Learning about human rights in eighth grade English Language Arts
Students in the hallway writing on large papers on the wall.

In a new English Language Arts project at Colonial Middle School (CMS), eighth grade students recognized the United Nation's International Day of Peace by studying the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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"It's nice to learn what you get to do and the privileges you have by being a human," said Molli Curtis, an eighth grade student at CMS.

Defining Human Rights

Representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds drafted the document in 1948 as a common set of standards for all people in all nations. It defines 30 rights, including the right to own property, to move around freely within your country, to peacefully assemble and to receive an education -- while prohibiting acts like slavery and torture. The students reflected on each right and added their thoughts and opinions on large displays in the hallway. Later, they created poems and illustrations that will be compiled into a book to be housed in the school library and talked about what right spoke most to them.

"I chose don't discriminate," said eighth grader Rebecca Johnson. "Because I believe that everyone, no matter what their race, gender or sexuality is, should all have the same rights."

"I think my favorite right was marriage and family. You should be able to date or marry who you want, no matter their gender, race or anything that could discriminate someone," said Geena Frustaci, CMS eighth grader. "And you should be able to be family with who we want."

In their classrooms, the eighth graders also discussed what these human rights look like in the United States and world, as well as who is responsible for making sure that these rights are followed.

"Everybody should be treated with respect, and no one should be left out of that," said Julia Levinson, an eighth grader at the school. "We're all human, so we should all have rights."

"It doesn't matter where we're from or our backgrounds or race, religion or other stuff like that. We're all equal," added Jordan Williams.

Ties to the curriculum

Girl writing on a paper that has comments like The idea some people are left out when it comes to human rights is a recurring theme in 8th Grade English Language Arts, where the students will read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and The Diary of Anne Frank. The Human Rights project will help provide the students with a framework they can use throughout the year to describe and explain what they read.

"The curriculum and all the texts lend themselves really nicely to students analyzing how throughout history there has been so much struggle, so much oppression [and] discrimination," explained Mrs. Carissa Eberle, the English Language Arts teacher on the 8th Grade Orange Team who developed the Human Rights project. "The kids really do attach on to these ideas and feel empathy for them."

An example of STEAM in Colonial

The human rights project shows connections between Social Studies and English Language Arts and is an example of interdisciplinary learning, where concepts within the lesson come from more than one subject area. Interdisciplinary learning helps students become more flexible thinkers and is one way that teachers bring STEAM into the classroom.

Learning about human rights in eighth grade English Language Arts
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