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June 10th, 2008
Human Rights Basics

Prep for Teachers

Prior to the teaching, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a Microsoft Word document with all of the Web sites as hyperlinks for the students to access the sites. Make sure that your computer and the computer the students will be using have the necessary media players to play any video clips, which are Shockwave, Real Video, and Quicktime. Cue any videotapes to the segment(s) you plan on using to support your lesson.

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

Introductory Activity

What are “Human Rights” and what are “Children’s Rights?”

Step 1:

Explain to your students that the focus of the lesson will be on human rights, children’s rights, cultural similarities and cultural differences. First distribute to the class the questionnaire “Questions to Develop a Human Rights Discussion.”

Ask your students to brainstorm about what they think basic human rights are and how human rights are affected by current and past events. Have people’s rights changed over the years? Have them record their thoughts on the hand-out. (Students may give responses such as the “right to bear arms, the right to freedom of speech and the right to vote.”) Once the students have listed some of their ideas, have them share their ideas with the class, writing the students’ points down on your blackboard, whiteboard or poster paper to make sure to save them for the end of the lesson. While the class is discussing, have them focus on the differences and similarities between each other’s responses. Have the class develop a list of rights and a classroom definition of human rights. Make sure to have the students use their own language when developing their definitions. By having the class form their own definitions, the students will be able to identify and come up with examples of how they use their human rights on a daily basis.

Step 2:

Explain to your students that they will now be shifting their focus from human rights to children’s rights. Distribute to the class the questionnaire “Questions to Develop a Children’s Rights Discussion.” Continue the discussion you started above, but have the students explore the differences between being an adult (over 18) and being a child.

Step 3:

Distribute copies of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and The Convention on the Rights of the Child documents to each student. As a take-home assignment, have them read over both documents and come to class prepared to discuss the similarities and differences between the two hand-outs.

Culminating Activity

Step 1:

As a class review what the declaration and convention state regarding “basic” human rights and “basic” children’s rights. Have the class choose which right(s) they would like to focus on for a class debate. For example: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Declaration of Human Rights) vs. “States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life” (Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Divide the class into two groups (more if you have time) and have one group support the argument that children should have specific rights, different from adults. Have the other group support that children should not have any special or different rights.

Give each group time to prepare their arguments using the Internet. Each group should be given a Focus for Media Interaction based on their debate position. Have the students write up a brief summary of what they found on the Web sites to support their debate position.

Suggested Web sites the students can use include:

Step 2:

After the students have completed researching their arguments, have them come back as a group and begin their debate. Remember to discuss debate procedures and process before beginning the actual debate: active listening, purpose of debate, goals of debate, respectful discussion and listening, etc. For more detailed guidelines of debate procedure please reference the Wide Angle Web site at For information on Academic Controversy or for detailed descriptions on using debate in the classroom, go to where you will find “Debate Education Materials” to help you run a successful classroom debate.

Document the group’s points on your blackboard, whiteboard, or poster board. Following the debate, open up the class to discussion as a large group. Ask question such as: Did you agree with the position you were given for the debate? Why or why not? Was it difficult to discuss an issue you did not necessarily agree with? Were you able to understand and respect the position of you classmates? Why or why not?

Step 3:

Now that your class has a strong understanding of Human Rights and Children’s Rights you can have them examine a current international issue, such as the focus for this lesson: Human Cargo. (NOTE: Wide Angle will be airing a program on Human Cargo in the fall of 2003.)

Human Cargo can be defined in many different ways, from trafficking of women and children for labor to political and economic refugees using organized crime to escape life-threatening conditions in their homelands.

Have your students read a number of different news stories that focus on Human Cargo in addition to having them view segments from the Wide Angle Human Cargo program and any other relevant video clips you may have available in your classroom. (NOTE: Other video resources can be found on the Frontline/World and Online NewsHour Web sites. Frontline/World is a national public TV series that turns its lens on the global community, covering countries and cultures rarely seen on American television and the Online NewsHour is an extension to PBS television which grew out of the half-hour MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which, from 1975-1983, garnered critical praise and numerous awards for in-depth coverage of a different single issue in each broadcast, both Web sites offer streaming video of past programs having to deal with the issue of Human Cargo.)

Give your students a Focus for Media Interaction before they begin examining and researching Human Cargo issues. Questions to address are:

  • What are the different types of Human Cargo?
  • What human rights are being violated?
  • What children’s rights are being violated?
  • How are the United Nations and International Governments such as the U.S. dealing with the tens of thousands of refugees who are being trafficked as Human Cargo?

Strong sites for students to use for resources are:

After the students have had an opportunity to investigate Human Cargo through reading news articles, conducting Web research, and viewing video segments, have them discuss how their new knowledge of Human Rights and Children’s Rights changed or influenced what they researched. Post on the blackboard or white board the original class definition and list of human rights your class developed in the first section of this lesson. Ask the class to now come up with a new definition of human rights and a list of rights. Make sure they include their ideas on the rights of children versus adults. How have their ideas changed?

Have the students use their new knowledge to address and discuss what they have learned and researched about Human Cargo. Re-address the Focus for Media Interaction questions you gave them before they started their research on Human Cargo. As a class, what do they think the major human rights/children’s rights issues are for this particular international issue? How do the students feel Human Cargo should be addressed by the international community? Is there a solution or are there steps to take that the United Nations and Governments should be focusing on regarding Human Cargo?

Cross-Curricular Extensions

Social Studies/Current Events
Examine other international events where human rights and children’s rights play a major role, such as religious conflicts, freedom of expression events (such as anti-war and pro-war rallies in the United States), and child labor. How does the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child influence these events? Create a list of current events and identify the human rights and/or children’s rights that are affected by them. Ask the students as homework to read a local newspaper and bring an article to class the next day that addresses human rights and children’s rights locally or internationally.

Government/US History
Investigate how different countries’ governments react to human rights and children’s rights issues. Using the UNICEF Web site (, find out how different countries are addressing the needs of children worldwide. Have them compare the United States’ positions to those of other countries. Other Web sites to use for research are, and

How does economics play a role in human rights/children’s rights? When researching the issue of Human Cargo, economics played a major role in many different ways, from organized crime making money from the transporting of refugees or from their labor to the refugees themselves paying for their escape. Using the articles and information the students have already gathered, make a chart of some of the economic information gathered by the United Nations as well as country governments regarding the Human Cargo industry.

Community Connections

  • Contact a local community site to visit that will encourage a discussion regarding how human rights and children’s rights have changed in the student’s local community. Some possible sites are: museums of natural history, historic houses, museums of religious sects, folk museums, embassies, and consulates. (For example: in New York, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum focuses on the extremely difficult living conditions for the tenants of these New York apartments, which can be compared to the living conditions of the majority of people in New York today.)
  • Contact local human rights organizations and ask how students can get involved in making a difference in their communities. A number of national organizations, such as Amnesty International and the UNA-USA, have letter writing campaigns or other activities in which students can participate to help change the ways in which the United States addresses Human and Children’s rights issues.

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