Literature/Language Arts


Children’s Rights
Source: Amnesty UK
A beautifully illustrated picture book introducing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It takes the key articles of the Convention and translates them into language children can relate to with full-page artwork, offering ways for teachers to open discussions about our ‘rights’.  Provides questions and activities that can be used with other illustrations/artwork.
Grade Level: elementary
Subject Area: social studies, language arts, art

Exploring Community History and Cultural Influence
Source: Teaching Tolerance
Seeks to define culture and analyze characteristics than stem from culture or personal traits or preference.
Grade Level: middle – high school
Subject Area: social studies, language arts

Female Identity and Gender Expectations
Source: Teaching Tolerance
Examines how gender stereotypes affect sense of identity. Lessons include “Girls’ Attitudes About STEM Careers: Similarities and Differences Among Race/Ethnic Groups,” “Gender and Jobs—Women in the Workforce,” “The Importance of Female Voices,” “Legislating Equal Access.”
Grade Level: middle – high school
Subject Area: social studies, all-school activity

Freedom from Discrimination in Literature: Langston Hughes
Source: Amnesty International
Lesson on UDHR Article 16 discussing the right to marry, gender equality, and the age of consent.
Grade Level: high school
Subject Area: language arts

Issues of Poverty
Source: Teaching Tolerance
Four-lesson unit that addresses poverty as systemic and rooted in politics, economics, and discrimination. Lessons include “What is Poverty?” “Poverty and Unemployment,” “Race and Poverty,” “The Cycle of Poverty.”
Grade Level: middle – high school
Subject Area: social studies, language arts

Lorraine Hansberry: LGBT Politics and Civil Rights

Source: Teaching Tolerance
Analysis of the connection between civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights. Explore the interplay between the ideas and activism that shaped the political movements after World War II.
Grade Level: high school
Subject Area: social studies, language arts, US History

Love and Marriage in Romeo and Juliet

Source:  UDHR Poster Series and Teacher’s Guide, Amnesty International, 2002
Explores the racial aspect of discrimination and oppression in several Hughes’ poems.
Grade Level: high school
Subject Area: language arts

Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law
Author: Joseph R. Slaughter, Publisher: Fordham, 2007
Argues that international law shares with the modern novel a particular conception of the human individual. The Bildungsroman, the novel of coming of age, offering a conceptual vocabulary, a humanist social vision, and a narrative grammar for what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and early literary theorists both call “the free and full development of the human personality.”

Race and Poverty
Source: Teaching Tolerance
Explores the link between race and poverty, barriers to success, and the role of education.
Grade Level: middle – high school
Subject Area: social studies, language arts

Reading, Writing, Rising Up: Teaching about Social Justice and the Power of the Written World
Author: Linda Christensen, Publisher: Rethinking Schools, 2000
Offers essays, lesson plans, and a remarkable collection of student writing, all rooted in an unwavering focus on language arts teaching for justice.

The Rights of Refugees
Source:  UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Lesson plan that approaches the refugee experience from a number of subject areas, including art, history, geography, math, and science. Topics include Refugees in History, Refugee Rights and Responsibilities, Refugee Women and Girls.
Grade Level: middle – high school
Subject Area: social studies, current events, art, language arts, geography

Storycatcher: Making Sense of our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story
Author: Christina Baldwin, Publisher: New World Library
Description: Explores the necessity of recreating common ground for each other’s stories. Encourages all to become storycatchers, whether exploring the personal stories revealed in our private journals, the stories of family legacy, the underlying stories that drive our organizations, or the stories that define our personal identity.


Exploring Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Source: AFS USA

This lesson plan is aimed at spreading awareness on refugees and asylum seekers, as there are more now than after World War II. Students will gain an understanding of what it means to be a refugee in the 21st century, explore encounters of refugees in the resettlement process, and expose students to different organizations that work with refugees.

Grade Level: middle – high school
Subject Area: social studies, language arts, art

The UDHR & Contemporary Issues
Source: HRE USA
This lesson asks students to correlate the UDHR to current newspaper articles which illustrate the portrayal of human rights in one of four situations (rights achieved, rights denied, rights violated, rights in conflict). Students will explain that situation, the correlation to the UDHR, and then write a reflection on the role of the UDHR in potentially resolving the situation.
Grade Level: high school
Subject Area: social studies

Watch It: Examining and Critiquing Gender Stereotypes in the Media
Source: Teaching Tolerance
Helps students analyze and critique messages about gender that they get from various media. Students in younger grades will focus on toys and toy advertisements, challenging themselves to think past what advertisements tell them about their gender identity. Older students will begin to consider the notion that gender is, at least to some degree, socially constructed. They will also critique media that constructs gender in limiting and sometimes debilitating ways.
Grade Level: Pre-K to lower elementary
Subject Area: social studies, language arts

Write Right: Using Creative Writing to Counter Gender Stereotypes in Literature
Source: Teaching Tolerance
Allows children to look at one or more picture books that counter gender stereotypes. After discussion of the book, children will engage in a creative writing activity geared to fostering individual identity and resisting social definitions of what and how a boy or girl “should” be.
Grade Level: Pre-K to lower elementary
Subject Area: social studies, language arts



A Shelter in Our Car
Since moving to America from Jamaica after her father died, Zettie and her mom live in their car while they both go to school and plan for a real home.

  • Author: Monica Gunning
  • Source: Booksellers
  • Grade Level: Elementary school
  • Subject area:  Social studies

Esperanza Rising 
Set in post-Revolutionary Mexico and in California during the time of the Great Depression, it examines the plight of the Mexican farm workers though the eyes of a young girl. Teaching Guide with resources and free lesson plans

  • Author: Pam Munoz Ryan, 2000
  • Source: Booksellers
  • Grade Level: upper elementary – middle school

Inside Out & Back Again
Free-verse autobiography of a girl who flees Vietnam in 1995 and is resettled in Alabama as a refugee. Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Teaching Module available from The Advocates for Human Rights.

  • Author Thanhha Lai
  • Source: Scholastic, 2011
  • Grade level: elementary


Middle School

 The Crossing
Desperate to cross the border into the US, an orphan boy living on the streets in Juarez, Mexico, has a life-changing encounter with an American soldier, who crosses the border for a drunken night in Juarez.  

  • Author: Gary Paulsen, 2006
  • Source: Scholastic
  • Grade Level: middle – high school

Under the Same Sky
Deals with contemporary issues about immigration and questions about civil disobedience at a level readers will understand. A 14-year-old boy learns about the lives of migrant workers while working with them on his family’s ranch. Lesson Plans available.

  • Author: Cynthia DeFelice, 2003
  • Source: Booksellers
  • Grade Level: middle school

High School: Fiction

 The Kite Runner
Amir is the son of a well-to-do man in Kabul and Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s servant and belongs to an underprivileged ethnic minority group. Living in the same house, the two boys live incredibly different lives. Following the Soviet invasion, Amir and his father flee to America while Hassan stays behind in Afghanistan. Multiple study guides available.

  • Author: Khaled Hosseini
  • Source: Barnes & Noble, 2005
  • Grade level: high school – adult

Other suggested fiction:

  • Mulk Raj Anan, Untouchable
  • Julian Barnes, Arthur & George Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale 
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • Antony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
  • Chris Cleave, Little Bee
  • J.M. Coztzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
  • Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games Trilogy
  • Ariel Dorfman, My House is on Fire
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • Louise Erdrich, Tracks
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People
  • Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  • Franz Kafka, The Trial
  • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon
  • Joy Kogawa, Obasan
  • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Bernard Malamud, The Fixer
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved
  • Bharati Mukerjee, Jasmine
  • John Nichols, The Milagro Beanfield War
  • Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost
  • George Orwell, 1984 and Animal Farm
  • Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
  • Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
  • Mariane Satrapi, Persepolis
  • Kathryn Sockett, The Help
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch
  • John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath 
  • Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
  • Alice Walker, The Color Purple 
  • Richard Wright, Native Son 

High School: Non-fiction

Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother (2007; also available in Spanish)
A 17-year-old boy from Honduras makes the difficult journey to be reunited with his mother in the USA. Teaching resources, including lesson plans and videos, available.

  • Author: Sonia Nazario
  • Source: Booksellers
  • Grade Level: high school – adul

A candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. Teacher’s Guide available from PBS.

  • Editors:  Elie Wiesel
  • Source:  Bantam Books, 1955
  • Grade Level:  high school
  • Subject Area:  language arts, social studies

Other Suggested Non-Fiction:

  • Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing
  • Nien Ching, Life and Death in Shanghai
  • Carolina Maria De Jesus, Child of the Dark
  • Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Vaclav Havel, Letters to Olga
  • lson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
  • Rigoberta Menchu, I, Rigoberta Menchu
  • Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech: “Toward the Splendid City”
  • Alicia Partnoy, The Little School
  • Samantha Power, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira and the Fight to Save the World
  • Irina Ratushinskaya, Grey is the Color of Hope
  • Moylda Szymuciak, The Stones Cry Out: A Cambodian Childhood 1975-1980
  • Jacob Timerman, Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number
  • Elie Weisel, Night 


  • Jean Annouilh, Antigone
  • Bertholt Brecht, Galileo
  • Andre Brink, A Dry White Season
  • Lorraine Hansberry, Raisin in the Sun
  • Arthur Miller, The Crucible
  • Sophocles, Antigone


Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness
Anthology of poems that are “poetic witness to the dark times in which [the authors] lived,” Organized according to historical tragedy, starting with the Armenian Genocide and proceeding through the twentieth century to the pro-democratic demonstrations in China. Each section is preceded by a short statement that gives historical background for the events in order to place the poems in a proper context.

  • Editor: Carolyn Forche
  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993