Learning Activities

This section offers a number of learning activities related to human rights and human rights issues :

Identifying and Ranking Human Rights

Initial or Warm Up Activities

  • Invite participants to think about their own rights, what they consider to be fundamental rights or key priority rights and what might be secondary or lower priority rights. Ask them to explain their choices. Compare and contrast the choices each person has made and see if it is possible to make a group list of each. Use these lists to initiate discussion.
  • Invite participants to discuss the differences between needs and wants – what are our key needs and what wants might different groups have – young people, women, older people, people living in the ‘Developed World’ and the ‘Developing World’ etc.? Are there important differences between needs and wants in these cases?

Exploring and Ranking Rights Activity

  • Divide the large group into smaller work groups and give each group an envelope containing the 11 numbered situations listed below (cut up the situations into separate strips to encourage the group to physically rank them).
  • Ask each group to rank the situations according to how serious they think each is, most serious at the top of their ranking – about 15 minutes is enough.
  • Discuss and debate the results from each small group in the larger group and try to highlight areas of agreement and disagreement. Were the rankings the same, different? Why, why not? Invite the groups that disagreed most to debate the issues with each other. Do any of the situations relate to life here? Which ones have strong international dimensions?
  • Compare the situations listed 1 – 11 (below) with the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration, are there any differences? Are there issues described in the 11 situations that are not covered by the UN Declaration? Should they be? Are there any things human beings need that cannot be described as rights?


1. Unemployment – jobs are very difficult to find, there is high unemployment.
2. Voting – there are no proper elections and the government is a self-appointed dictatorship.
3. Poor Health Care – there is a general lack of medical facilities and health workers.
4. No Religious Freedom – certain religions are not allowed to freely practice their faiths, if they do, believers are persecuted.
5. Poor Housing – there is little chance of finding somewhere decent to live.
6. No Unions – trade unions and strikes are banned despite bad working conditions.
7. Few Educational Opportunities – it is very difficult for people to get a secondary education unless they are rich.
8. Torture – torture is practised against ‘enemies of the state’
9. No Free Speech – people who speak out against the government are imprisoned.
10. Racism – people are discriminated against on the basis of race.
11. Travel Bans – people are not allowed to leave the country.

(taken from Christian Aid/Trocaire (1993) ‘It’s Not Fair’)

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Introducing and Exploring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Make sufficient copies of the Preamble to the Declaration – one for each person or for each group of two
  • Ask them to carefully read the Preamble and to list what they consider to be the most important keywords in the Preambl
  • Ask each person or group of two to use a dictionary to find an accurate definition of each key word
  • Ask each person/pair to report back to the whole group and, on the basis of the feedback, make a list of commonly identified key words and their definitions
  • These keywords (and their definitions) can be turned into posters or pieces of art for display
  • Then, distribute copies of the full Declaration and invite individuals or small groups to identify how the keywords/ideas/values have been translated into the Declaration – which articles relate to which key values or ideas?

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Newspapers and Human Rights

  • Make a collection of newspapers and/or magazines ensuring that you get a broad sample – tabloids, broadsheets, news magazines, popular magazines etc.
  • Divide the materials between different groups and invite them to identify stories or reports from the newspapers and magazines that relate to human rights issues. Remind them that the stories could be either positive or negative.
  • Organise feedback from each group and generally discuss the outcomes identifying situations where rights have been denied, compromised or, alternatively, promoted or respected.

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Rights and Wrongs in Today’s World

  • Make copies of the chart above and give one to each person or pair
  • Ask them to identify the human rights issues that each of the situations described relate to
  • Invite them to choose one or two of the situations described and use the summary materials outlined in this module to identify which key human rights principals and documents are relevant to the issues.

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Exploring rights through exploring cartoons and photographs

  • Use the cartoon section of this website to identify individual cartoons that relate to specific human rights issues e.g. women’s rights, torture, refugees etc.
  • Ask individuals, pairs of small groups to choose two or three cartoons that relate to human rights issues and to describe how the cartoonist has illustrated the issue. Do they agree/disagree with the cartoonist’s view?
  • Use the activities described in the cartoon section to explore the issues further

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See also:

  • Download the opening address given by Dr. Maurice Manning, President of the Irish Human Rights Commission, at the Development Education Advisory Committee “Driving Development Education” Forum on 20th November 2008.