Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan: Universal Human Rights in the United States



Duane Draper




Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the centerpiece for the lesson, students will analyze how rights can make American society more inclusive and democratic and evaluate how effectively the United States has implemented human rights.








90 minutes plus evaluation




The Universal Declaration of Human Rights



Tally Sheet


Optional Activity: Stand Up for Human Rights: Your Voice!





The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was created by the United Nations in 1948 to formally state basic human rights that should be protected and guaranteed to all people of the world.


Although some of these rights have been adopted in countries around the world, other rights considered fundamental remain unprotected.


This lesson looks at defining human rights and understanding the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Students are asked to evaluate which rights are most important and which are protected in the United States.  Students will also analyze how the addition of more human rights might make the United States a more inclusive and democratic society.




Students will:

  • Analyze the purposes of declaring human rights.
  • Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and interpret the Articles in their own words.
  • Rank the value of the various Articles of the UDHR and evaluate the effectiveness of the United States in implementing these rights.




Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for Social Studies (Grade 12 benchmarks)


C.12.1 Identify the sources, evaluate the justification, and analyze the implications of certain rights and responsibilities of citizens.


C.12.2 Describe how different political systems define and protect individual human rights.


C.12.12 Explain the United States’ relationship to other nations and its role in international organizations, such as the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and North American Free Trade Agreement.


  1. 12.12 Explain current and past efforts of groups and institutions to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against racial, ethnic, religious, and social groups such as women, children, the elderly, and individuals who are disabled.




  1. Opening Activity


Students will identify five rights that are important to them.  Students will then discuss the rights briefly in a think-pair-share activity.


In a large group discussion, students will answer three questions:

  • What is a right?
  • How well does the United States protect human rights?
  • What are some places in the world that you think do not protect many human rights?



  1. Purposes of Declaring Human Rights


Students will read the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  While reading each purpose, students will answer this question: “What is the purpose of declaring human rights based upon the UDHR text?”


The text can be read and analyzed individually or in small groups.  For students who struggle with reading primary documents, it may be beneficial for teachers to assign work in a small group and/or to assign only a few of the purposes listed. After students have read and analyzed the Preamble, students can share their responses with the whole class.  Students can add historical examples to support these purposes.


  1. Interpretation and Evaluation of the Articles of Universal Human Rights


Assign an Article or two to each student.  Students will read their Article and then write their Article in their own words.  Students will then justify why this is an important human right.


Before sharing with the class, inform students that they will be asked to rank the most important rights at the end of the sharing.  Distribute the tally sheet.  Students should complete the tally sheet to evaluate each right as they listen to each Article.


Students will share their individual Article information with the class.  Students can read the original Article and then read their own interpretation of the text.  If the class has access to digital technology, students could also type their interpretation into a shared document, both for ease of reading and also to create a side-by-side interpretation.  Students should also explain why they feel each right is important.


After the sharing, students should select the five most important Articles of the UDHR and be able to justify their choices.  Students can share their choices in small groups.


Select five of the Articles that students feel are most important.  Teachers can tally class results or have each small group select a different article that it felt was important.  Students should then discuss this question for these Articles: “How effectively does the United States support and implement this right?”  Extend the discussion by having students consider why the United States does or does not support this right, what forces may be limiting the implementation of these rights, and how additional rights might make the United States more inclusive and democratic.




These are two optional post-lesson activities to extend student engagement in this topic.


Stand Up for Human Rights:  Your Voice!



The United Nations is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the UDHR by encouraging citizens from around the world to record themselves reading one of the Articles of the UDHR.  Students can select their favorite Articles and record themselves reading this right.


Illustrating Rights

Students can illustrate one of the 30 Articles of the UDHR using whichever illustration method (digital, drawing, picture collage, etc.) they prefer.  At the bottom of the illustration students can include the original text of the Article or their own interpretation of the text.





Students can write a three paragraph essay evaluating three key Articles of the UDHR.  Students should be able to explain the basic rights protected by each Article, analyze the importance of these rights, and evaluate how well the United States supports these rights.


Extended Visual Display

Students work in large groups to create a visual display of the UDHR.  Students can select different Articles, complete the “Illustrating Rights” activity for their Articles, and then combine them into a large group display using a consistent illustration format.



Students can develop a short persuasive speech justifying which Article in the UDHR is most important to them.  Students should identify and explain the Article and then justify why this is an important human right.  Students can also assess how well the United States supports this right.


Short Answer Examination

Students could answer these questions as part of a unit examination.

  • What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
  • What are some rights that are listed in the UDHR, but are not listed in the Constitution?
  • Provide an example of each of the following rights listed in the UDHR:

an economic right

a political or legal right

a social or cultural right



ADEF: Bill of Rights & the American Constitution Copyright © by Zumbrunnen. All Rights Reserved.