Poverty and Human Rights

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will define poverty by listing its characteristics and effects. They will identify organizations which serve those who are in poverty. They will analyze the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and determine whether poverty is a violation of the document’s principles.

Lesson Rating 
Two Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • identify and describe characteristics of poverty and causes of impoverishment.
  • identify nonprofit organizations that seek to alleviate the consequences of poverty.
  • illustrate the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as related to poverty.
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:Ask the learners to show the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to two significant people in their lives in different age groups and ask them if they are familiar with the document. Ask what Article attracted the most attention and what was the perspective of those reading the document?


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    A dictionary definition of “poverty” might be “the state of one with insufficient resources.” Ask the learners to come up with their own definitions of the term. Write their collective ideas on the board and have them draw connections and note similarities.

  2. Using Poverty Statistics from a reputable online source, describe for the learners some recent statistics on poverty in the United States.

    • Give learners two to three minutes to work with a partner to come up with a list of identifiable characteristics that might identify poverty. Call on several teams to report on the characteristics they identified. List them on the board.

    • With their same partners, have students discuss their understanding of what events cause people to become impoverished. Write their answers on the board and guide them by asking open-ended questions. They should indicate things like: family history, lack of education, job loss, discrimination, number of people in the family, state of the economy, whether there are individuals with disabilities and/or mental illness in the family, whether there are addicted behaviors in the family, etc.

    • Ask students if their list is something that is true only for contemporary society or if it is also true historically. This will point out the ubiquitous nature of poverty. Let the learners come up with examples of poverty impacting societies throughout history (wars, famine, disease, natural disasters, etc.).

    • As a by-product of the terrible breadth of poverty’s effect on the lives of people, have the learners work with their partners and come up with a list of organizations that work with and aid impoverished and homeless people. Call on several teams to identify the organizations they’ve found. Ask if those organizations are non-profit or for profit. Help the students differentiate between them by defining “non-profit” organizations as “any not-for-profit or tax-exempt organizations that are specifically not associated with any government, government agency, or commercial enterprise and whose income is not used for the benefit or private gain of stockholders, directors, or any other persons with an interest in the company.”

    • Distribute copies of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Go over the information on the first page, giving background on the beginning of the United Nations and the adoption of the Universal Declaration. Have students choose four areas that they find to be important. Have them work in pairs and share what they found important and interesting. Have a spokesperson share from each group what stood out to them and why. Have the learners describe how poverty and the Universal Declaration are connected.

    • Distribute paper and have each team select one Article from the Declaration that they can illustrate as a teaching device to others. (Note: Some of the Articles will not fit the task.) Each poster should show a connection between poverty and their chosen Article from the Declaration. When the posters are completed, present them in a display case or the media center as a learning device for others. Select the most meaningful of the posters and present them to the school newspaper to be scanned into the paper to accompany an article on poverty and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Learner lists and discussion of the topic, as well as the completed posters, may be used to assess learning.

Cross Curriculum 

The learners will create posters illustrating Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that are violated through poverty and will inform the student body of the problem through an article in the school newspaper.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.7 Explain why the civil society sector rather than the government or private sectors address particular economic areas.

Academic Standards

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