The Language of Human Rights

9, 10, 11, 12

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.
Teacher Preparation 

Created in 1950 and implemented by the signing of the 1951 Refugee Convention, originally with the goal of helping post-World War II refugees in Europe, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) provides protection and assistance to millions of forcibly uprooted people worldwide. The agency’s main concern lies in ensuring human rights for those who have been forced to flee their homes because of fear of persecution, war and/or violence.

Note: Be sensitive that some students may not have Internet access at home. Help them by making an alternative arrangement or assignment.

  • economic migrant: someone who leaves his or her country of origin for financial reasons, rather than due to persecution or violation of human rights like refugees
  • immigrant: someone who takes up permanent residence in a country other than his or her original homeland
  • internally displaced person (IDP): someone who has been forced to flee his or her home for the same reason as a refugee, but remains in his or her own country and has not crossed an international border. Unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid
  • repatriation: the process of returning to one’s home country. The majority of refugees prefer to return home as soon as it is safe to do so after a conflict.
  • resettlement: the process of helping a refugee find a new, permanent home when they cannot safely reside in a country of first asylum or return home  
  • refugee: someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group; a refugee either cannot return home or is afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.
  • stateless person: someone who is not a citizen of any country. Citizenship allows for certain political, economic, social and other rights of the individual, as well as the responsibilities of both government and citizen.
  • transient: the condition of staying only a short time; not lasting
  • UNHCR: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; office established in 1950 to protect the human rights of refugees and provide for their assistance through legal, social, economic aid
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 as the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled
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.

Philanthropy Framework

  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.