Discussing Human Rights – The Balloon Activity

At our school, students have their first oral exam in English, which substitutes a class test, in year 9. They have a monologue (≈ three minutes) and then a dialogue with their “study buddy” whom they have been working with for some weeks.

This year the topic is “Stand up for your rights” (Unit 3, English G21 A5A, Cornelsen). A big part of this is the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (here’s a child-friendly version of the 30 articles for EFL learners and/or young students which I also used).

In my lessons I needed to include not only “content” but many opportunities for practice so the students are well-prepared for their monologue and dialogues.

That’s when I came across the website UniversalRights.net. In their “education section” there are several ideas for student activities. The “rights balloon simulation game” (Universal Rights, No. 3) caught my attention. That sounded like a good way to practice my students’ discussion skills.

This is how I planned and had my lesson.

Material you need:

  • cards with the task for each student
  • cards with all 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • list of / cards with discussion phrases
  • WIFI access
  • students’ phones and headphones/earphones

 

Lead-In

If you like, you can have an intro, for example with a picture of a hot balloon and students say what it’s like to be in it. Then you “change” the weather and students have to say again, what it’s like now.

I could do without such an intro because my students knew it was “practice lesson”.

Preparation 

Let students form group tables. Ideally there are 4-5 students per table.
My students had to stay with their study buddy so they just had to find another pair. That’s why I also needed a table with six students otherwise I would have had to split one “study buddy pair” which would not make sense.

Prepare different “packages” and give them to each table:

  • Cards with the tasks:
  • Cards with a couple of different human rights  
    I had five tables, so every table had six different articles

  • Cards with discussion phrases 

 

Practice

As the task says, let students watch a very short video on their human rights for a better understanding.
Here are nice ones by “Youth for Human Rights”. 

Warning: you need flash to play the videos!

Imagine you are travelling safely in a hot air balloon where each right is a ‘weight’ maintaining the balloon’s balance and keeping you comfortably aloft. 

Suddenly, the balloon loses balance and rapidly loses altitude. You must throw one weight (= ’right’) overboard. Which will be the first, i.e. which right do you consider least important? Place the discarded right to the side. 

Continue the activity, noting the order in which you discard the rights, until only one right remains – that  one considered to be most important.

Have the students record their discussion and send it to you.
If they record it, they can listen to it again and work on their mistakes and see what’s already good. Plus, you – the teacher –  cannot be at all those five tables at the same time. This is a good way to give feedback to all of them later as well.

Conclusion

Be prepared to discuss your choices later in class: How easy or difficult was it to reach agreement on the rankings, and why? What were the main criteria used in determining the importance of rights?

Let the whole class draw a conclusion on their discussion.

If you have time left, make sure to get students’ feedback on the activity itself. It’s sometimes surprising how different your impression can be from theirs.

I always try to ask my students what they think about an activity, especially if it’s a new one I haven’t tried before. They can give really good feedback on what is good and what could be improved!

 

Emojis are taken from http://emojione.com/ – The Open Emoji Standard.

 

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