Words That Burn: In the classroom


This resource was inspired by the poetry anthology Words that Burn curated by Josephine Hart of The Poetry Hour, which in turn was inspired by the words of Thomas Gray:

           "Poetry is thoughts that breathe and words that burn."
                                                                                   Thomas Gray

About the resource

There will be 10 sessions accompanied by poems and a PowerPoint. The first release has a 6-session set with the accompanying PPTs available through the content links below.

In each session, students explore work from different poets and develop their own writing style.

Every term a human rights briefing will be provided to enable students to take action on an up-to-date human rights case or issue. Students can submit solidarity or protest poems for that issue or person, and Amnesty will forward them on.

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).

Session plans

being heard

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.

being me

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 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.


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.

words that burn

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.

Coming soon

  • change
  • witness
  • speak up
  • respect


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.

Key stages

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.

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