Words That Burn in the classroom
"It is important because it gives us an idea of the world’s problems and how young voices can be heard all around the world. It doesn’t matter what religion or race you are or what language you speak, everyone has a voice that should be heard."
Year 8 Student, Severn Vale
These 10 sessions, each accompanied by poems, film and PowerPoint, support students to explore work from different poets and develop their own writing style.
Every term session plan 10 can be used to introduce your students to a particular human rights theme and individual at risk of human rights violation. Students can write and submit their own solidarity and protest poems which Amnesty will forward as appropriate. We will showcase a selection of poems on our website. Students will discover the impact their voice and their poetry can have.
This term’s theme is LGBTI rights. Challenge your students to Make a Difference in a Minute and write a poem that can be performed in 1-minute or less.
We suggest reading all the sessions so you can adapt them to suit your class. They can be taught separately but also form a secure unit of work in which students can build their own poetry anthology. We also recommend providing each student with a notebook or folder and encouraging them to jot down personal responses, thoughts and creative writing (that teachers do not mark).
In an inspiring documentary, talented spoken-word artists reveal their urge to write. Students explore the right to freedom of expression and create similes and metaphors for freedom after reading a selection of thought-provoking human rights poetry.
On film, Dean Atta shows there are many ways to be a poet. After reading and discussing his poem I Come From, which raises interesting questions about identity, students collaborate to tell their own stories.
A photo from World War II inspired a famous poem, The Boy With His Hands Up by Yala Korwin. By reading poetry written in response to injustice, students explore how language can be used to make a courageous stand. After looking at human rights law, students write a poem in response to a photograph capturing a human rights violation.
Students learn that everyone has a role to play in upholding human rights – in their school, community and world. They read poetry that acknowledges struggles and difficulties but also possibilities to change the world for the better. Students are asked to write their own dream for the future triggered by I Dream A World by Langston Hughes.
On film, poet Emtithal Mahmoud asks students to ‘bear witness’ to her experiences of genocide in Darfur. Students look at poetic responses to war and human rights abuses to understand that poetry can destroy silence and create remembrance. They then choose a photograph and let events speak through their writing.
Students read poems about equality and discrimination – and can watch performances by the poets bringing their words to life. This will inspire them to write a poem from the perspective of someone who has experience hate crime.
Students explore how words can help process feelings of anger and helplessness – and bring about self-empowerment and social change – by reading poetry about racism, police violence and disability. They then write their own work about power and privilege.
Throughout history, words and poetry have been used to challenge, protest and inspire change. Students watch Inja perform his poem Freedom and explore poems about race and privilege before creating their own protest poems.
Students look at the subtleties and connotations of language, and the impact words have in describing a person or event and how that influences us. They read The Right Word by Imtiaz Dharker, which explores how we see and label other people, before creating their own poem about respect.
Case studies and films show that we all have the power to stand up for human rights through poetry. As an example, three well-known poets take on Amnesty International’s Make a Difference in a Minute challenge – to perform a human rights poem in one minute. Challenge your students to do this too.
Please note: this resource asks students to explore human rights themes and their own lives. Some activities may be uncomfortable or upsetting for them, and they may write about personal experiences they have not shared before. Respond to students’ reactions, questions and poetry in a way that supports self-expression and debate, and in line with your Safeguarding policy.
The materials have been written for use in Key Stage 3: Lower Secondary (Year 7 to 9 in England and Wales; Secondary 1 to 2 in Scotland; Year 8 to 10 in Northern Ireland); Key stage 4: Upper Secondary (Year 10 to 11 in England and Wales; Secondary 3 to 4 in Scotland; Year 11 to 12 in Northern Ireland); Key Stage 5: Further education (Year 12 to 13 in England and Wales, Years 13 to 14 in Northern Ireland and Secondary 5 to 6 in Scotland).
Copyrights and credits
Copyrights and credits for poems and film clips used are added at the end of each session. This resource has been produced by Amnesty International UK in cooperation with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. We would like to thank Cheltenham Festivals and Barnwood Park Arts College, Cleeve School, Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service and Severn Vale School for piloting this resource, and The Poetry Hour for their support.