Human Rights in the News | Facing History & Ourselves
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Human Rights in the News

Help students understand what human rights are and how people are working to promote them.


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At a Glance

mini-lesson copy


English — US


  • History
  • Social Studies


  • Human & Civil Rights


About This Mini-Lesson

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a historic commitment to universal rights. Now, more than 70 years later, how widely respected are the rights enshrined in this document? The news is full of stories about people fighting to have their rights recognized; for example, people protesting for women’s rights and political rights in Iran, organizing to protect the basic rights of asylum seekers and refugees around the world, and campaigning to protect the Uyghur ethnic group in China.

This mini-lesson helps students explore what human rights are, which rights are included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, how human rights connect to current news stories, and how people can help promote human rights. If your students are unfamiliar with the concept of human rights, we suggest you begin with activity 1 or activity 2. Each activity can be used on its own or taught in any combination best suited to your students.

This mini-lesson is designed to be adaptable. You can use the activities in sequence or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 4 activities
  • Student-facing slides

This mini-lesson can be used to help students examine any news story that relates to human rights. As of this update in the fall of 2022, the protest movement occurring in Iran has particular relevance, and the additional context offered in this section can help you explore this topic with your students if you choose.

In Iran, women are required by law to wear a hijab (headscarf) and loose-fitting clothing. Enforcement of the laws governing women’s dress has varied over time, but since the conservative leader Ebrahim Raisi came to power in 2021, the Guidance Patrols (also known as “morality police”) have stepped up enforcement.

On September 13, 2021, a young woman named Mahsa Amini was detained by a Guidance Patrol unit. She died several days later on September 16, while still in police custody. Her family believed she was beaten to death by the police, and there are witnesses who saw the police assault Amini. The government claims that she died of a heart attack. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have collected evidence that state officials in Iran frequently torture or otherwise mistreat prisoners.

Women’s rights activists had organized protests across the country in the weeks leading up to Amini’s arrest, and widespread public anger over her death added fuel to the movement. Some women have symbolically removed their hijabs in public in protest over laws that take away women’s choice whether to wear the hijab or not.

The Iranian government has responded harshly, firing live ammunition at protestors, killing at least 326 people as of November 14, 2022, and arresting protesters. On November 14, an Iranian court also sentenced a protester to death, raising concerns that the crackdown may worsen.

Protestors have a variety of goals, including promoting women’s rights, ending police brutality, and changing the system of government.

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Ask students to define what a human right isusing the Graffiti Board teaching strategy. On a whiteboard or large paper, write Article I of the UDHR: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and write the following prompt:

I think a human right is . . . 

Encourage students to silently jot down or draw as many responses they feel are appropriate and assure them that repetition is allowed. 

Direct students to examine the graffiti board and consider:

  • What is a right, as opposed to a privilege?
  • What ideas were repeated by more than one class member? Why might students in your community value this?
  • What ideas pertain to basic necessities (food, shelter, health care, clean water)?
  • What ideas relate to the US Constitution (freedom of the press, political participation, nationality, other protections in the Bill of Rights), or to foundational documents in the country where you live? 
  • What ideas reflect notions of a good quality of life (access to education and healthcare)?

Then, ask students to privately define what universal human rights means to them in their notebooks.

Select an appropriate version for your class’s reading level of the UDHR from the list below, and ask your students to read it individually or as a class: 

Then, use a modification of the Wraparound teaching strategy to guide students’ analysis. Ask them to select one phrase or article they find compelling. Give each student an opportunity to call out the phrase or article they chose, then ask your students:

  • What themes were there in the responses?
  • Did any responses stand out to you? If so, why?

Optional: If students completed Activity 1, ask them to discuss how the class’s graffiti board enumeration of human rights compares or contrasts to the UDHR

Ask your students to explore the connections between different human rights and current news stories. If your students have access to either the internet or print editions of a newspaper, you can ask them to work together in small groups to find an article that connects to at least one human right. 

Alternatively, you can print a few different news articles that connect to human rights and give each group a different news story. The topics of the articles you use might include:

Ask your students to analyze and share their articles using the Jigsaw teaching strategy. Students can meet in initial “expert” groups to discuss a single article and determine which rights people are fighting to have recognized or upheld in the story. 

Then, you re-organize students into “teaching” groups where each member shares a different article from their previous group. 

Finish by leading a brief class discussion in which students discuss the patterns that they notice across the articles. In the discussion, you might ask students to name things they learned that are surprising, interesting, and troubling (S-I-T) from the patterns they noticed.

  • 1Without a subscription to the Washington Post, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.
  • 2Without a subscription to The Atlantic, you and your students will have access to a limited number of free articles per month.

Show the short video Who Has to Uphold Human Rights? featuring Human Rights Watch’s Babatunde Olugboji. Ask your students:

  • Who, according to Olugboji, has the responsibility to safeguard human rights?
  • Is it possible for human rights to be protected in the way Olugboji articulated?
  • What obstacles can you identify that might challenge the protection of human rights?
  • What role can organizations or influential individuals play in protecting human rights? Can you think of any examples of how organizations or individuals have worked to promote human rights?

Finally, ask students to consider what role they play in protecting and promoting human rights for everyone. Share with them the #standup4humanrights pledge. Use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to engage students in a discussion of the following questions:

  • How does the pledge define each individual’s role in promoting human rights?
  • What does the statement “I will use my rights to stand up for your rights” mean? How does it define our obligations to others?

Give students the opportunity to take the pledge. 

Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organizations

These are the resources from external sources that we recommend using with students throughout the activities in this mini-lesson.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
United Nations Human Rights Office of the Commissioner
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (abbreviated)
University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Resource Center
#standup4humanrights Pledge
United Nations Human Rights Office of the Commissioner

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