Tips for Teachers


Article 26: Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Teaching human rights is a fundamental and necessary part of learning for all people. Human rights education is multi-disciplinary in nature and aligns with many concepts and objectives in both national and state educational requirements. In this resource, teachers will find lessons that fall within social studies and language arts. In addition, components such as the timeline, defender narratives and the play can be integrated into the creative arts, geography and statistics, to name a few additional subject areas.

While the learning objectives are clear, it is also important to recognize that Speak Truth to Power and human rights education emphasize a pedagogy that encourages both theory and practice. The lessons are framed to provide opportunities for students to submit their own ideas and make their own judgments about the world around them. The focus on practice is also addressed in relation to taking action and becoming a defender.


Human rights education (HRE) is most successful if the following areas of the educational system are in place. NYSUT’s commitment to the advancement and strengthening of these core components provides the foundation for learning and change at all levels.


HRE strives toward an environment where human rights are practiced and lived in the daily life of the whole school community. In addition to cognitive learning, HRE includes social and emotional development for students and teachers.


HRE requires a holistic approach to teaching and learning that reflects human rights values. Curriculum content and objectives are human rights-based, methodologies are democratic and participatory and all materials and textbooks are consistent with human rights values.


(pre and in service education/training)

Education and professional development must foster educators’ knowledge about, commitment to and motivation for human rights.


Effectiveness is contingent upon a consistent implementation strategy that includes budgeting, coordination, coherence, monitoring and accountability.


Advancing legislation that includes human rights in plans of action, curricula, pre and in-service education, training, assessment and accountability will provide the political grounding for a human rights-based educational system.


Human Rights Education seeks to improve a student’s understanding, attitude and behavior toward human rights.


In pre-kindergarten through Grade 3, human rights learning focuses on respect for self, parents, teachers, and others. In Grades 4–6 the focus moves to social responsibility, citizenship, distinguishing wants and needs from rights. For Grades 7 and 8, the focus shifts to introducing and enhancing specific human rights. At the high school level, Grades 9–12, the focus expands to include human rights as universal standards, integration of human rights into personal awareness, and behavior.



  • Explore the development of protected human rights from a historical perspective as well as present-day declarations, conventions and covenants and the continuing evolution of human rights knowledge, the various challenges to the full enjoyment of human rights, and the factors that contribute to human rights abuse.
  • Develop critical understanding of real life situations, questioning the barriers and structures that prevent the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms.


  • Reflect on values such as justice, equality and fairness
  • Move toward an understanding among and between different groups.
  • Recognize the struggles of others as fellow human beings seeking to meet basic needs and respond to human rights violations.


  • Inspire people to integrate human rights principles into their individual lives and social institutions
  • Challenge and enable people to demand, support and defend human rights as a tool for sustainable social change


Speak Truth to Power advances human rights learning through personal narratives, through the spoken word, through image and through lessons and activities. This section will provide examples of how educators can integrate Speak Truth to Power into their teaching as a complement to the lessons provided. In addition, this section will present a range of methodologies that teachers may use independent of the included lesson plans.


The STTP education guide includes lessons, activities and discussion questions for each defender. To design your own lessons, consider the following: How does the issue or concept align with learning standards? What do your students know about the issue? Is it relevant to them and easily understood? Have you prepared your students to engage with this topic? Have you thought through your follow-up plans?


Human rights learning uses participatory and interactive approaches to engage students. To determine the best methodology for your students, consider the content and how a certain approach might frame the issue. Will a role-play on child labor provide a lens for your students or will it allow them too much distance so that the impact is lost? You know your students, and as your understanding and comfort with more difficult issues develops, your ability to utilize a range of methodologies will become richer and more meaningful for both you and your students.

It is important to note that many human rights issues are difficult to understand and are far removed from most students’ daily lives. The line between exposing and shocking, developing empathy and sympathy, or creating real opportunities to take action or promoting more symbolic events is tricky. Speak Truth to Power and NYSUT will work with you through a variety of mediums to support this important work.


Before starting any class activity, establish ground rules that all of the students contribute and agree to.


A role-play is a mini-drama performed by the students. Improvisation brings circumstances and events to life. Role-plays improve understanding of a situation and encourage empathy.


  • Allow students to stop the action when they have questions or if they want to change the direction of the role-play.
  • Leave plenty of time at the end of the role-play to review and reinforce the purpose of the activity and the learning objectives.
  • Leave time for reflection.
  • If the role-play did not work as planned, ask the students how it could have been improved or changed.
  • Because role-plays imitate real-life situations or events, they may raise questions for which there are no simple answers. Be comfortable with that and work with the students to find their own understanding and answers.
  • Understand and respect the feelings and social structure of your class and use role-plays with a high level of sensitivity.


Brainstorming encourages creativity and generates a lot of ideas quickly. It can be used for solving problems or answering questions.


  • •Decide on a specific issue you want to address and frame it with a question.
  • •Ask students to contribute ideas – they can do this individually, in pairs or small groups prior to reporting to the whole group.
  • •Allow for a free flow of ideas; ask students not to censor their ideas.
  • •Welcome all ideas, but students should not repeat ideas already mentioned or comment on other ideas until the end.
  • •Everyone should contribute, but allow students to contribute when they are ready, not in a structured form.
  • •Ask for clarity if necessary.
  • •Write all new ideas and stop when the ideas are running out.


In developing questions to explore and understand human rights issues, design questions that are open-ended and encourage participation and analysis.


  • Scaffold your questions in order to move your students from lower to higher-level thinking and analysis. In doing this, you build confidence in your students and gradually increase their understanding of complex issues.
  • Types of questions to utilize: Hypothetical, speculating, encouraging/supporting, opinion seeking, probing, clarifying/summarizing, and identifying agreement.


Drawing develops observation skills, imagination, and empathy for people in the picture. Drawings are useful when teaching human rights because the work can be exhibited in the classroom and school as a base for reflection and further discussion to communicate human rights values and issues.


Art is personal and should be respected and honored.


Pictures and photographs can be an effective tool for teaching students that while we may be looking at the same thing, we see or understand it differently.


Pictures and photographs capture a moment in time and students should think about the role of photojournalists in reporting and documenting human rights issues.


Media is an essential component of a democratic society. However, particularly with the Internet, objective reporting or even knowing what is reporting and what is opinion should be clarified.


Speak Truth to Power is grounded in the interviews with the defenders. Interviews provide a first-hand and personal research and learning opportunity. Interviews also provide an opportunity to share what the students are learning with the school and surrounding community.


Spend time with each student and their questions. Depending on the issue and the interviewee, use the time to teach not only about question-writing process but issues of sensitivity, relevance, and the responsibility of receiving personal information.


Word association is a great way to introduce a topic in order to gauge your students’ understanding. Use the end of the lesson to find out how much the students learned.


Create a list that spans the scope of the issue.


One of the best ways to understand and internalize information is to take it in and then present it in a different format. For example, after learning about child labor, challenge students to determine the best way to educate others about the issue.


  • Work with the students to identify a primary source of information related to the issue.
  • Provide students with a range of methods to introduce and/or educate others about the issue. Encourage students to think outside of the box in choosing their approach.
  • Allow students space to bring in new information, with their reasoning for why it is important.

Additional methods include: Projects, small group discussion and class discussions.


Teachers should consider the following strategies when adapting instruction for diverse learners:


  • When beginning the lesson, ask frequent questions and provide clarifying statements.
  • Use concept maps and graphics. Consider how these can be modified or if the information can be used.
  • Assign students to work in heterogeneous groups, using cooperative learning when appropriate.
  • The student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) will provide information on the need for specific modifications.
  • Create scaffold reading with supports for decoding and vocabulary.
  • Provide alternate means of presenting information, such as written, oral and visual.
  • Evaluate the accessibility of electronic devices (computer, LCD panels) and other alternate means for note taking.
  • Break down instructional units into smaller steps.
  • Teach students learning strategies, tools and techniques used to understand and learn new materials-simple learning strategies such as note-taking, making a chart, asking questions, making an outline, re-reading and highlighting key words or concepts.


  • Identify vocabulary words that may be difficult for students and pre-teach new vocabulary in context. Write simple, brief definitions.
  • Use visuals and graphic organizers to visually represent the main idea.
  • Summarize text using controlled vocabulary and simplified sentence structures.
  • Provide the opportunity for students to partner with English-proficient speakers. Arrange the classroom for small-group and paired learning.
  • Use think-alouds to help students understand the step-by-step thinking process in finding solutions.


Films are an excellent supplement to the classroom, but it is important to remember that many of your students are not used to using films as class texts. Below are some suggestions to get your student to think critically about films and to start engaging class discussions.

  • View the film prior to showing it to your class. You should know if the clip uses language or images that will require pre-viewing prep with your students and/or their parents.
  • Let your students know that they should use the film as they would any other class reading. To do this, two points seem to help:
    • Nothing in film is there by chance or accident: EVERYTHING in the film was chosen for some specific effect, even the smallest, seemingly insignificant prop.
    • Film is a language complete with its own standard ‘grammar.’ Camera angles, lighting, mise-en-scene, shot-reverse-shot (SRS), framing, composition, editing, pans, tracking shots, fade-ins, space, dissolves, and many more are all part of the film’s grammar. This visual narration creates meaning to viewers and is similar to written conventions.
  • Next, provide students with a set of questions or present the selected lesson specific to the film to start the discussion. Remember to consider what your desired response is to the film.
  • After your class discussion of the film, summarize the main points. This is often necessary because students can have trouble integrating films into course material. Films can be a very effective classroom tool, but teachers must consider how they will use and integrate the film’s material. Films should supplement class, not substitute for it.



The timeline included in this resource highlights key events, moments or advancements of human rights treaties. To extend your students’ learning on specific issues, social movements, regional or international bodies, have your students research the specific topic and then place it on the human rights timeline.

Discussion questions related to the timeline and extended learning:

  1. What was familiar to you? What was new? What surprised you?
  2. What do you think was left off of the timeline and why?
  3. What did you notice in relation to the evolution of human rights as laid out in the timeline?
  4. When was the issue you are researching first mentioned in human rights?
  5. When do you think it should have been mentioned and why?
  6. What does the future of human rights look like? What treaties or events would you like to see happen in the next 10 years?