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Lesson Plans

What the United Nations means today

October 24, 2018

Full Lesson



History, Social Studies, U.S. Government, Civics

Note: This lesson may also apply to math, science, art and physical education teachers. Several major world issues the U.N. tackles, referred to in this lesson as the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pertain to these subjects as well.

Estimated Time:

Four to five 50-minute class periods

Grade Level

Grades 9-12


The first objective of this lesson is for students to learn more about the work of the United Nations by researching an issue they care about. The second objective is for students to understand the importance of their voice in the world and how to use social media responsibly in order to share their knowledge with the wider community.


There are more young people alive in the world than ever before, according to a United Nations report from 2014. While students may learn about United Nations Day held each fall and other points in their social studies classes, they should also know their voices matter in efforts to make the world a more peaceful place.

Students will learn about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals recently issued by the U.N. to help end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change. Using the website Global Goals, students will choose one goal to research in depth and make a “Fact Sheet” about. In order to experience what it’s like to advocate for an issue with the wider community, students will write engaging, responsible social media posts.

Note: Be sure to check your school’s technology policy before you begin this lesson. In order to protect privacy and check potential followers, you may want to create a classroom account that you and the students use for this project.


Day 1-2

Warm up activity: Let students know that United Nations Day is held each October.

  1. Read this ARTICLE to learn more about the origins of the U.N. and its aims of creating a world without conflict. Then brainstorm with students to find out what they know about issues or current events that the U.N. has been involved in since its creation. Ask students if they are familiar with specific U.N. agencies, particularly as they relate to reaffirming fundamental human rights.
  2. Discuss some of the criticism the U.N. has faced over the years including its reputation as an organization that has a lot of “red tape” attached to its name. Why do students think most of the world’s nations remain as members?
  3. Take this short quiz about the history of the U.N. HERE.

Introduce the lesson using the overview and objectives above.

  1. Read the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a class using the “GLOBAL GOALS website. Do students agree that the 17 SDGs listed would help reach the U.N.’s ultimate goals: to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and fix climate change? Discuss different ways students can become involved in making a difference in their own lives and the broader community. What issues interest students? How can students learn more about issues they care about?
  2. To help students think more about these questions, watch Normante Austin of PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs, as he discusses ways for students to overcome adversity in their communities by attending council meetings and engaging community members. Ask students if they have ever spoken about issues they care about in a public forum. What was the experience like? What skills do students think they need in order to express their opinions at a city council or town hall meeting?

  1. Now watch this video by Student Reporting Lab’s Kara Peters, as she discusses how young people use social media to raise awareness of key issues with one another. Ask students to discuss why it may be more beneficial for young people to hear about important issues, such as racism or other issues of inequality, from each other and not just from adults. Have student discuss ways in which social media has been used to enact change in their communities or throughout the world.

  1. Let the students know that it’s now their turn to share their thoughts on important social and political issues. Using the Global Goals website, students should take a closer look at the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 and decide which of the 17 goals they would like to research.
  2. Students should read and take notes on their goal using the links provided by the “Global Goals” website. This site will let students know about important issues surrounding their goal. Be sure to tell students to click on any links and take notes on the specific U.N. organization that focuses on the issue.
    1. Let students know that during the next class, in addition to using the “Global Goals” website, they will be researching and taking notes on three to five websites. Explain the importance of finding information from multiple sources and perspectives.
    2. Explain that students’ notes will be used to create a “Fact Sheet” that will include about 8-10 key pieces of evidence about their goal/issue as well as possible solutions.

Day 3-4:

  1. Students should continue to research their topic using the school’s library or the Internet. Students should research a variety of news websites, including major U.S. news outlets as well as international websites. For example, if a student researches the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goal Number Four (SDG4), a quality education for all school children, they may also want to find articles from Kenya newspapers that discuss the successes and challenges of implementing universal primary school in that country.
  2. Have students compile their eight or ten facts along with their potential solutions onto a “Fact Sheet.” Students should label the U.N. goal they are addressing at the top of their “Fact Sheet.”
  3. Tips for Research:
    1. Be sure to look at specific U.N. agencies that deal with your issue. For example, if you are researching an issue about the effects of drought in a specific region, you may want to check the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) website.
    2. Many U.N. agencies have partnership organizations that they work with to help get the word out about the issue and to breakdown the information in a more accessible way. Check out the Global Education First Initiative’s WEBSITE as an example. 
  4. Let students know that during the next class they will share their findings with their classmates via social media. It may be the case that you have students in your class who are not interested or are not allowed to use social media. Explain how they will still be able to benefit from the lesson, which involves research, writing clear, succinct statements, and public speaking.

Day 4-5:

  1. Let students know that they will spend this class constructing responsible social media messages about their issue. If your school does not allow technology or cell phones, students should practice the skills involved in this lesson using paper. 
  2. Tips on using social media:
    1. Ask students what they think makes a message over social media stand out in a positive way. What makes for a positive post over Facebook or Twitter? What helps drive a message home to an audience on social media? Remind students about the importance of clarity in their posts and the emphasis teachers place on a well-crafted thesis statement in an essay. Why is that one line of a paper so important?
    2. Practice writing a few posts together as a class using the student’s “Fact Sheets.” Use the “Tell Everyone section of the “Global Goals” website as a guide. Have students look over the memes and the messages and ask them why certain messages grab their attention more than others.
  3. Create a hashtag as a class:
    1. Your class should agree on their own hashtag as a way for students to see each other’s social media posts. Alternatively, they may want to use the #TellEveryone in order to see what other schools around the world are doing to address the United Nation’s SDGs. Encourage students to use @NewsHourExtra so we can check out what your classes have been working on!
  4. More tips on using social media:
    1. Are there powerful images that relate to your U.N. goal that you may use over Instagram? What makes an Instagram description interesting to a viewer? Check out this Instagram description as an example. Does the photographer include his/her opinion? Captivating language? 
    2. Are there particular facts that could be communicated about your issue using Twitter? Are there links to other pieces of writing that students might want to Tweet about?
      1. What happens if a particular idea cannot be summed up in 140 characters? Discuss the use of including links to full news articles or videos using Twitter. Use Pinterest to create a bulletin board of articles that tie to one another by theme or Tumblr if you prefer more of a blog feel.  
  5. Share with a family member…in person. But wait, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
    1. Social media is an important tool in our society today, but face-to-face conversations are also vital for humans to communicate — especially about important issues. For homework, students should share their “Fact Sheets” and social media posts with their families. This will accomplish a few things. Students will be able to share a brief but well-researched and relevant piece of work with their families. Families will be able to learn about an issue that is important to the student that they might not have been aware of themselves. Everyone knows social media can be used for the forces of good or bad. Students should show their families a few posts they’ve crafted highlighting the good.
  6. Debrief with your class:
    1. Debrief with your class about these discussions with family members the next day. Ask students what messages about their issue grabbed their family member’s attention the most and why. Be sure to ask the students what they learned about the U.N. in this lesson and about their global goal. Ask them to think about if exposure to issues they may not have been familiar with will help their understanding of problems in the world. Do they think they’ll continue to keep an eye on their SDG?
      1. If some students show a real desire to delve more into their goal, encourage them to check out the U.N.’s Youth Advocacy Group (YAG). YAG is a group of students from all over the world who advise the U.N. on important issues affecting young people with a specific focus on education. Students can find out more about YAG here.

Extension activities

  • Check out this PBS NewsHour Extra lesson plan that examines the accomplishments and the challenges the U.N. has faced over the years and gives students the opportunity to propose reforms.
  • Historical video clips:
    • Listen to the audio excerpt of a speech given by Eleanor Roosevelt to the U.N. about promoting world peace. You may need to give a brief background to the students about Eleanor Roosevelt’s roles as First Lady and civil rights’ activist. Draw on students’ knowledge of conflict in history: Ask students if they agree with Mrs. Roosevelt that some of the reasons people go to war today are the same as why they went to war in the past.  
    • Then watch this black and white VIDEO (a few minutes will also give you a sense) about the founding of the U.N. more than seven decades ago. What do you notice about the people in the video? What is the general feeling or tone in the air? How does it compare to what you know about the U.N. today?

Additional eesources

Explore PBS NewsHour’s coverage of the United Nations here.

Lesson by Victoria Pasquantonio, PBS NewsHour education producer and history teacher

Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.