Primary Source Exemplar: Universal Declaration of Human Rights Social Science Unit

Unit Abstract

This document describes a series of lessons in the Social Sciences, all of which are tied to the exploration of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a Primary Source Document.  They are designed to be given to 9th or 10th grade students in a World History, Cultural Geography, or similar social science class.  They are specifically designed to teach the Common Core Standards for Literacy in the Social Sciences, and to engage higher order thinking skills.

Source List

Anchor Text

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Supporting Texts

Details in Lesson Sequence Section below

Standards Alignments

Key Ideas and Details

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

Craft and Structure

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.5 Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.10 By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 9–10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1c Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1d Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.1e Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.2a Introduce a topic and organize ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.2b Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.2c Use varied transitions and sentence structures to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.2e Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).

Production and Distribution of Writing

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

NOTE: Students’ narrative skills continue to grow in these grades. The Standards require that students be able to incorporate narrative elements effectively into arguments and informative/explanatory texts. In history/social studies, students must be able to incorporate narrative accounts into their analyses of individuals or events of historical import. In science and technical subjects, students must be able to write precise enough descriptions of the step-by-step procedures they use in their investigations or technical work that others can replicate them and (possibly) reach the same results.

California Standards

Standards Description Document

  • 10.9 Students analyze the international developments in the post-World World War II world
  • 10.9.8  Discuss the establishment and work of the United Nations and the purposes and functions of the Warsaw Pact, SEATO, NATO, and the Organization of American States.

Developing Student Literacy


Lesson 1

It is anticipated that these lessons will be taught in coordination with the English/Language Arts lessons elsewhere described.  Given that this may not always be possible, Lesson 1 is an optional stand-alone lesson to introduce the UDHR to students in the absence of coordination.  For those collaborating with an ELA teacher, please work with that (those) teacher(s) to decide whether the ELA or Social Science lessons work best, or perhaps develop your own hybrid approach. 

Lesson 2

The second lesson has two components: Lesson 2A and Lesson 2.  Lesson 2A is for proficient or advanced students, and explores the way in which social science investigative skills are used to corroborate allegations of human rights abuses by two of the largest and most well known Non-Governmental Organizations involved in monitoring human rights abuses (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch). It may be given to the whole class or as enrichment for differentiated instruction.  Lesson 2 involves country research (both basic characteristics and human rights issues) and investigating the specific stories of survivors of alleged human rights abuses, then analyzing their findings.  

Lesson 3

Lesson 3 builds directly upon the presentations in Lesson 2 by introducing alleged human rights abuses in the United States.  Students then struggle with building a rubric for evaluating severity of human rights abuses by contrasting this newly acquired knowledge with their work in Lesson 2.  

Lessons 4 & 5

Finally, Lessons 4 and 5 are support lessons to add historical context to the study of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Speech in support of the adoption of the UDHR and Nelson Mandela’s speech referencing the UDHR to a special session of the UN on Apartheid, respectively.  Their method is the same; in both lessons students are provided three thematically linked Primary Source Documents which they analyze in order to provide insight for a summative essay assessment.

CCSS Areas of Focus

Reading Text Closely: Makes reading text(s) closely, examining textual evidence, and discerning deep meaning a central focus of instruction.

Text ­Based Evidence: Facilitates rich and rigorous evidence­ based discussions and writing about common texts through a sequence of specific, thought­ provoking, and text­ dependent questions (including, when applicable, questions about illustrations, charts, diagrams, audio/video, and media).

Writing from Sources: Routinely expects that students draw evidence from texts to produce clear and coherent writing that informs, explains, or makes an argument in various written forms (e.g., notes, summaries, short responses, or formal essays).

Academic Vocabulary: Focuses on building students’ academic vocabulary in context throughout instruction. (In Lesson Two, students engage difficult language as identified by their instructor and use graphic organizers to grapple with academic vocabulary.)

Building Disciplinary Knowledge: Provides opportunities for students to build knowledge about a topic or subject through analysis of a coherent selection of strategically sequenced, discipline-specific texts.

Direct Learning Through Questions

Essential Question

The overall essential question of this unit can be summarized as, “What are Human Rights?  Does the definition depend on cultural variations?  To what extent are concepts of Human Rights subject to contextual concerns and to what extent are they universal?”  The six lessons in this unit each seek to add to students appreciation of this larger question by guiding students through an exploration of different facets of the question.

Text Based Questions

Essay topics suggested within lessons.

Integrate Learning Across Disciplines

Integrated Learning Sequence


Subject Area Standards, Key Areas of Focus, and/or Essential Ideas

Details within each lesson

Align Assessment with Instruction

Culminating/Summative Assessment Task

Details within each lesson

Formative Assessment Strategies

Consider Background Knowledge and Prerequisite Skills

Prerequisite Learning

Students need an academic vocabulary level advanced enough to be able to read the Human Rights Watch Annual Report 2013 and standard encyclopedic entries

Pre-assessment of Readiness for Learning

Teachers will conduct checks for understanding regarding academic language and problematic vocabulary that they define

Provide Support While Building Toward Independence

Strategies for Supporting All Students and Building Independence

Extensive use of partner and small group scaffolding, differentiated instruction, and adaptive planning in regards to student needs revealed through formative assessments are all elements of these lessons.  

Details within each lesson

Additional Suggestions for Support/Extension

  1. English language learners: Assign heterogenous groups instead of allowing self-selection

  2. Students with disabilities: Implement accommodations

  3. Below-grade level readers: Assign heterogenous groups instead of allowing self-selection

  4. Above grade-level readers: Enrichment activities described within lessons

Lesson Sequence

Lesson 1:   Deconstructing the UN UDHR

Text Set

 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Article Strip A-B Pair Share

Frayer Model: Individual then pair

Linking Clusters of Ideas (Categorization)

Predicting the Preamble


Lesson 2A (Enrich): Chronicling Human Rights Abuses - Approaches

Text Set

Human Rights Watch Research Methodology

Amnesty International Accountability & Methods

UN OHCHR Human Rights Bodies 


Summarize methodologies

Compare organizations by methodology: Venn Diagram

Begin research on individual accounts


Lesson 2: Chronicling Human Rights Abuses - Current Events

Text Set

Guardian: 5 Interviews with Survivors

Human Rights Watch World Report 2014


Country Reports


Essay: Survivors in America


Lesson 3:  Human Rights Violations - Is A Universal Rubric Possible?

Text Set

ACLU: Jessica Gonzalez vs USA

Student Resources

Rubric (Academic) - Wikipedia

Carnegie-Mellon Eberly Center Rubrics


Investigate the case of Jessica Alba

Create Rubric & Present Rubric

Score Countries on Rubrics


Lesson 4:   Eleanor Roosevelt Speech

Text Set

Eleanor Roosevelt: UDHR Speech (Text, Audio, Partial Video)

PBS: Truman Exec Order 9981 & Resources

PDF: Eleanor Roosevelt and the UDHR


SOAPSTone Analysis

Cluster Mapping

Persuasive Essay


Lesson 5:   Nelson Mandela Speech

Text Set

Nelson Mandela's Speech to UN 22 June 1990: Text

Foreword by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu (T&R Report)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (South Africa)

What is restorative justice? -Suffolk University

United States Institute of Peace Summary of S.A. Truth Report


SOAPSTone Analysis

Cluster Mapping

Persuasive Essay

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