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Youth and Society

The Odyssey is grateful to Avi Black for organizing this unit, to Amy Melnicsak for organizing it, and to Amnesty International and UNICEF for granting Avi permission to post these activities on The Odyssey website!


Essential questions for students

This unit focuses on the lives of children throughout the world. By using or adapting the core activities, your students will address the following essential questions:


Activities for students

I. What are children's lives throughout the world like?

Activity 1: Brainstorming roles and responsibilities of youth

Introduction: This activity draws on students' prior understanding and encourages them to brainstorm about the roles and responsibilities of youth.


  • Help students identify the roles and responsibilities of youth at play, at work, at home, in school, and in the community


Youth Roles and Responsibilities Sheet


Activity 2: Meet the World of Work

Introduction: Having established that young people lead complex lives, students focus on one particular realm of experience--the world of work.


  • Gain a realistic idea of what it means to earn a living
  • Think about job and career options that will allow students the best chances of living the kind of life they imagine for themselves in the future.
  • Begin to distinguish between work that is appropriate for youth and work that is exploitative of youth

Some of your students may already be working at jobs and contributing to their family's income. Others may work to have their own spending money. And some may have little or no experience with the world of work.

A realistic idea of what it means to earn a living can help young people plan for their futures now, while they're in school It can help them think about job and career options that will allow them the best chances for living the kind of life they imagine for themselves in the future.

As your students grapple with these issues, remind them that they can have a job that they love. The work they do as adults can express their personal interests and aptitudes. Now is the time to start making that possible. Students are ready to look ahead to their future adult roles. You can help them develop conscious awareness of the future as an opportunity for personal fulfillment.


Grades 6-8

Get Ready to Love Your Job:

Ask students to talk about the jobs they think they'll do in the future. How are their plans for the future connected to their skills and interests? They can figure out the kind of work they might like to do and be good at by creating a personal inventory - a summary of their personal characteristics, interests, skills and talents, and goals. Ask students to create a series of lists:
The Kind of Person I Am (a list of adjectives)
What Interests Me / What I Like to Do
My Skills / Talents / Abilities
My Life Goals

After students make their lists, encourage them to make connections between their personal characteristics, interests, and goals and jobs they might have in the future. Have them answer the question:

What kind of job or career would a person like this enjoy and be good at?

Students can interview adults in jobs or careers that interest them. They can find out what skills and training this job or career requires.


Grades 9-12

Making Minimum Wage:
A fourteen-year-old girl in Bangladesh works 12 hours a day to earn 500 taka a month. (One U.S. dollar equals 42 taka.) Ask students to figure out how much she earns in U.S. dollars a month.

Minimum wage in the U.S. is $5.15 an hour. According to current U.S. child labor laws, a fourteen-year-old can legally work up to 18 hours in a school week and up to 40 hours in a non-school week. Ask students to calculate the number of school and non-school weeks in a year and then to calculate the maximum amount a fourteen-year-old making minimum wage can legally earn in a year.

How does the income of a fourteen-year-old in the U.S. working part-time at minimum wage compare with that of a teen in Bangladesh working 12 hours a day?


II. What should children's lives be like?

Activity 3: Know your rights

Introduction: These activities clarify the distinction between appropriate and exploitative forms of work, encouraging students to think about what young people should take on as work responsibilities and what forms such work should take.


If you feel that your students need an introduction to the concept of rights, we have included an activity using the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that can help develop that understanding.

What Does a Child Need?


  • Understand what rights children have
  • Understand children's rights are protected by laws
  • Articulate the difference between appropriate and exploitative forms of work for children

Today, the exploitation of children as workers is relatively uncommon in the United States. We don't have to look very far back in our own history, though, to see a different story. In colonial times, children worked on family farms and were often hired out to other farmers. They were routinely apprenticed to learn trades between the ages of ten and fourteen. As the economy changed from an agricultural to an industrial one, children went to work in factories. Child labor became a controversial issue only when educators convinced our national leaders that at least a primary school education for children was necessary if the country were to grow. But it wasn't until the 1930s and 1940s that effective child labor laws were in force nationwide. Even so, the problem persists today among poor migrant agricultural workers and illegal immigrants involved in the garment industry. How do we protect children from exploitation? The first step is teaching them that they have rights and that their rights are protected by powerful laws.

Grades 6-8: Rights Watch

Read this to your students:

"I make fire wood by cutting wood into tiny little pieces with a hatchet. I would like to study... My father forces me to work."

Ask your students:
Should parents or other adults be allowed to force children to work instead of attending school?
Do you think children should be treated differently from adults when it comes to work?
Should a ten-year-old be allowed to have a job instead of attending school if she wants to? What about a fourteen-year-old? A sixteen-year-old?
At what age should someone be considered an adult when it comes to getting a job? What does having a job mean to you?

Assign pairs or small groups of students to research the history of child labor laws in the U.S., focusing on the factors that influenced changing attitudes about child labor as a social issue. Other groups can research child labor laws currently in force. Your school librarian can help students locate reference and history books and other library resources with information on child labor. Some topics to look for include:

  • Muckrakers (journalists who wrote about corrupt business practices and social issues inthe early part of this century)
  • Jacob Rils (a newspaper writer and social activist who campaigned for child labor reforms in the U.S. at the turn of the century)
  • the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, in which 146 workers died. On the Internet, conducting a search using the phrases "chiId labor" and "child labor laws" locates a lot of useful and interesting information.

Grades 9-12

On the Job: Read the following paragraph to your students:

In Brazil's sugar plantations, ...children cut cane with machetes, a punishing task putting them at constant risk of mutilation.... Brazilian children are also exposed to snakebites and insect stings on tobacco plantations, and carry loads far beyond their capacities.

Ask students in the class who have jobs to talk about their reasons for having a job, how they got it, what they do at work, and how labor laws affect their work (if at all).
Are they treated fairly?
Is the job dangerous in any way?
Is the number of hours they can work limited?
If so, would they like to work more?
If adult workers are also employed at the same place, do they work under different rules?
Talk about child labor laws. How do they protect children and young people?
How would things be different if laws didn't limit the amount and type of work children can do?

After the discussion, ask students to write an essay about what work means to them.

What can they learn from having a job while they're still in school? What other benefits are there to having a job? What are the drawbacks?


Activity 4: Clustering rights

Introduction: Using as a platform the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations in 1989, this activity helps students understand what young people's lives should be like.


  • Examine the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in depth
  • Consider the different types of rights the articles protect

Activity 4A: Human Rights Squares

This activity reveals what participarnts already know about human rights and the issues that are of concern to them. It also stimulates discussion about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and categories of rights.

Time: 15+ minutes

Materials: Copy of Handout 1, Human Rights Squares
Copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

1.Give everyone a copy of Handout 1, Human Rights Squares. Everyone tries to get an answer and a signature from a different person for each square. Stop after five minutes.

2. Debrief the game:
Which were the easiest squares to find answers for? The most difficult? Why? Which squares had global answers? US answers? Local or community answers?

3. Discuss:
Can you match any of these squares to articles of the UDHR?
Which of the squares are related to civil and political rights? To social, economic, and cultural rights? What additional squares might you create for this game?

Activity 4B: A Human Rights Tree

Participants work cooperatively to create an image that helps to define human rights and human needs.

Time: 30+ minutes

Materials: Art supplies, chart paper

Setting: Elementary school - Adult groups


1. Ask participants, working in small groups, to draw a tree on large chart paper.

Write on the tree (in the form of leaves, fruits, flowers, or branches) those human rights that they think all people need to live in dignity and justice. A human rights tree needs roots to grow and flourish. Give the tree roots and label them with the things that make human rights flourish. For example, a healthy economy, the rule of law, or universal education.

2. When drawings are complete, ask each group to present its tree and explain its reasons for the items they have included.

Going Further

1. Match the fruits, leaves, and branches with articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and write the number of the article next to each item.

2. Display these trees in the classroom or in public places.

3. Identify rights concerns that are of particular concern to you and your community.


Activity 4c: Mapping Human Rights in our Neighborhood

Overview: Participants work cooperatively to create a map of their community and identify the rights associated with each major institution.

Time: 1 hour (but could extend over several days)

Materials: art supplies, chart paper; copies of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights for each participant.

(You can find a copy - it's not too long to print - at:

Setting: elementary school to adult groups



1. Divide participants into small groups and ask them to draw a map of their town (or neighborhood in the case of larger communities). They should include their homes, major public buildings (e.g., churches, post office, city hall, schools, museum) and public services

2. When the maps are complete, ask participants to analyze their map from a human rights perspective. What human rights do they associate with different places on their map? For example, the church might represent freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, the school with the right to education, the post office with the right to information, to privacy, and to self-expression. As they identify these rights, they should look up the relevant article in the UDHR and write the number of the UDHR article(s) next to that place on the map.

3. Ask each group to present its map to the whole group and summarize its analysis of human rights exercised in the community.

Are there any articles of the UDHR that seem to be especially exercised in this community? How can this be explained?

Are there any articles of the UDHR that no group included on their map? How can this be explained?

Which of the rights identified are civil and political? Which are social, economic, and cultural? Did one kind of right predominate on the map? Did one kind of rights predominate in certain areas (e.g., more civil and political rights associated with the court house, city hall, or police station)?

Can anyone see new ways to add rights to their map, especially those that were not included in the first?

4. Discuss:

Are there any places in this community where people's rights are violated?

Are there any people in this community whose rights are violated?

What happens in this community when someone's human rights are violated?

Are there any places in this community where people take action to protect human rights or prevent violations from occurring?


1. This lesson could be developed as a math activity, drawing the area to scale. It could also serve as a geography activity, including topography, directions, and spatial relationships.

2. Each step of the activity might be done on different days, allowing participants time to reconsider the make-up of the neighborhood and the rights associated with each component.

3. The discussion in Step 4 provides an excellent opportunity to have a lawyer or human rights activist speak to the group.

4. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) might be substituted for the UDHR, especially for school use. A representative of a human services agency or children's advocacy group might speak in Step 4.

Variations for Young Children:

1. The map might be created in three dimensional form.

2. This activity might be combined with a walk around the neighborhood to observe rights in action.

3. The exercise might focus just on the school or the home, or different groups might take separate parts of one common map to analyze for human rights.


III. What can be done to improve the lives of children to achieve that vision?


Activity 5: Connecting social problems to a human rights framework

Introduction: With a firm understanding of the universally-accepted rights of children, students are now encouraged to apply those rights to their own community.


  • Articulate dreams that can be achieved through specific action
  • Consider ways those dreams can be achieved
  • Discuss whether achieving dreams depends on freedom, education, protection from abuse of all kinds, and protection from discrimination

Activity 5a: Name Your Dreams

Grades 6-8

Dream Time: In this activity, you will ask your students to name their dreams, but there is one fundamental rule: The dream must be attainable through specific actions over which the dreamer has control. Therefore, "winning the lottery' is not allowed. Ask students to choose a dream that they hope will come true. Then ask them to describe it in detail-what it is, why it matters, and how this dream will affect the dreamer and others. They can write about it, draw it, or use any other means of expression to capture the dream in the greatest possible detail. Ask for volunteers to share their dreams with the class. Make a classroom or hallway display: a Wall of Dreams' or "Hall of Dreams.'

As you and your students look at everyone's dreams, talk about how making dreams come true depends on freedom, education, protection from abuse of all kinds, and protection from discrimination.

Grades 9-12

Looking Ahead: Read the following paragraph to your students:

In Bangladesh, we spoke to a 14-year-old girl named Leepe. Lee pe's father had passed away, her mother was blind, and her one older sibling could not find work. Lee pe had to support a family of five by working 12 hours a day and earning 500 takas (the equivalent of 12 dollars]a month. In the middle ofour interview, Lee pe broke into tears. She said fhat she had no ambitions. The thing that she strived to do was eat, so she could live.

Ask students to compare their ambitions with Leepe's. Are they committed to goals they've set for themselves in the future? Do they ever feel hopeless, without ambition? Ask students to write about their ambitions, hopes, and dreams for the future. They can write private journal entries, stories, essays, poems, or songs. Ask for volunteers to read their creations to the class. As a group, talk about why it's

sometimes hard to believe in dreams and make them come true. What can you do to remain committed to dreams and goals? Ask students to suggest ways that schools, communities, families, and friends can help young people remain optimistic about achieving their goals.

What conditions in other countries make it difficult or impossible for young people to realize their dreams? How are these conditions connected to the economic and social structure of a country?

"The most important thing is to stimulate the child to dream and wish, and to offer a number of concrete opportunities to help the child realize those dreams." These are the words of Cesare de Flono La Rocca, founder of Projeto Axe', which works with street children in Brazil. The same can be said for children everywhere, including those in your classroom. Young people have to believe in themselves and in the possibility of making their dreams come true before they will invest their time, their energy, and their hopes in future goals.

Naming a dream is the first step toward making it come true. The next step is believing in the possibility of the dream. Starting from today, it is possible to turn the dream into reality. You can help your students name their dreams and chart a path toward making them come true.


Activity 5B: Make Your Dream Come True

Having a dream is one thing. Believing that a dream is attainable is something else again. It's often hard for young people facing the future to take their own aspirations seriously. They set aside their dreams and concentrate on just getting through the day. If your students can begin to think in realistic and practical terms about what they can do now to make their dreams come true, they'll be a step closer to achieving their goals.

Help your students understand that the more options they have, the better their chances for future success and happiness. Having lots of options requires taking advantage of opportuniUes, using available resources, and working hard to prepare for the future. Not everyone can be a sports star or celebrity. But everyone has talents and interests that can help them fulfill realistic and rewarding dreams. The preparation for attaining those dreams starts in school and continues throughout life.

Grades 6-8

Action Plan for Dreams: Ask your students to create action plans to reach their dreams. Students can trace their dreams backwards to identify specific steps and actions required to make them come true. Students should answer these questions:

  • What must happen so my dream will come true?
  • What qualitieslskills/talents must I have?
  • What do I need to know?
  • What education/training do I need?
  • How do I go about getting that education/training?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How will I pay for it?
  • What kind of help do I need?
  • Who can help me?
  • What can I do now and during the rest of my time in school to help make my dream come true?
Doing the research required to answer these questions is an important part of making dreams 'real.' Encourage students to be specific when they lay out their action plans and present them to the class. Afterwards, discuss how being specific about plans affected students' perceptions of their dreams.

Grades 9-12

Future Fair: Your students can organize a 'Future Fair'-a day or part of a day set aside for learning about jobs, careers, training schools, and colleges. With the class, brainstorm a list of resources for information about careers and educational options students are considering. Ask your students to research local businesses and educational institutions. They should identify local employers, training organizations, colleges, and nonprofit service and training organizations.

Then the class should invite these organizations to send representatives. Get parents involved by inviting them to describe and discuss their own work and their training. Students can contact colleges and universities that are not local and ask them to send materials to be distributed at the Future Fair. Let students take the lead in organizing the day and making necessary logistical arrangements. Invite everyone in the school to attend.


Activity 6: Stories of students who took action

Introduction: This activity is case-based and encourages a solution-oriented approach to local problems. It is an excellent orientation to service and activism.


  • Consider what problems exist in the community
  • Relate those problems to human rights principles
  • Develop oral and written communications skills

Students read and discuss case stories of young human rights advocates. They then consider what problems exist in their community or school and relate them to human rights principles. They role play these problems and possible solutions and discuss student activism.

Time: 1-1/2 hours or 2 class periods

Materials: Copies of Handout 1, Stories of Students Who Took Action for each group. For older students: Copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and/or the Convention on the Rights of the Child(CRC) (see above).

Setting: Elementary School


1. Read the case stories to students or ask older students to read them to each other in small groups.

2. Divide the class into 6 groups. Give each a copy of one of the stories and discussion questions. Ask the groups to read their stories aloud and answer the questions on the sheet.

3. When each group has finished the questions, discuss the different responses and interpretations the stories elicited.

4. Ask what human rights issues appear in each of the three cases and list these on the board. Ask older students to link these to specific articles in the UDHR or CRC.

5. Discuss:

· What are some human rights problems in our community? In our school? (List issues as they are mentioned.)

· Which of these problems could be affected by students taking action?

· What specific human rights are involved in the problems that students might address? (List the rights; ask older students to match them with articles of the UDHR.)

6. Ask students, working in the same small groups, to choose one community or school problems from their class list and use it to create a short role play. Role plays should -

  • Identify the human right problem
  • Identify the community member(s) affected by the problem
  • Illustrate a possible solution

7. After each group has presented its role play, discuss some of these topics:

  • Who has responsibility for human rights? Do individuals as well as the government? Do young people as well as adults? Can the class provide examples?
  • Can students really make a difference? Are the case stories unusual, or could they happen in this community or school?
  • When students reconsider the list of problems generated in Step 5,.which ones do they think could be affected by the actions of people like themselves?

Going Further:

1. Stories of Action - Ask students to write a story, draw a picture, or make a collage describing a situation in which they or a friend took action to solve a problem.

2. Strategizing Action - Have students brainstorm as a class or make lists individually to answer the following questions:

· To whom would you talk or write if you wanted to solve a problem at school?

· To whom would you talk or write if you wanted to solve a problem in your neighborhood?

3. Helpful considerations for the teacher:

· The role play and activities in "Going Further" will provide insights into students' perceptions about the decision-making process in their school and community.In the discussion you may wish to explore their ideas about the power and responsibility of certain individuals or decision-making bodies, such as the principal or school board. You will want to correct their misperceptions and extend their understanding of the appropriate avenues through which they can address their concerns. Ideally this exercise will lay the groundwork for enabling students to use the appropriate channels to have their opinions and concerns heard.

· Discuss with students the possibility of responding to a human rights problem together as a class. It is important that students always are permitted to choose the community action topic. It must be something they can relate to and care about.



Lessons: Mexico Lessons- Guatemala Lessons- Peru Lessons
Zimbabwe Lessons - Mali Lessons - Egypt Lessons
Internet and Society Lessons - Youth and Society Lessons
Indigenous People Lessons

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