Using Writing to Raise Awareness: Human Rights | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G5:M1:U3

Using Writing to Raise Awareness: Human Rights

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This unit is designed to bring together students' knowledge about human rights and students' work with Esperanza Rising in preparation for the performance task. In the first half of the unit, students work in groups to select an event in which human rights are threatened, and each group member chooses a character from Esperanza Rising involved in the event. Group members each plan an original monologue based on this event, from their character's perspective--which, when put together, show multiple perspectives of the same event. Students then draft their monologue as part of the mid-unit assessment.

In the second half of the unit, students first focus on revising their monologues for use of the perfect verb tenses and task, purpose, and audience. They then shift gears to research and write a Directors' Note to be included in their group's program. The note explains the human right threatened by the event described in their monologues, connects the event to an article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and explains how people are affected by the issue today. For the end of unit assessment, students answer selected-response questions about perfect verb tenses, revise their Directors' Note for task, purpose, and audience, and for the use of verbs in the perfect tense, and they also read aloud an excerpt from Esperanza Rising for fluency. For the performance task, they publish their programs and present their monologues to an audience.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What are human rights, and how can they be threatened?
  • Human rights belong to everyone, but they can look different to different people in different places.
  • We can better understand how human rights can be threatened by reading about the experiences of fictional characters in stories.
  • How can we use writing to raise awareness of human rights?
  • We can raise awareness of human rights issues by writing about the issues fictional characters face.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Human rights
  • Task: Students draft an original monologue based on an event and from the perspective of a character from Esperanza Rising (mid-unit assessment). They read aloud an excerpt from Esperanza Rising and revise their Directors' Note (end of unit assessment).
  • Targets (standards explicitly taught and assessed): RF.5.3, RF.5.4, W.5.3, W.5.4, W.5.5, W.5.10, L.5.1b
  • Text: Esperanza Rising, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Each unit in the 3-5 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the literacy block of the school day. However, the module intentionally incorporates social studies content that many teachers may be teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below. 

College, Career, and Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards:

  • D2.Civ.3.3-5: Examine the origins and purposes of rules, laws, and key U.S. constitutional provisions.
  • D2.Civ.4.3-5: Explain how groups of people make rules to create responsibilities and protect freedoms.
  • D2.Civ.7.3-5: Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school settings.
  • D2.Civ.10.3-5: Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others' points of view about civic issues.
  • D2.Geo.2.3-5: Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their environmental characteristics.
  • D2.His.2.3-5: Compare life in specific historical time periods to life today.
  • D2.His.4.3-5: Explain why individuals and groups during the same historical period differed in their perspectives.
  • D2.His.14.3-5: Explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.
  • D3.4.3-5: Use evidence to develop claims in response to compelling questions.
  • D4.6.3-5: Draw on disciplinary concepts to explain the challenges people have faced and opportunities they have created, in addressing local, regional, and global problems at various times and places.

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to EL Education's curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service). 

In this unit, students work to contribute to a better world. Throughout Unit 3, students practice taking care of and improving shared spaces, using their strengths, and applying their learning as they raise awareness about human rights.

The following student learning targets are a focus for this unit. Please refer to Teaching Notes in the lessons:

  • I work to contribute to a better world:
    • I take care of and improve our shared spaces and the environment.
    • I use my strengths to help others grow.
    • I apply my learning to help our school, the community, and the environment.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Accountable Independent Reading

The ability to read and comprehend texts is the heart of literacy instruction. Comprehension is taught, reinforced, and assessed across both components of this curriculum: module lessons and the Additional Language and Literacy Block. Refer to the 5M1 Module Overview for additional information.

In this unit, students continue to read research texts independently for homework, collect academic and domain-specific vocabulary, and engage in frequent research reading shares during the module lesson for accountability.

Supporting English Language Learners

The Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and some supports can serve a wide range of student needs. However, ELLs have unique needs that cannot always be met with UDL support. According to federal guidelines, ELLs must be given access to the curriculum with appropriate supports, such as those that are specifically identified as "For ELLs" in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lesson 1, which introduces monologues, and Lessons 2-4, which introduce the pattern of analyzing the narrative elements of a monologue, provide the time and structure for students to plan their own monologues, and include Language Dives. Consider condensing or spending less time on Lessons 8-10 during which students construct their own Directors' Notes. Instead, consider supporting the writing of the notes heavily by providing standardized language or completing them as shared or interactive writing experiences.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in a Language Dive in Lesson 3, which guides them through expanding the meaning of one of the sentences in Miguel's Monologue. To prepare for this Language Dive, ELLs can also participate in an optional Language Dive in Lesson 2. The Language Dive in Lesson 3 is designed to help students continue to notice and apply the verb tenses they review in Lesson 2. Most lessons also offer optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. Language Dives are guided conversations about the meaning of a sentence from the central texts, models, or learning targets. The conversation invites students to unpack complex syntax, or "academic phrases," as a necessary component of building both literacy and habits of mind. Students then apply their understanding of language structure as they work toward the assessments and performance task. All Language Dives follow a Deconstruct-Reconstruct-Practice routine, in which students discuss and play with the meaning and purpose of the sentence and each chunk of the sentence; put the chunks back together into the original order and any possible variations; and practice using the chunks in their own speaking and writing. To maximize language practice and accommodate time, consider dividing or reviewing each Language Dive over multiple lessons. A consistent Language Dive routine is critical in helping all students learn how to decipher complex sentences and write their own. In addition, Language Dive conversations can hasten overall English language development for ELLs. Avoid using the Language Dive Guide to lecture about grammar; the Guide is designed to prompt students as they grapple with the meaning and purpose of the chunks and the sentence. Consider providing students with a Language Dive log inside a folder to track Language Dive sentences and structures and collate Language Dive note-catchers. Assure students that this log will not be graded; however, consider inviting students to use their log and note-catchers to gauge the progress of their speaking and writing skills. For more information on Language Dives and supporting English language learners, see the Tools page
  • Diversity and inclusion: Investigate the languages, routines, practices, rituals, beliefs, norms, and experiences that are important to ELLs and their families. An ideal context for inclusiveness emerges as students are invited to discuss and write about the events in Esperanza Rising. Create a safe space for students to express their experiences and feelings, in both their home language and English, about the sensitive issues embedded in the texts, knowing that these discussions may help create equity or unearth trauma or both. Consider integrating this background into the classroom as students discuss Esperanza's immigrant experience, culture, history, and language in Esperanza Rising. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher to further investigate diversity and inclusion.
  • Goal 2 Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with Conversation Cues, which are questions teachers can ask students to help achieve four goals: (Goal 1) encourage all students to talk and be understood; (Goal 2) listen carefully to one another and seek to understand; (Goal 3) deepen thinking; and (Goal 4) think with others to expand the conversation (adapted from Michaels, Sarah and O'Connor, Cathy. Talk Science Primer. Cambridge, MA: TERC, 2012. Based on Chapin, S., O'Connor, C., and Anderson, N. [2009]. Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K-6. Second Edition. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications). Refer to the Tools page for the complete set of cues. Goal 2 Conversation Cues are introduced in Lesson 1. Heightened language processing and development is a primary potential benefit for ELLs.
  • Strategic grouping: Students work in monologue groups to plan and write monologues from the perspective of different characters in their selected event from Esperanza Rising. Seriously consider pairing ELLs with students who have greater language proficiency to plan monologues from the perspective of the same character. The conversations that happen as a result of such strategic grouping will greatly serve the language development of both partners. Be aware that partnering with, looking at, talking with, or touching the opposite gender may be uncomfortable and inappropriate for some students. In addition, some students may believe it is inappropriate to speak with other students at all during class. Let them know that, in the United States, speaking with a peer of either gender when the teacher gives the signal is appropriate, and it is one way that students can become independent learners and develop their content knowledge and language ability. At the same time, tell them you respect their needs, and if necessary, seek alternative arrangements for students according to their cultural traditions.
  • Writing monologues and Directors' Notes: Students receive explicit instruction in how to craft a monologue from the perspective of one of the characters in Esperanza Rising: a beginning that introduces the narrator and establishes the situation, a middle that uses description to show the how the narrator responded to the situation, and an ending that provides a sense of closure. Some students may need additional support with organization, as they are still learning to comprehend the language itself. Use color-coding and manipulatives, such as sentence strips, to support this skill. Also, this narrative structure may be different from the text structure students are familiar with in their home language. Compare and contrast home language text structure whenever possible. Students also create Directors' Notes in groups. These notes contextualize their monologues by connecting them to articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The concept of creating a piece of writing in reference to another piece of writing may be challenging to grasp for some ELLs. Support students by working closely with groups with many ELLs to create their Directors' Notes.
  • Perfect tenses: Throughout the unit, students learn how to form and use verbs in the perfect tenses. It may be challenging for ELLs to absorb the forms and meanings of all three verb tenses throughout the course of this unit. For ELLs, consider focusing primarily on the past perfect tense. Provide opportunities for students to practice the form whenever possible. Additional practice with the past perfect tense can be found within the unit's Language Dives and Mini Language Dives.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual skills that ELLs bring to the classroom.

Texts to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World
by DK Publishing
1 per classroom
ISBN: 9780756618032
Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
1 per student
ISBN: 9780439120425

Preparation and Materials

  • Consider enlisting a drama teacher to support work on the monologues and programs throughout the unit.
  • Prepare technology necessary to research current threats to human rights in Lesson 9, and publish the programs in in Lesson 12 (e.g., a computer or other word-processing tool).
  • The Working to Contribute to a Better World anchor chart is introduced in this unit and referenced both throughout the module and the school year.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Google Docs - Complete note-catchers: Students complete their note-catchers, write their essays and monologues, and create their programs in Google Docs.
  • Speech to Text (Many newer devices already have this capability)- To create writing by speaking: Students complete their note-catchers and create written work by speaking rather than writing or typing.
  • Seesaw - Create student learning portfolios to share with other students, families: Video/audio record students reading aloud their monologues to share with families and other students.
  • The Mexican Revolution - Additional reading and research: Students read more about the Mexican Revolution with adult support. 
    • Knight, Alan. "The Mexican Revolution." History Today May 1980: n. pag. History Today. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
  • The Mexican Revolution: November 20th, 1910 - Additional reading and research: Students read more about the Mexican Revolution with adult support.
    • "The Mexican Revolution: November 20th, 1910." EDSITEment. National Endowment for the Humanities, n.d. Web. 3 June 2016.
  • Mexican Revolution - Additional reading and research: Students read more about the Mexican Revolution with adult support.
    • "Mexican Revolution." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
  • Immigration Past and Present - Additional reading and research: Students read more about immigration.
    • "Immigration Past and Present." Accessed June 3, 2016.
  • Teach Unicef - Additional reading and research: Students read about current events that are threats to human rights.
    • "Teach Unicef." Unicef. Web. Accessed Jun 3, 2016.
  • Human Rights Education - Additional reading and research: Students read about current events that are threats to human rights.
    • "Human Rights Education." Amnesty International. Web. Accessed Jun 3, 2016.
  • Human Rights Watch - Additional reading and research: Students read about current events that are threats to human rights.
    • Human Rights Watch. Web. Accessed Jun 3, 2016.

Additional Language and Literacy Block

The Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block is 1 hour of instruction per day. It is designed to work in concert with and in addition to the 1-hour Grades 3-5 ELA "module lessons." Taken together, these 2 hours of instruction comprehensively address all the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

The ALL Block has five components: Additional Work with Complex Text; Reading and Speaking Fluency/GUM (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics); Writing Practice; Word Study and Vocabulary; and Independent Reading.

The ALL Block has three 2-week units which parallel to the three units of the module.

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • If students have families with experience with some of the issues described in Esperanza Rising, consider inviting them in to speak to students about their experiences.
  • If students come from Spanish-speaking families, consider inviting adults to come in to share some words with students in Spanish.
  • If you have a number of English language learners speaking the same native language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs in their native language about human rights.
  • If students have families with experience of some of the current threats to human rights that students will read about in research in Lesson 9, consider inviting them in to speak to students about their experiences.


  • Invite experts on local human rights issues or immigration in your area to come in to talk to the students about the work that they do and about the local population.
  • Have experts on human rights or immigration come in to talk with the students about the work that they do.
  • Have experts on dramas and plays come in to talk with students about writing and performing monologues.


  • Take students to exhibitions about immigration or about Mexican history or culture.
  • Take students to performances of monologues.


  • Reach out to local immigration charities to find out if students can participate in any charity events or work or if they can raise funds for a specific cause.
  • Identify a local threat to human rights that students could learn more about and take action on.


  • Encourage students to read other articles of the complete version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Encourage students to consider other ways to raise awareness about human rights issues.

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