Human Rights: An Introduction

human rights

As I noted in my previous post, my students will explore human rights issues through various readings, choose a topic, research it, develop a thesis and an outline, write an essay, revise, edit, rewrite and publish it.  In addition to the formal paper, each student will present his claim through the medium of his choice.

Today my students were introduced to the concept of human rights.  However, since we had been away on break, I reminded them that we are going to write an argument, which is a little different from the expository pieces we had been writing throughout the semester, and really, since the fourth grade.

I introduced the class to the following words:  exposition and argumentation.  Yes, they sound like big words, but I assured them that they have been exposed to both of these types of writing without even knowing it–through reading books and writing exercises assigned by teachers.

I pulled up a Word document on the Smart TV and typed the word “exposition”.  I then typed the following words:  inform, explain, and describe.  Then I cited some examples of expository writing, such as summaries and reports.  Students write informational paragraphs and essays all the time.  The information is very neutral.  What is most important in exposition is stating the facts without indicating any bias.  For example, in science, they have to write reports about experiments they conducted and note the observations.  In this case, the audience is not interested in the observer’s thoughts about it.  The audience just wants to know what happened.   Then I brought up the article about our beloved sloth. (We read it many weeks ago.)  Below the examples, I typed the following sentence:

The sloth survives in many ways.

It is a very neutral statement.  The statement does not seem to indicate any bias.  All a writer would have to do in this case is identify the different ways sloths survive.

After skipping a few lines, I then typed the word “argumentation”.  Although I did admit that there is exposition in argument, the difference between plain exposition and argument is that there is a sense of bias.  (Bias refers to taking a position over another.)  Arguments are based on opinions that must be supported and validated with evidence.   Then I wrote another sentence:

The sloth uses ingenious ways to stay alive in the rain forest.

After typing the sentence, I asked the class to talk to their small group about how the two statements are different.  Yes, we all know that one is exposition and the other is an arguable statement, but how do we know?  What makes one more biased than the other?

The students then shared their ideas as a whole group.  We all agreed that “ingenious” was the word that made the second statement arguable, because a judgement is being made about the sloth’s methods for staying alive.

I then added that in an argumentative essay, the thesis, the last sentence in the introduction, must be arguable in the case of an argumentative essay.  Arguable means that there will be a variety of perspectives regarding your topic.  You may think the sloth’s methods to stay alive are ingenious, such as eating the algae from its fur.  However, some may think he’s not smart at all.  Perhaps the moths that live in his fur is what helps him stay alive and not his ingenuity.

So, in exposition, we can list all the ways that sloths stay alive.  However, in argument we can make a judgement about how they stay alive based on the evidence.

Before we moved on to the video, I told the students that we are going to spend the next couple of weeks exploring human rights issues through speeches, web articles, poetry, book excerpts, and yes, maybe another video!

Before we started the video, I asked the students to draw a T-Chart in their notebooks.  They wrote “Human Rights” on top of it and then added the following questions, one on each side:

What do you already know?                            What did you learn? 

Then I asked them to write down at least 3 words or phrases that come to their minds when they think of human rights.  After they jotted down their ideas, they shared in small groups, and then as a class.  Based on the feedback from the students, it was clear that they understand the basic idea.

Then I told them that as they watch the 9-minute video, to write down some new information in the other column.  The video comes from the Youth For Human Rights website.

(Unfortunately, I do not have permission to post videos with my account, but you can always follow the link and check the video out for yourself.  Also, you will be able to examine the rest of the site.)

Neither of my classes were able to finish the video today. However, once they finish, they will share their new information in small groups and then share as a class.

Tomorrow the students will explore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights–all thirty of them!  Luckily there is a kid-friendly version; however, I will also show them the original document on the Smart TV.  After they examine the 30 rights, I will ask them to identify the top 3 rights that they seem to be drawn to the most.  These 3 rights will be a starting point for further research.  As we continue to read and analyze the works of people concerned with human rights, they should be able to choose one area they would like to explore further through research in preparation for developing a thesis and an outline.



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