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Teach human rights with fiction

My little book of big freedoms
© © Marie-Anne Ventoura / Amnesty International UK

"It is through literature, not simply literacy, that we learn to understand and empathise… Through literature, we can find our place in the world, feel we belong and discover our sense of responsibility. Amnesty understands this very well.” - Michael Morpurgo 

Children’s books have the power to bring to life human rights that may otherwise seem abstract. Exploring stories, poetry and non-fiction can encourage learning about, and celebrating, human rights. More than that, it can enable young readers and writers to enjoy their rights and practise being agents of change through critical thinking, expressing their voices and experience, trying on other perspectives, and taking action in their schools and communities. 

Get started with these 9 ideas for exploring human rights through children’s books… 

1. Story Explorer 

Download or order Amnesty's Story Explorer for free. This piece of classroom origami will help young people explore human rights themes in fiction with questions designed to promote discussion and critical thinking. 


2. Draw human rights values 

As Debi Gliori says, words are weaselly! This is especially true of big words like freedom or safety which mean different things to different people. Email to order free values bookmarks. Invite students to choose one of the values – like ‘truth’ or ‘safety’ - and draw what it means to them. 


3. ‘Tell me…’ 

Borrow from writer Aidan Chambers and encourage students to practise freedom of expression, thought and opinion. Start with the invitation ‘tell me…’ and then see where the conversation takes you. 


4. Show and tell 

Ask students to find and share objects that connect to human rights themes in the story they’re reading. This might be something they would take on a journey, connects them to their family, or celebrates their identity. 


5. Rewrites 

Invite students to take action for human rights in or on the fictional world. Ask them to rewrite or insert dialogue so that people are respected and celebrated. Suggest that they role play conversations in which people express themselves and feel heard. Invite them to choose a story that you have read or watched, select a supporting character and rewrite the story with them as the hero. 


6. Share the impact 

Consider the first book that changed your life. Where did you meet it? How did it impact on you? Why was it so important? Share this experience with your students and explore how it shaped your attitudes and behaviour. 


7. Create a Poem 

Encourage students to collect words from the book and turn them into a poem. You could also use activities from Words that Burn, Amnesty’s poetry and human rights project, to further explore relevant human rights themes and support the students to express themselves through poetry. 


8. Dialogue rather than debate 

Invite students to write down questions about a book or extract. Ask them to read their questions out loud and listen to each other without responding. Only start to discuss once everyone has shared their perspective. 


9. Show solidarity 

Ask students to write or draw a message of solidarity connected to the themes of the book. This could be for someone in their family or community, or an individual defending human rights


For recommended reads and more ideas visit