Write for Rights: how can your school take part?

Whichever subject you teach, read our lesson ideas for Amnesty International’s Write for Rights across the curriculum

Our Editorial Team took some time out last week at Bedrock HQ to take part in Write for Rights. Amnesty International’s annual campaign gets people to write messages of support to human rights defenders and victims of human rights abuses across the world, as well as appeal letters to demand action from those in power.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, this year’s Write for Rights theme is young people. This makes 2019 a perfect opportunity to get your students involved in the letter-writing campaign and make a real difference. Amnesty International says:

“[Recipients] often describe the strength they derive from knowing that so many people are concerned about their case. Often there is a noticeable change by officials towards these individuals: charges are dropped, treatment becomes less harsh, and laws or regulations addressing the problem are introduced.”

As well as making a difference for young people fighting for equality and justice, Write for Rights is a great foundation for lessons across the curriculum, from English and history to geography, RE, citizenship, languages, and even art or computing. But we know the Christmas holidays are nearly here and lesson time is precious, so we’ve also included suggestions for getting the whole school involved during lunch or breaktime.

Write for Rights in the classroom
To help you plan a Write for Rights lesson, Amnesty provides an education toolkit with activities focused around individual cases. They suggest starting off with the simplified Universal Declaration of Human Rights included in the pack, doing a couple of activities, and then finishing the lesson by getting students to write their own letters. Here, we suggest different approaches to tailoring Write for Rights to your subject and curriculum content.

Approaching Write for Rights in an English lesson is a wonderful way to emphasise literature’s real-world relevance and look at works that really connect with young people. Your starting point can be anything relevant to your curriculum content, from novels like To Kill a Mockingbird or Refugee Boy, to poetry from any number of writers. Try Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Imtiaz Dharker, Dean Atta, Saadi Youssef, Victoria Redel, or George the Poet. For more inspiration, check out resources from Amnesty International on teaching human rights through poetry and prose fiction.

You can also look at non-fiction texts. For example, ask students to look online and bring in articles about human rights in the news to analyse in class. You can then take the opportunity to teach students the differences between writing a message of solidarity to a victim of human rights abuses, and writing a letter to a governmental official.

Again, you can link Write for Rights to relevant aspects of the curriculum. Take a look at the 2019 booklet, pick a case that you can link with your teaching, and have a go at some of the activities in the education pack.

Two of the 2019 cases feature young environmental activists. Get your class to write to Grassy Narrows Youth or the Canadian government about mercury poisoning of a river system in Ontario. Or write a message of solidarity to young Filipino activist Marinel Ubaldo, who started environmental campaigning after her village was destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda.

Teach your class about religious oppression by writing letters about Yiliyasijiang Reheman, a Uyghur student who has been sent to a ‘re-education camp’ by the Chinese government because of his religion.

A citizenship lesson is a great opportunity to discuss the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You can use activities in the education pack to teach a lesson about identity or freedom of expression, and then write to Yasaman Aryani, who has been imprisoned by the Iranian government for not wearing a hijab. Or focus on something a bit closer to home, and help students write to the British government about citizenship rights for children.

Although you can write to everyone featured in Write for Rights in English, some cases invite letters in different languages, including Arabic and Russian. In a KS4 lesson, try writing short letters in Spanish to José Adrián – a victim of police violence – or to search-and-rescue volunteer Seán Binder in German.

Students could use an ICT lesson to type up their letters or send an email to a government official. Amnesty also offer a range of online courses about human rights, including a fifteen-minute introduction to Write for Rights.

Art and design
Get creative and ask students to design secular cards, which they can use to send messages of solidarity.

Outside the classroom
If you’d like to involve the whole school in Write for Rights, or it’s too much of a squeeze to fit letter writing into a lesson, try setting up a stand during break or lunchtime. All you need is writing equipment, printed information on each case, and some template letters to help inspire students. You could combine this with fundraising by holding a cake sale at the same time.

Write for Rights runs until 31 December, and International Human Rights Day falls on 10 December – so there’s still plenty of time to organise an event in your school or plan a letter-writing lesson! Amnesty also encourages using social media to send messages of solidarity and support, and creative actions in the real world to raise awareness and involve other people in the campaign. We’d love to hear about what your school’s been doing for Write for Rights. Share your stories and tips with us on Twitter!