School Educators 
written by David A. Shiman

Overview: This activity provides opportunities for students to integrate academic learning with human rights activism, offering them a chance to translate an increased human rights awareness and concern into effective action. It links the local with the global.

If an activity of this sort were to become a school service-learning project undertaken annually, it would exemplify an institutional commitment to the achievement of human rights. Furthermore it would make a statement to students as well as to the larger community about the importance of integrating theory and practice.


  • To become knowledgeable about human rights conditions, both locally and globally
  • To conduct research into the activities of human rights organizations in students'  own communities and elsewhere
  • To translate personal concern into effective human rights action
  • To analyze and report on a field experience
Grade Level:    7-12
Time:                 Variable
Materials:        None


1. Read the following quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission which created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to students:

Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In places, close to home--so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have. meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the large world.
            Eleanor Roosevelt, The Great Question, New York: United Nations, 1958.
2. Begin this activity by having your students identify local or global problems that concern them (such as homelessness, hunger, child abuse, land mines, or violence against women). List them and then try to determine which specific human rights in the UDHR address them (for example, homelessness and hunger are addressed by UDHR Article 25, which guarantees an adequate standard of living). This activity might be an extension of a previous study or a new activity.

3. Have the class select three or four human rights concerns on which to focus. Divide the students into teams to research the topics.

4. Have each team draw on the research questions below as well as generating their own:

  • What is the problem as you see it? Try to define it in your own terms.
  • How does the problem manifest itself locally? Nationally? Globally?
  • Which specific rights are involved? Identify the relevant articles of the Bill of Rights and the UDHR.
  • Where does responsibility lie for the perpetration and perpetuation of this violation?
  • Who benefits directly or indirectly as a result of this violation?
  • Who suffers directly or indirectly as a result of this violation?
  • Are other individuals or groups working on this issue?
  • What is being done locally, nationally, and/or globally to address this issue?
  • Where does responsibility lie for addressing this issue?
  • What might the students do to help in their community or in a larger context?
5. Each team will then research its selected human rights issue. Some may conduct a survey in their communities to determine the extent of the problem and what governmental and non-governmental organizations are doing to address it. Others might gather data through library research or on the World Wide Web.

6. After discussing their findings, have students decide which human rights problem they wish to adopt as a class project. Brain storm ways in which they can become involved and begin to develop a plan of action. December 10, which is Human Rights Day, might be designated as class project decision day.

7. During the remainder of the year, have students develop and implement an action plan that addresses the chosen human rights problem. They can do this through activities such as educating the school and the larger community through posters, plays, assemblies, newspaper articles, demonstrations. They can also engage in letter-writing campaigns, lobbying government officials and elected representatives, raising funds to support local and global relief and development agencies, and offering volunteer services to local or international organizations.

Note:      These activities can easily be connected to the students' academic work. Students can accomplish this by conducting research and recording, analyzing, and sharing their experiences through class presentations and written reports. There are also many opportunities for students to express themselves through art, video, music, and drama.

An alternative approach to community action involves having the students focus on issues within their own school. This helps students identify conditions that need improvement in their school and provides a framework for action. See the activity, "Taking the Human Rights Temperature of Your School."


To order copies of Economic and Social Justice: A Human Rights Perspective, contact:
Human Rights Resource Center
University of Minnesota
229 - 19th Avenue South, Room 439
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Tel: 1-888-HREDUC8 Fax: 612-625-2011
email: humanrts@tc.umn.edu
http://www.hrusa.org and http://www.umn.edu/humanrts

© 1999, Center for Teaching International Relations
Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver
Denver, CO 80208
Center for World Education 
539 Waterman Building
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405
        Director:     David A. Shiman
        Telephone: (802) 656-1428
        Email:          David.Shiman@uvm.edu
 . . . helping teachers improve their understanding of multicultural and global issues since 1974