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The United Nations in your classroom

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The United Nations in your classroom

12 October, 2017

The United Nations (UN) is at the centre of almost every major international news story. From armed conflicts to humanitarian relief, the UN is constantly being mentioned, discussed and debated. However, few news sources actually take the time to explain what this organisation does, and how it operates. This can lead to young people being confused about this vital organisation. As teachers, you can provide your students with the background knowledge on the UN so that they can critically engage with current affairs and the UN’s role in addressing global problems. The resources listed below are designed to introduce the UN, and also help you explore its work with pupils through two prominent examples (The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2015 Global Goals). 

What is the UN?

The UN is an international organization founded in 1945. The UN aims to maintain international peace and security, protect human rights, deliver humanitarian aid, promote sustainable development, and uphold international law. An excellent introductory video about the UN can be found here. For older students, a more detailed summary is available. Both these videos are excellent starting resources for classroom exploring the role of the UN.

The United Nations Agency – UK branch has produced a fantastic teaching pack designed to introduce students to the UN and its workings. Designed for Key stage 3 and 4, it includes ideas about how the materials can be incorporated into specific subjects, such as Local and Global Citizenship, Geography and Politics. This resource is free: you can contact the organisation to be sent hard copies or the materials can be downloaded.   

Once you’ve covered the background information on the UN, you can then put your knowledge into practice by holding a mock UN session! Model United Nations (MUN) is an activity where students debate important global issues from a variety of perspectives. Individual students or small groups are assigned a country and are then asked to research their country and its perspective on the topic. The United Nations Agency – USA has published a step by step guide which eases students into the classroom debate.  An excellent introductory video about MUN can be found here.

The United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

Now that you have covered what the UN is and how it works, you can now progress to discussing its role in upholding human rights. The UNCRC is an excellent way to introduce human rights to your students, and provides a concrete example of the UN’s work. It is also relevant for your students as the can reflect on the lives of children around the world, comparing and contrasting their experiences with examples they read about. The full convention can be found here, and a summary for younger pupils is also available. PLAN UK has produced an A4 poster summarising the Rights of the Child, and can be used as a lesson resource or for display in your classroom.   

To facilitate the discussion of children’s rights, Oxfam have created a series of activities designed to introduce the concept to young learners, while also developing their literacy skills. The activities are varied, and include roleplaying and persuasive speech writing. You can find them here. These exercises can then be supported by watching some videos on the topic. UNICEF agencies around the world have also produced videos to help younger audiences learn about their rights, including UNICEF Australia and UNICEF Malaysia.  

Designed for older learners, the UNA-UK has produced a series of lessons linking children’s rights to wider concepts. These resources can be found here and explore the effect of armed conflict, and climate change on young people’s rights.  

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Another excellent example of the UN’s work is the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also known as Global Goals), which were agreed upon in 2015. These goals aim to end global poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Here is the full list of these goals, and the specific targets that have to be met. Alternatively, you could visit, a teacher-friendly site with animations and resources.

The NGO Think Global, has created some resources to help bring the Goals into your classroom. These resources are available at both Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 level. These resources are free to download, you just have to register to access the website.

To explore the Global Goals further, Practical Action has developed an activity urging students to think about who holds responsibility for their implementation. It requires some previous knowledge of the Goals, but would be an excellent follow up activity to reinforce learning and would encourage your students to think critically about the UN. Additional resources exploring the Goals, can be found here.

Also don’t forget about the World’s Largest Lesson, which takes place every year in September. Educators from the around the world join the lesson by providing teaching about the Global Goals. Discover more here

These resources all combine to give a good introduction to the UN and its work around the world. The UN is at the centre of everything that happens in the global community. Therefore, gaining knowledge about this organisation can go a long way. By linking the UN’s workings with lessons on children’s rights and the Sustainable Development Goals, you can show the UN’s role in international development and upholding rights around the world. 

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