2nd Peace as a Global Language Conference Proceedings & Supplement

Human Rights and Problem Solving in EFL Classrooms
Japanese Title: ケーガン博士の協同学習アプローチ
by Fiona Eastley    (Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts)


This paper illustrates two lessons that show how EFL students can learn about human rights and more specifically the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The lessons introduce the concept of rights versus wants through examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Students also examine case studies and identify which rights are enjoyed or denied in particular situations. In groups students problem solve possible solutions for situations where rights are denied.

Keywords: human rights education, global issues, content-based instruction

In the early 1980's the role of content-based classes in teaching English as a foreign language became increasingly apparent. In Canada, Edwards, Wesche, Krashen, Clement, and Kruidenier, (1984) carried out some of the first research examining how content-based instruction could enhance acquisition of English as a foreign language at the university level. The late 1980's and early 1990's then saw content-based instruction influencing the field of EFL instruction in Japan. Content-based instruction often focused on global issues and 1986 saw a conference by the Japan Association of College English Teachers (JACET) titled "World Peace and English Education". In 1996 the international conference of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) invited Felix Marti from UNESCO to talk about Linguapax, language teaching and world peace (Marti, 1996). Cates (1990) stated that global education was bringing a new perspective to the language classroom, school curricula, and the world of applied linguistics. Snow (1991) discussed how a content-based approach could boost student motivation while providing students an opportunity to use language in a meaningful way.

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Dyer and Bushell (1996) called this growing worldwide trend of using content-based instruction "global education". This trend has continued to grow with teachers and students expecting language instruction to include more than the basics of language content, use and form, (Hullah, 2003). In Japan studies using content-based instruction have included, teaching global issues to children (Yoshimura,1993), using multi-media (Wakao and Nelson,1997), teaching about television commercials (McGee & Fujita, 2000), and in conjunction with team teaching (Miyazato, 2001). Content-based instruction gives students a chance to develop new skills and also use the skills they already have to discuss, evaluate and problem solve issues of world concern. Topics can also be chosen by the teacher to examine current issues, events, and concerns or reflect the experiences of the teacher.
The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10th 1948. Students at Japanese universities and colleges generally enjoy the rights outlined in that declaration. These students may be unaware of situations in Japan where people are denied their basic human rights, such as Japan's refugee policy and racial discrimination as well as situations in other parts of the world where basic human rights such as the right to a nationality, primary education and freedom from torture are denied.
This paper describes a two-part series of lessons designed to get students to compare their own knowledge about human rights with the declaration and to examine situations where people are denied their human rights.

Lesson 1


The first lesson, 90 minutes duration, has the following learning outcomes:
  1. To introduce students to the concept that peoples' basic needs are considered human rights.

  2. Students will be able to list some of the universal human rights and name the main rights they enjoy.


  1. Each student receives a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the end of the first lesson. Plain language formats can be found at www.unhcr.org.uk/pdfs/lessonplanshr/studentsheet12.pdf. More information on the Declaration is available at www.unhchr.ch/udhr/.

  2. A set of ten pictures reflecting rights and a matching set of ten cards with an explanation of the right written in English needs to be prepared. The rights to be used can be found in Appendix 1. Pictures cut out from newspapers or magazines depicting real situations may be more meaningful to the students then hand-drawn pictures. There should be enough cards prepared so that each student receives either a picture card or a description card. Depending on the class size or level of the students the teacher can choose to use a different number or different selection of rights, if this is done the teacher will also need to amend the worksheet found in Appendix 1. Published material that can be used for this activity can also be found at www.amnesty.org.uk/education/resources/index.shtml.

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Class Outline

The class begins with the teacher asking students to brainstorm the characteristics of people, e.g. "What is a person/human?" Students discuss in pairs and then present their answers to the group. The characteristics are then written on the board. Students are then asked to list the needs all people have and contrast them with the wants that some people have, e.g. "What does a person need to live?" This can be done as an interview activity with students walking around the class asking different students for their opinions.
The teacher then explains that the needs we all have are really rights we are entitled to. The teacher can go on to explain that even though people are entitled to these rights many people are denied them. The teacher may like to give some examples from recent newspapers or explain to the class that they are going to examine this area in more detail in the following lesson.
The teacher then gives a brief history about the United Nations and the adoption of the charter. For example the teacher could explain that during WWII, many people were denied their basic rights and so in 1945 the United Nations was formed and in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. The declaration was developed as a standard for all people to accept and follow.
Students are then asked what rights they enjoy in daily lives. This can be done as a whole class, pair work or interview activity. As an interview activity students walk around the class asking "What is a right you enjoy in your daily life?" and also "What is a right you don't enjoy in your daily life?" Depending on the class level, the teacher can also explain that when we have a right we say that the right is enjoyed and when don't have that right then we can say that right is denied. Once the interviews are completed the responses can then be discussed with the class as a whole.
The next activity includes a picture matching activity. The teacher gives half the class a picture card (reflecting a right) and the other half a card with a right written on it. Students with the picture cards are asked to look at the picture and imagine what right it reflects. Students with the written cards check to make sure they understand the meaning of their card and check any unknown vocabulary. Once students are ready the entire class is asked to move around and find their matching picture or written right. Lower level classes can be given the language structure that is required to complete the task, e.g. "What right do you have?" Do you have the right to . . . ?" Once students have found their matching pair they check with the teacher then sit down together. Each pair is then asked to list all the things they can do if they have that right plus all the things that are impossible to do without that right. The teacher will usually need to give some examples, e.g. Without the right to education a person may not be qualified to do a particular job, without the right to rest and leisure a person may not enjoy good health.
Lastly students are then re-introduced to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are given a copy in simplified English. Students and teacher then discuss and reflect about the activity and the declaration.

Lesson Two


The second lesson, 90 minutes in duration, has the following learning outcomes:
  1. Students will be able to identify what human rights are being enjoyed or denied in particular case studies.

  2. Students will reflect and suggest possible solutions to situations where individuals are denied their basic rights.

  3. Students will be able to describe and explain the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in English.

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  1. Each student needs to bring his or her copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was handed out at the end of the first lesson.

  2. The worksheet "Which Human Right is Being Violated?" (see Appendix 1), one copy for each student.

  3. Stories reflecting typical situations of human rights abuses (see Appendix 2). The stories need to be prepared by the teacher so that the level of English is appropriate for the class. The stories should be based on true situations or events which can be found at www.unhcr.org/ or from the magazine "Refugees", which is online at the same website, or from daily newspapers. If the teacher uses the stories as a reading exercise then each student will need a copy, otherwise for other activities only one teacher copy is required.
Class Outline

The second lesson begins with a review of the previous lesson. Students are asked to explain about what a right is, and about the Declaration. Students are then asked to look at the Declaration and to try and remember as many rights as they can. The students then stop looking at the Declaration and the teacher goes around the class and asks each student to name a right until the students are unable to name any more rights.
Next, students are then asked to role-play a situation reflecting a right (either enjoyed/denied), this can be done in pairs or small groups. The class then watches each role play and guess what right is being illustrated.
The teacher then gives the students a true case history of a situation where rights are denied (see Appendix 2). This can be presented as a reading, listening, dictation or dictogloss exercise (Wajnryb, 1997).
After reading each passage students in pairs or small groups identify and discuss:
  1. What rights were denied this person? What right does the person now enjoy?

  2. What rights are still denied this person?

  3. What did the person do about their situation? Would you have done the same thing?

  4. What can be done to help people who are denied their basic human rights?
The groups then present their ideas and the class discusses the issues together.

Extension activities

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Concluding remarks and troubleshooting

This lesson has been used successfully with first year university students studying within a predominately content-based course in a social studies faculty of a Japanese university. The lesson would need to be adapted significantly for younger students, but may be suitable for high school students studying within a high level intensive English course.
Some difficulties may occur with students trying to complete the activity in Japanese. To prevent this, students need to have a suitable level of English so they can discuss issues, or students need to be given more structure and vocabulary. Students may need to be given a preparation lesson beforehand in which they are introduced to structures and forms that will be needed in the lesson.
One other problem the teacher may encounter is that some students might not feel the topic is relevant to them or the students do not show any concern about learning about human rights. This situation can be improved if the teacher presents true case studies, pictures from magazines or information from the news, especially information relevant to the students' country. This situation can also be improved by mentioning case studies from Japan. With using case studies about Japan the teacher must also be careful, as some students may be reluctant to discuss their own country. A solution to this would be to ask students to research areas of human rights abuses in their own country and for the class to use the case studies that their peers present.


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Dyer, B., & Bushell, B. (1996). World issues or a global perspective? The Language Teacher, 20 (11), 10-16.

Edwards, H., M. Wesche, S. Krashen, R. Clement, & B. Kruidenier. (1984). "Second language acquisition through subject-matter learning: A study of sheltered psychology classes at the University of Ottawa." Canadian Modern Language Review, 41 (2), 268-82.

Marti, F. (1996). Linguapax, languages and peace. The Language Teacher, 20 (10), 33-44.

McGee, K & Fujita, T. (2000). Playing the semiotic game: Analyzing and creating TV commercials in an EFL class. The Language Teacher, 24 (6), 17-24.

Miyazato, K. (2001). Team teaching and Japanese learners' motivation. The Language Teacher, 25 (11). Available online at http://www.jalt-publications.org/tlt/articles/2001/11/miyazato. (Accessed 28 Apr. 2004).

Hullah, P. (2003). L2 Learner attitudes to EFL textbooks. The Language Teacher, 27(9), 13-18.

Snow, A. A. (1991). Content-based second/foreign language instruction: An overview. The LanguageTeacher, 15 (11), 3-5.

Wajnryb, R. (1997). Grammar dictation: The dictogloss procedure as a means to explore and shift learner's hypotheses about language. The Language Teacher, 21 (9). Available online at http://jalt-publications.org/tlt/files/97/sep/wajnryb.html. (Accessed 28 Apr. 2004).

Wakao, A., & Nelson, B. (1997). Student-produced multimedia projects: Pedagogy and practice. The Language Teacher, 21 (12). Available online at http://www.jalt-publications.org/tlt/files/97/dec/wakao.html (Accessed 28 Apr. 2004).

Yoshimura, M. (1993). Teaching global issues to children. The Language Teacher, 17 (5), 11-15.

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