The Language of Human Rights
  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.7 Describe how the civil society sector provides mediation for individuals and governments.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.

This lesson focuses on the language of human rights. Learners examine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and analyze the rights from a personal perspective. They discuss how well they perceive that the rights are enforced.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session and one 20-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • categorize information and analyze meaning of text in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • define vocabulary related to human rights.
  • relate the work of UNHCR and the UN with human rights.
  • respond in writing and through discussion to videos viewed as homework.
  • describe why and how an organization in the civil society, such as UNHCR, acts as a mediator between individuals and the government.
Home Connection: 

As homework, students watch one or two videos on the USA for UNHCR "Get Involved" page. They write a short response to the video and prepare to report back to the class what they learned.

  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Explain to students that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a declaration that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. It is a global expression of the rights all humans are entitled to. All member states of the United Nationsare bound to its definition of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Distribute the abbreviated version to students.

  2. Have students individually read over the articles of the declaration and do the following:

    • Circle any words that are unfamiliar to them or definitions for which they are unsure
    • Put a check-mark next to any articles that are rights that they take for granted
    • Put an asterisk next to any articles that they feel are not always upheld in their own community or country
    • Underline any articles that they find surprising
  3. Use the students’ responses to discuss the importance of this list of human rights and the ways in which these rights are often violated around the world. Refer back to the video from Lesson One and the work of UNHCR, which is influenced mostly by human rights considerations.

  4. Use the UNHCR fact sheet and/or the above definitions to clarify some of the language surrounding human rights and the UNHCR’s work. Students recall from Lesson One how the work of UNHCR is related to human rights.

  5. Ask the students why they think an organization in the civil society, such as UNHCR, feels mandated to act as a mediator between individuals and governments around the world. Why do they assume that responsibility? How does their work benefit the common good?

  6. For homework, to reinforce the vocabulary and concepts discussed in class, have students choose one or two of the UNHCR YouTube videos, which they can find under Get Involved on the USA for UNHCR’s website

  7. At home, each student watches one or two videos that interest him/her and writes a short response to the video that includes at least three of the terms that were discussed in class. Students prepare to report back to the class the next day what she or he learned from the video(s).

    • For more structure, preview the videos posted and assign specific ones to the students, ensuring that there will be a variety represented.
    • For students who need more structure/guidance, assign specific terms for them to use properly in their written response. You can differentiate based on readiness level, for example assigning some students the term refugee and others more complex terms such as asylum and internally displaced person.
  8. Day Two:

  9. Spend twenty minutes in class reviewing the lessons learned from the homework. Have students share their personal observations and reactions to the videos.


Students’ skills and knowledge should be evaluated based on their annotations on and discussion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They will be assessed on their participation in discussion, their thoughtfulness and clarity of written response to YouTube video(s), and their accuracy of vocabulary usage in the written response.