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ELA G5:M1:U1

Building Background Knowledge on Human Rights

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The Foundational Reading and Language Standards Resources Package for Grades 3–5

Use this guide to build additional literacy blocks alongside the module lessons.


What are human rights? Why do we have them, and how are they protected? This unit is designed to help students build knowledge about these questions while simultaneously building their ability to read challenging text closely. Students begin this unit by exploring human rights themes through images and key vocabulary.

They then will analyze selected articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) through a series of close reading text-dependent tasks and questions, discussions, and writing. They will explore the history of the development and language of universal human rights documents, developing skills to determine the meaning of words and phrases.

The Mid-Unit 1 Assessment will be an on-demand quiz of academic vocabulary from the UDHR. Students then will examine firsthand accounts of people’s experiences with human rights. This unit culminates with on demand writing, in which they analyze a firsthand account and explain how a family’s rights were challenged and how the family responded. Students will cite direct textual evidence to support their claims.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What lessons can we learn about human rights through literature and life?
  • What are human rights?
  • How can we tell powerful stories about people’s experiences? 
  • We learn lessons about human rights from the experiences of real people and fictional characters.
  • Characters change over time in response to challenges to their human rights.
  • People respond differently to similar events in their lives.
  • Authors conduct research and use specific language in order to impact their readers.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the literacy block of the school day. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies and Science content that many teachers may be teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.


Texts included in the unit

Texts that are included in the lesson materials.

Cover Text Quantity Publisher
A Short History of the UDHR
by Nancy Flowers
Background on the UDHR
by Nancy Flowers
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
by excerpts only
“From Kosovo to the United States”
by Isau Ajeti and Blanche Gosselin
Skipping Stones, 2004
“Teaching Nepalis to Read, Plant, and Vote,”
by Lesley Reed
Faces 21, 2005


ELA G5:M1:U1:L5

ELA G5:M1:U1:L11

Optional Activities

Invite members of local human rights organization(s), your principal, your assistant principal, or a school board member to come discuss human rights in their daily work.

As a class, visit a human rights organization headquarters, the United Nations, or a school board meeting.

Work with a local human rights organization to share information or educate the public about human rights; create or revise the school’s code of conduct.


  • Art: Create visual representations of the UDHR.
  • Music: Write and perform a song about human rights.
  • Social Studies: Create a timeline of key events in the Western Hemisphere leading up to the creation of the UDHR; research/project on human rights heroes.

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