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Lesson Plans

The United Nations and reform - Lesson Plan

April 23, 2005

Full Lesson


By Greg Timmons, The Constitution Project, Portland, Ore.


History, social studies

Estimated Time

Two class periods

Grade Level



Students will:

  • Understand the history, mission and basic operation of the United Nations.
  • Understand how the U.N. was a product of the 20th century, built to address international issues of that time.
  • Understand the function of the six bodies of the U.N. and their main functions.
  • Understand some of the major accomplishments of the U.N. over the past 60 years.
  • Examine some of the past and current criticisms of the U.N. and analyze the basis for the criticism.
  • Analyze the purpose of the United Nations and evaluate some of the proposals to address concerns and criticisms surrounding it.


This activity is designed to be conducted in two class periods, one period for each part. The first part provides students with a broad overview of the history, structure, and accomplishments of the United Nations. Students review an overview of the institution and develop brief presentations in a group activity following a set of discussion questions.

In the second activity, students review a detailed examination of the structural and operational problems the United Nations has experienced throughout 60 years. Students will examine current and past criticisms of the institution and review a new set of proposed reforms entitled “In Larger Freedom” to be discussed at the 2005 World Summit in September. Students then participate in a focus group forum addressing thought-provoking questions about the future of the United Nations.


Part One – Background on the United Nations (one class period)

  1. Have students read the handout “Background on the U.N.” prior to beginning the activity.
  2. During the class, divide students into three groups and hand out the discussion questions relevant to each group.
  3. Have students discuss questions on their section and construct a brief presentation for the entire class.
  4. Have students present their findings to the class.

Part Two – Reform at the United Nations (one class period)

  1. Have students read the handout “A Call for Reform” prior to beginning the activity.
  2. Have students number off by 5’s. Arrange the room so that the first group is sitting facing each other in the middle of the room. Have the rest of the class sit around them.
  3. Ask the first group to discuss the first focus group forum question. Explain that only the students in the inner group are allowed to respond to the question. However, if a student from the outer circle wants to join the discussion, he or she can move to the inner group, tap a participant to move to the outer circle, and take that student’s place in the discussion.
  4. After ample time is spent on the first question, call up the second group to sit in the center and follow the same procedure with a second question. Switch discussion questions enough times to allow for all students to participate.

Extension Activities

  1. Have students write a paper on the question, “How can the proposed reforms discussed at the September world summit help address some of the criticisms faced by the U.N?” Students should provide specific examples to support their answers.
  2. Have students conduct a debate on any of the topics discussed in the focus group forum. Specific areas to consider are the merits of the veto power, broadening the number of Security Council members, or whether the U.S. should continue to participate in the U.N.
  3. As a class activity, have students work in four groups to examine the three different proposals on restructuring the Security Council. Have students generate visual aids to explain these changes and provide explanations on the merits of these proposals. Have the fourth group develop questions or challenges from the article to ask the presenters.