HRE teaching methods

There are many different ways of teaching and learning about human rights. How you approach the topic will depend on the content, your students' knowledge and motivation around human rights issues, and your own understanding and comfort level. Having a range of methodologies to choose from will enhance the experience for both you and your students. The following are some basic methods that can be adapted to help foster human rights awareness and action:

    The arts can help to make concepts more concrete, personalize abstractions, and affect attitudes by involving emotional as well as intellectual responses to human rights.  Techniques may include stories, and poetry, graphic arts, sculpture, drama, song, and dance. Teachers do not need to be artists themselves to design engaging tasks and provide a way for students to share their creations.
    Brainstorming is a quick way to introduce a new subject, encourage creativity, and to generate a lot of ideas quickly. It can be used for solving a specific problem or answering a question.  To brainstorm, decide on the issue you want to address, formulate it into a question, and write the question where everyone can see it. Ask students to contribute their ideas in short phrases or words and write them down where everyone can see them, like on a flip chart or blackboard.  Let everyone know there are no wrong answers and the most creative suggestions are often the most useful. 
    Students work with real or fictional case studies that require them to apply human rights standards. Case studies should be based on credible and realistic scenarios that focus on two or three main issues. The scenario for a case study can be presented to students for consideration in its entirety or “fed” to them sequentially as a developing situation to which they must respond.  This method encourages analysis, problem-solving and planning skills, as well as cooperation and team- building when done in small groups. 
    Cooperation is working together to accomplish shared goals; cooperative learning is the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning. Within cooperative learning groups, students are given two responsibilities: to learn the assigned material and to make sure that all other members of their group do likewise.  Students discuss the material to be learned with each other, help and assist each other to understand it, and encourage each other to work hard. Learning situations are structured so that students cooperate with each other to learn the material.  Role-playing, research, mock trials, and social action activities are very appropriate methods in which to use the cooperative learning model of classroom participation and learning.
    Discussions are a good way for the educator and the students to discover what their attitudes  on issues are. This is very important in HRE because, as well as knowing the facts, students also need to explore and analyze issues for themselves. The news and case studies are useful tools for stimulating discussion. Start people off by asking, “What do you think about....?”
    Students benefit from the extension of school into the community, learning from places where human rights issues develop (e.g. courts, prisons, international borders) or where people work to defend human rights or relieve victims (e.g. non-profit organizations, food or clothing banks, free clinics).  The purpose of the visit should be explained in advance and students should be instructed to pay critical attention and to record their observations for a subsequent discussion or written reflection following the visit.
    Films, videos, and radio plays are powerful tools for HRE and popular with young people.  A discussion after watching a film is a good starting point for further work. Things to talk about are people’s initial reaction to the film, how true to “real life” it was, whether the characters were portrayed realistically, and whether the film was trying to promote a political or moral point of view.
    Interviews provide direct learning and personalize issues and history. Those interviewed might be family or community members, activists, leaders, or eye-witnesses to human rights events.  Such oral histories can contribute to documenting and understanding human rights issues in the community.
    The technology of smart phones and disposable cameras makes photography and filmmaking more accessible to everyone.  Young people’s pictures and films vividly show their points of view and attitudes and make excellent display material.  Video letters are a proven way to break down barriers and prejudices.  They enable people who would not otherwise meet face-to-face to “talk” and share insights into how they live and what is important to them.
    “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Visual images (photographs, cartoons, drawings, and collages) are powerful tools both for providing information and for stimulating interest. Remember also that drawing is an important means of self-expression and communication, not only for those whose preferred thinking style is visual but also for those who are not strong in expressing themselves verbally.   It is helpful for teachers to build up their own stock of images from sources such as newspapers, magazines, posters, travel brochures, postcards, and greeting cards. The images can be mounted on cards or covered with transparent, sticky-backed plastic to make them more durable. Look for diversity in your images in terms of gender, race, ability, age, nationality, culture, etc.
    The media are an inexhaustible source of good discussion material. It is always interesting to discuss the content and the way it is presented, and to analyze bias and stereotypes.
    This is a useful method to use when you want to provide specific information or to stimulate a focused discussion in small groups.  You need to prepare one set of statement cards for each small group. Prepare short, simple statements related to the topic you want people to discuss and write one statement on each card. The groups have to discuss the statements and rank them in order of importance. They can be ranked in whatever way the group chooses. Discuss the results as a class.
    Human rights topics provide many opportunities for independent investigation.  This may be formal research using a library or internet facilities, or informational research drawing on interviews, opinion surveys, media observations, and other date gathering techniques. Whether individual or group projects, research develops skills for independent thinking and data analysis and deepens understanding of the complexity of human rights issue.
    A role-play is a short drama in which students assume the role of another person and act it out. They aim to bring to life circumstances or events which are unfamiliar.  Role-plays can improve understanding of a situation and encourage empathy towards those who are involved in it. They can help students understand the issues and views of others and add a more realistic, experiential dimension to what they are learning. Unlike simulations, role-plays are not scripted out and involve a higher degree of improvisation. It is often useful and insightful for students to reverse roles. Role- plays require a high degree of sensitivity and respect for the feelings of individuals and the social structure of the group.  It is especially important to be aware of stereotyping and be ready to address such issues by asking debriefing questions such as, “Do you think that the people you played are really like that?” and “Where did you get the information on which you based the development of your character?”
    Small group work is in contrast to whole group work. It encourages everyone to participate and helps develop cooperative teamwork.  The size of a small group will depend on how many people there are altogether and how much space you have. A small group may be 2 or 3 people, but they work best with 6-8.  Small group work can last for 15 minutes, an hour, or a day, depending on the task at hand.  It is essential for small groups that the work is clearly defined and that people are focused on working towards a goal that requires them to report back to the whole group.  For example, assign a task in the form of a question that needs to be answered or a problem that needs solving.
    Timelines can be used to highlights key events, moments and advancements of human rights treaties or they can further your students’ learning on specific issues or social movements. Have your students research a specific human rights topic and then place it on the timeline.
    This is a form of brainstorming where each student writes his or her ideas on small pieces of paper (e.g. Post-its) and pastes them on the wall.  The advantages of this method are that people can sit and think quietly for themselves before they are influenced by others’ ideas, and the pieces of paper can be repositioned to aid clustering of ideas.