1. There are many different ways of teaching and learning about human rights. How you approach the topic will depend on whether you are working in the formal or non-formal sector, the political, social and economic conditions of your country, the ages of the young people, and also their interests and motivation to learn about human rights. It will also certainly depend on your own experience with human rights issues and human rights education.

You may be a youth worker, a trainer, school teacher or adult education tutor, a member of a church discussion group or a young activist. Whoever you are and wherever you are working, we trust there will be something for you in this manual. We make no assumptions about teaching or training skills or about prior knowledge of human rights.
Compass should be seen as a flexible resource. Promoting human rights is an ongoing and creative process, of which you – as a user of this book – are an integral part. We hope you will take the ideas that we have presented and use and develop them to meet your own needs and those of the young people you work with. We hope you will also review what you have learned and give us feedback on your experiences. There is a feedback form at www.coe.int/compass.

No-one of us knows what we all know together.
Lao Tse

What’s in Compass

We strongly suggest you begin by looking briefly through the whole manual to gain an overall impression of the contents. There is no special starting point; we intend that you should pick and choose the parts that are relevant for you.

Chapter 1: This is an introduction to human rights and HRE and how to use the manual.
Chapter 2: The chapter contains the activities. Here you will find 58 activities at different levels for exploring human rights as they relate to the selected themes and different rights. These activities are the tools for your work with young people.
Chapter 3: “Taking action” explains what we mean by “taking action”, and contains ideas and tips for ways to promote human rights in the community and the wider world.
Chapter 4: This chapter provides background information about human rights and their historical development together with international standards and documents.
Chapter 5: Here you will find background information to the global Compass themes.
Appendices: Summaries of the main declarations, conventions and human rights texts, and a glossary of frequently used terms.

There should be enough material to enable you to begin work on HRE with young people. Compass has been written for everyone who wishes to engage in HRE whether they already have training or teaching skills or not. You do not have to be an “expert” in human rights to start; having an interest in human rights and human rights education are sufficient qualifications.

The human rights themes

We cannot hope to address all human rights issues in this book. What we have done is to take the issues considered most relevant to young people’s lives and to gather them together under 20 themes. Background notes about each theme are presented in Chapter 5 and there are cross references between the activities and the themes in the summary of activities.

The 20 global themes (in alphabetical order) are:

1. Children
2. Citizenship and Participation
3. Culture and Sport
4. Democracy
5. Disability and Disablism
6. Discrimination and Intolerance
7. Education
8. Environment
9. Gender
10. General Human Rights
11. Globalisation
12. Health
13. Media
14. Migration
15. Peace and Violence
16. Poverty
17. Religion and Belief
18. Remembrance
19. War and Terrorism
20. Work


In Compass we use the word “facilitators” for the people who prepare, present and co-ordinate the activities. A facilitator is someone who “makes something happen”, who “helps”, and who encourages others to learn and develop their own potential. By facilitating you create a safe environment in which people learn through experimentation, exploration, giving and taking. It is not a question of one person, a leader, who is an “expert”, giving knowledge to others. Everyone should grow through the sharing of experience, participants and facilitators alike.

Opportunities to be a facilitator for young people and to work in an atmosphere of equality and co-operation differ across Europe. In the formal education sector we find differences in the aims and philosophy of education, techniques of classroom management and curricula. It is not usual for pupils and students to decide what they want to learn, nor is it common for teachers to be able to take the role of facilitator. In the non-formal sector there are equally large variations, not only in the aims and philosophies of different organisations but also in the activities and opportunities they offer, and styles of leadership vary from authoritarian to democratic. These differences are evident both between countries and also within countries.

We all live and work within the educational and social norms of our own societies which makes it easy to overlook or forget the inevitability of our own ethnocentrism. As a result we take the way we do things for granted and as normal. You may find it helpful to reflect on your own style and practice and relationship with the young people you are working with in order to develop your facilitation skills11.

Be prepared to hand over the responsibility for their learning to the learners.

It is hard being in a leadership position and “letting go” of some of the control, but as an HRE facilitator you have to be prepared to hand over the responsibility for their learning to the learners and to let them analyse the situation or problem in hand,
to think for themselves and to come to their own conclusions. This does not imply that all responsibility is handed over to the young people. Facilitators have the tricky task of creating safe spaces in which the young people can learn in an environment which is appropriate for their level of maturity and ability to participate.

The context of the activities, however, may require more adaptation and may place the facilitator, educator or teacher with deeper dilemmas. For instance, where HRE classes or courses are mandatory this may have implications for the outcomes and possibly also for the attitudes the students have towards human rights. Another aspect is related to assessment which characterises many formal education systems especially if only what is assessed is taken seriously in school. Useful ideas on how to address this can be found in Educating for democracy: Background materials on democratic citizenship and human rights education12.

The “technical” side of facilitation in the school or classroom environment is not necessarily very different from non-formal learning contexts and the instructions for the Compass activities are fully relevant in both.

Problem solving as a basis for HRE

Human rights issues are often controversial because different people have different value systems and therefore see rights and responsibilities in different ways. These differences, which manifest themselves as differences of opinion, are the basis of our educational work. Two important aims of HRE are firstly, to equip young people with the skills of appreciating – but not necessarily agreeing with – different points of view about an issue, and secondly, to help them develop skills of finding mutually agreeable solutions to problems.
This manual and its activities are based on the presumption that differences of opinion can be used constructively in the learning process. As in many non-formal educational activities, the purpose is not so much that everyone comes to an agreement but rather that the participants develop skills to think critically, listen to each other, express their opinions and respect differences of opinion.
Facilitating activities and dealing constructively with conflict may seem daunting, but they need not be. Each activity has “Tips for facilitators” and “Further information” to support you in your work.

General tips for users

You should use Compass so that it meets your needs and the needs of the young people you work with. It does not matter which pages you turn to first. You can use Compass as a source of information on human rights – the main conventions, how they first came to be formulated in 1948 and how they have developed since. You can also use Compass as a compendium of information about human rights in relation to poverty, gender issues and other topics. However, it is the activities that interest most people because they are the tools for delivering HRE.

How to choose an activity

Before you do anything else, you need to be very clear in your own mind about what it is you want to achieve; you need to set your aims. Then you can go on to choose an activity that is relevant to the topic you wish to address and which uses a method that you and the young people will feel comfortable with. It should be at the right level for you and your group and fit into the time you have available.

Read the activity through carefully at least twice and try to imagine how the group may react and some of the things they will say. It is very likely that you will want to change the activity in some way, not least adjust some of the questions under the “Debriefing and evaluation” to enable the learning you want to happen to emerge. Make sure you have all the materials you will need. Check that there will be enough space, especially if the participants will be breaking up for small-group work.

Each activity is presented in a standard format. Icons and headings are used to make it easy to get an overview of the whole.

Key to symbols and headings used to present the activities

The themes are those that we have chosen to present in Compass, for example general human rights, poverty and health. Human rights are interrelated and indivisible and different issues overlap, which means that each activity inevitably relates to several themes. We indicate three themes that the activity most obviously relates to.


By complexity we wish to indicate both how intricate the method is and the critical thinking, analytical and communication skills participants need to enjoy the activity.
Most of the activities that require basic skills also have a simple method, take little preparation and often do not take much time. On the other hand, those activities that require good communication and thinking skills are often divided into a succession of components, need more preparation and take longer.

Activities at level 1 are short and simple. Nonetheless, these activities are of value in the way that they make people interact and communicate with each other. Energisers and icebreakers and activities for reviewing fall into this category. Activities at level 2 do not require prior knowledge of human rights issues or well-developed personal or group work skills. Many of the activities at this level are designed to help people develop communication and group work skills, while at the same time stimulating an interest in human rights.
Activities at level 3 are more complex and designed to develop deeper understanding and insights into an issue. They demand higher levels of competence in discussion or group work skills.
Activities at level 4 are longer, require good group work and discussion skills, concentration and co-operation from the participants and also take longer preparation. They are also more embracing in that they provide a wider and deeper understanding of the issues.

Group size

We indicate the number of people needed to run the activity successfully. If part of the activity involves work in small groups, then the size of the small groups is indicated in brackets.


We give a general indication of the time, estimated in minutes, needed to run the whole activity, including the debriefing and discussion, with the stated number of participants. The estimated time does not include discussion or action related to the follow-up stage.
You will need to make your own estimate of how much time you will need. If you are working with many small groups then you will have to allow more time for each to feedback in plenary. If the group is large, then you will need to allow time for everyone to have an opportunity to contribute to the debriefing and evaluation.


We give an indication of the subject matter and the basic method used in the activity. For instance, whether the activity is about people seeking asylum, or about bias in the media and whether it involves discussion in small groups or a role play.

Related rights 

The ability to relate experiences and events to specific human rights is a key aim of human rights education. However, since human rights are interrelated and indivisible, issues overlap and each activity inevitably relates to several rights. Thus, with reference to the summary of the UDHR , we indicate three rights which are exemplified in the activity and which should be discussed in the debriefing and evaluation.


The objectives relate to the competence-based learning objectives of HRE in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that are described here.


This is a list of the equipment needed to run the activity.


This is a check list for the facilitator of what he or she needs to do before running the activity.
We take it for granted that facilitators will inform themselves of the issues and read the background information in Chapter 5 if necessary. Thus, this is not repeated under every activity.


This is a list of instructions for how to run the activity.

Debriefing and Evaluation

Here we suggest questions to help the facilitator conduct the debriefing and evaluation. They are intended to be a guide and we anticipate that you will develop at least some of your own questions to ensure that you draw out the learning points according to your aims.

Tips for facilitators

These are guidance notes and explanations about the method and things to be aware of. For instance, if you are working on stereotypes about minorities, is there someone from that minority in your group?


Here we present some ideas for how you might adapt the activity for use in different situations and how to develop it. However, these are only suggestions and you, the facilitator, must feel free to modify the activity in whatever way you wish so that it best meets the needs of the group.

Suggestions for follow-up

Running an activity is not enough; it needs a follow-up stage so that the learning is reinforced and not forgotten. In addition we need to remember that an important aim of HRE is to enable young people to take action on issues that concern them.

Thus, we present some ideas for what to do next, for example, suggestions for topics to research in the local library or on the Internet that can then be reported back to the whole group. We also give ideas for other activities that you might like to try next.

Ideas for action

Taking action is an important aim of HRE; we wish to give young people the skills to take action on issues that concern them. We emphasise this, which is why we have a separate chapter about taking action, Chapter 3, and why we include ideas for action with each activity.

Key dates

The UN and many other organisations use the idea of a day of celebration or remembrance day to draw the public’s attention to different aspects of human rights. We have gathered over ninety such “key dates” and suggest that you use them as pegs on which to hang your own actions. For example, a group of young asylum seekers in Denmark teamed up with the local branch of Danish Red Cross Youth who have a café, and held a public event on Refugee Day, 20 June.

Further information

Here we give extra background information strictly relevant to the activity. You are in every case also advised to refer to Chapter 5 where you will find the background information relevant to the particular themes addressed in the activity.


These are the role cards, fact sheets and discussion cards that you will need to copy. You should feel free to alter them to meet the needs of your group.

General tips on running activities

Activities rarely go exactly the way you expect them to. That is both the reward and the challenge of working with Compass activities. You have to be responsive to what is happening and to think on your feet. The main things to remember are: set clear goals and be prepared.


If at all possible, always facilitate together with someone else. Teachers will recognise this as “team teaching”. There are practical advantages in that there will then be two people to share the responsibility of helping with small-group work or dealing with individual needs. When two people run a session, it is easier to alter the pace and rhythm to maintain interest. Two facilitators can support each other if things do not go as planned and it is also more rewarding to review together with someone elserather than to do it alone. Co-facilitating requires both facilitators to prepare the activity together and for each to be sure of their role. It is better still to develop activities in a team, preferably involving the young people.

Preparing carefully

Make sure that you have read through all the information about the activity, preferably twice! Run through it in your head; try to visualise how it will go. Try to imagine how the group will react and what they will say. They will inevitably ask questions to which you don’t know the answers. However, this is as it should be; you are also there to learn together with the young people. Nonetheless, you should make sure that you are reasonably well informed by reading the background information.

Co-facilitating requires both facilitators to prepare the activity together and for each to be sure of their role. It is better still to develop activities in a team, preferably involving the young people.

Managing time

Plan carefully and not try to cram too much into the time available. If the activity is taking longer than you anticipated, you will have to try to shorten it so that you still have plenty of time for the discussion (see notes on the learning cycle). It is often a good idea to involve the participants and to consult them on whether to stop immediately, in five minutes or how else to resolve the problem.
On the other hand, if you have lots of time in hand, do not try to drag the discussion out, have a break or do a quick energiser activity for fun.

Creating a safe environment

The young people you are working with must feel free to explore and discover, and to interact and share with each other. Be genuine, friendly, encouraging and humorous.
Do not use jargon or language that participants do not understand. People feel safe when they know what is going on, so how you introduce an activity is important. You can’t just start out of the blue; you need to put the activity into a setting. One way to do this is to use an icebreaker.

Setting ground rules

It is important that everyone in the group understands the ground rules for participatory, experiential activities. For example, everyone should take their share of the responsibility for the session; everyone should have a chance to be listened to, to speak and to participate. No one should feel under pressure to say anything they do not feel comfortable with. These ground rules should be discussed and agreed on when you first start working with a class or group and you may like to review them from time to time, especially when new people join the group.

Giving clear instructions

Always make sure everyone has understood the instructions and knows what they have to do. It helps to start by explaining in general terms what the activity is about and what it involves, for instance that the activity is a role play. Let people know how long they have to complete a given task and give them a five minute warning when the time is nearly up so that they can round off.

Facilitating discussions

Discussion is central to the HRE process. Pay special attention to ensure everyone in the group can participate if they wish to. Use words, expressions and language common to the group and explain words with which they are unfamiliar; there is a glossary. Invite participants to offer their opinions. Ensure that there is a balance of global and local aspects so that people see the issue as directly relevant to their own lives.

Sometimes discussions “get stuck”. You will have to identify the cause. It could, for example, be because the topic has been exhausted or that it is too emotional. You will have to decide whether to prompt with a question, change tack or move on. You
should never feel that you have to provide the answers to participants’ questions or problems; the group itself must find its own answers through listening to each other and sharing. They may, of course, ask your opinion or advice, but the group must make their own decisions.

Debriefing and evaluation

No Compass activity is ever complete without the debriefing and evaluation; this part of the activity provides the keys for learning and helps the participants put what they have learned into a wider context. Give the participants plenty of time to complete the activity and if necessary come out of role before discussing what happened and what they learned. Spend time at the end of each activity talking over what people learnt and how it relates to their lives, their community and the wider world. Without reflection, people do not learn much from their experiences.
We suggest that you try to go through the debriefing and evaluation process in sequence by asking the participants questions that relate to:

• what happened during the activity and how they felt
• what they learned about themselves
• what they learned about the issues addressed in the activity and the related human rights
• how they can move forward and use what they have learned.


Without reflection, people do not learn much from their experiences.

Periodic appraisal or examination of what you are doing and learning is important because it helps you to get an overall picture of how things are going and enables you to improve your practice. When you review depends on the circumstances: it may be at the end of the day at a seminar or at the end of a series of two or three lessons or meetings.
Whenever you review, you should find time to relax and wind down and reflect on:

• How the activity (activities) went from your point of view: preparation, timing, and so on
• What the participants learnt and if they met the learning objectives
• What the outcomes are: what the group will do now as a result of the activities you have been doing
• What you yourself learnt about the issues and about facilitating

Periodic reviewing with the group is also important and should be fun, so avoid turning your review into another discussion, especially if you have already spent a considerable amount of time on debriefing and evaluation. You will find several techniques, including ones that use body language, drawings and sculpting in Chapter 2 under the heading “Activities for reviewing”.


Most of the activities can be completed within 90 minutes so it should not be too hard to keep up the momentum. Nonetheless, taking short breaks, for instance between the activity itself and the debriefing and evaluation, or between the debriefing and evaluation and discussion the follow-up stage can be helpful to keep people engaged. If energy is really flagging you can use an energiser. Remember also that it is important to let people wind down and relax after doing an activity.

Giving feedback

Feedback is a comment on something someone has said or done. Giving and receiving feedback is a skill and you will need to help the group members learn how to do it. Too often, feedback is received as destructive criticism even though this was not the intention of the speaker. The key words with regard to feedback are “respect”, “concrete” and “arguments”.

When giving feedback, it is important to respect the other person, to focus on what they said or did and to give reasons for your point of view. You can say, “I disagree strongly with what you have just said because....” Giving negative feedback comes readily to many people, which can be painful. It is your role as facilitator to find ways of ensuring that people give feedback in a supportive way. For example by:

• ensuring that people start giving the feedback with a positive statement,
• respecting the other person and not making any derogatory remarks ,
• focusing on the behaviour, not on the person,
• giving a reason for what they are saying and by
• taking responsibility for what they say by using “I - messages”

Receiving feedback is hard, especially when there is disagreement. Your role is to help young people learn from their experiences and to help them feel supported and not put down. Encourage people to listen carefully to the feedback without immediately defending themselves or their position. It is especially important that people understand exactly what the person giving the feedback means and that they take time to evaluate what has been said before accepting or rejecting it.

Resistance from the participants

Being involved in participatory activities is very demanding and while you will be using a variety of techniques, for instance, discussion, drawing, role-play or music, it is inevitable that not all activities will suit all participants all of the time. If a participant is confident and able to explain why they do not like a particular activity then you will be able to accommodate his or her needs through dialogue and negotiation.

By “resistance”, we mean behaviour that is purposefully disruptive. All facilitators experience resistance from participants at one time or another. Resistance can take several forms. An insecure young person may disturb by scraping his or her chair, humming or talking with their neighbour. More subtle ways of disrupting the session are by asking irrelevant questions or making a joke out of everything. Another “game” resisters play is “undermine the facilitator”. Here they may say, “You don’t understand, it’s a long time since you were young”, or “anything but more discussions, why can’t we just do activities?” A third type of “game” is to try to avoid the learning, for example when people play, “yes but....”.

Obviously, it is best if you can avoid resistance. For example, be aware of each person in the group and any sensitive emotions which might be triggered by a particular activity or by a particular part in a role-play or simulation. Make sure everyone feels safe and knows that they are at no time under any pressure to say or reveal anything about themselves that they do not feel comfortable with. Allow participants time to warm up before any activity and to wind down afterwards. Finally, remember to allow enough time for debriefing and discussion so that everyone feels that their opinion and participation is valued.

You will have to decide for yourself on the best way to handle a difficult situation but bear in mind that usually the best way to solve the problem is to bring it out into the open and to get the group as a whole to find a solution. Do not get into long discussions or arguments with a single group member. This can cause resentment and frustration among the other participants and cause them to lose interest.

Managing conflict

Conflict is an unavoidable and necessary dimension
in HRE.

Conflict can be helpful and creative if managed properly; in fact it is an unavoidable and necessary ingredient of HRE! Disagreement and emotion are unavoidable when addressing human rights issues because people see the world differently and their
beliefs, assumptions and prejudices will be called into question. Conflict as a part of human rights education gives people opportunities to develop skills and attitudes such as critical thinking and co-operation, empathy and a sense of justice.

Conflicts are difficult to anticipate and may be hard to resolve especially if they arise because participants feel insecure dealing with questions related to emotions and values, if they have insufficient competences for group work or if they have totally different approaches to the issue or different values. Try to stay calm and cool and do not become involved in conflicts between individuals in the group.

The Compass activities are intended to provide learning experiences in a safe environment. Choose them carefully and adapt them as necessary. Use them to draw out the participants’ different opinions about issues; let them know that disagreement is perfectly normal and that the universality of human rights does not mean that everyone views them in the same way.
Some tips:

  • • Take enough time for the debriefing and discussion. If necessary make more time.
    • Help to clarify people’s positions, opinions and interests.
    • Ease tensions in the group. For example, ask everyone to sit down or to talk for three minutes in small subgroups or say something to put the situation into perspective.
    • Encourage everybody to listen actively to each other.
    • Stress what unites people rather than what separates them.
    • Search for consensus. Get people to look at their common interests rather than trying to compromise and move from their stated positions.
    • Look for solutions which may resolve the problem without “recreating” the conflict.
    • Offer to talk to those involved privately at another time.

If more serious and deeper conflicts arise, it may be better to postpone seeking a solution and look for another more appropriate opportunity to tackle the problem. In the meantime, you could consider how to address the conflict from another angle. Furthermore, by postponing an attempt to resolve the conflict you leave time for those involved to reflect on the situation and to come up with new approaches or solutions.

Conflicts that arise in the group and ways of resolving them can be used to develop understanding and insights into the causes and difficulties of conflicts in the wider world. The reverse is also true; discussion of international conflicts can give insights into conflicts much closer to hand.

Tailoring the Compass activities to your needs

The activities in Compass have been tried and tested in a range of formal and nonformal education settings and feedback from users tells us that, as Abraham Lincoln is claimed to have said, “you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, which is perfectly reasonable! Compass is intended to be a guide to help you with your work; it is not a recipe book or a canon written in tablets of stone.
The authors of Compass were faced with two main challenges. The first is to make the activities general enough so that the issues elaborated are relevant to a wide audience but at the same time detailed enough that they reach to the heart of the concerns that some specific groups may have about an issue. The second challenge is the converse: to present activities that go deeply enough into issues that are important for some groups but which are either not relevant or too sensitive to be raised in others.
For these reasons, the activities will almost certainly have to be adapted or developed to meet the needs of the young people you are working with. There is a section about the “basic methods” we have used in Compass. Understanding how the different techniques work will help you tailor the activities.

Adapting activities

The activities are the tools we work with: you will have to be sure that the one you have chosen deals both with the issues you wish to address and that the method will suit your group.
It is the responsibility of the facilitator to fine-tune, make adjustments and adapt the activity so that it meets the needs of the young people he or she is working with.


When considering the suitability of the method think about the practicalities:

Complexity : If the level is too high, consider ways to make the activity simpler. For instance, narrow down the issues, rewrite statement cards or develop other questions for the debriefing and discussion. If you think that there is a risk that people may be bored or feel that their intelligence is insulted by an activity with a low level of complexity, then treat it as a short and fun introduction to a topic.

Group size: If you have a large group you may need to have extra facilitators and to allow extra time. If you allow extra time, be careful that the activity itself or the debriefing and evaluation does not drag on. Consider dividing the group into two for the debriefing and evaluation and then let them briefly report back in plenary. If you are doing a role play, then let two people together play or share each role.
If you have a small number of participants and the activity involves small group work, reduce the number of small groups rather than reduce the numbers of people in each small group. In this way you maintain the diversity of input within each group.

Time: You may need to consider running the activity over two sessions. Alternatively, try to arrange to run the activity when you can take more time, for instance, in a school arrange for a double session on the timetable. If you work in a youth club, do the activity at a residential weekend.

Overview: Here you will find a short description of the basic technique on which the activity is based, including general tips on using the method.

Materials: Improvise! If you don’t have any flip chart paper, then buy a roll of wallpaper lining paper and cut it into lengths. If the room you have is small or filled with furniture so that there is little space to move around in, or to break into small groups, then try to find another that is large enough, or if the weather is good, why not go outside?

Preparation: Think creatively! If you want to copy something and do not have access to a photocopier but you do have a computer and a printer, then take a digital photograph and print copies off through the computer.

Instructions: Some activities are in two parts. It may be that just the first part will enable you to meet your aims.

Variations: The variations will need either more or less time than the original activity. Allow for this.

Debriefing and evaluation: If the suggested questions do not meet your needs, then prepare others. Use the background notes for inspiration. However, be sure always to keep the relation to the human rights issues explicit.

Suggestions for follow-up activities: If the recommended suggestions are not suitable, irrelevant or they present practical problems, then find others. Use the summary of activities  to find an activity to follow on with.

Ideas for action: If the recommended suggestions are not suitable, irrelevant or they present practical problems, then find others. Refer to Chapter 3 on “Taking action”.

Developing activities

Developing an activity is more radical than adapting it. You may like the content, for instance, the statement cards or role cards that are presented with an activity, but you may find another method that is more appropriate. For example, you could use some of the statement cards from the activity “Just a minute” and use the method elaborated in the activity “Where do you stand” .

Alternatively, you might want to work on issues about asylum and refugees and like the ideas in the activity “Can I come in?” but feel, for one reason or another, that a role play as described is not appropriate. In this case you could still divide the group into the groups as described and distribute the role cards, but then use the “Fish bowl” technique described and allow two refugees and two immigration officers at a time to argue their cases. Another option, especially for teachers working with a large class, could be to hold a panel debate or let everyone be informed about the issues by reading the role cards and then hold a full debate on, for example, “This class believes that all refugees should be welcome in our country”. 

General advice

Encourage the young people to be aware of what is going on in the world around them, locally and globally, and take the issues that interest them as the starting point for your work – your work together. Always try to involve the young people in deciding how and what they want to learn. How involved they are in practice will depend on whether you are working in an informal or formal educational setting, the ages of the young people, the time you have available and the resources. However, whenever possible involve the participants in deciding what sort of activities they would like to do.

Participants should not feel embarrassed or forced
to reveal more than they wish to about themselves or their beliefs.

Tackle controversial or provocative issues with forethought and care. If an issue is taboo within your society and is likely to provoke resistance from people in authority, consider addressing the issue from another direction rather than straight on, or set it in a different framework. For instance, get people to reflect on rights related to freedom of expression by using an historical example. Questions about religion, rights of LGBT people and the rights to marriage and family are dealt with in this way in the activity “Believers”  or “Soon to be outdated”.

Facing the reality that we live in a world where certain issues are controversial or divisive is an important part of HRE. However, when addressing rights related to controversial or provocative issues you need to ensure that participants feel secure and that they do not feel embarrassed or forced to reveal more than they wish to about themselves or their beliefs. Methods such as the statement exercise or case studies are good methods that create a certain distance between the person and the topic. Another approach can be to encourage participants to research into different points of view. They could, for instance, invite someone with a minority perspective to talk to the group.
If the people in your group are divided about an issue, for example if a minority thinks that a certain issue is not important or relevant to their lives, then ask them directly to explain and justify their opinions. You will need to capture their imaginations so that they are open to the idea of exploring the issue. Showing a film, making a visit (to a refugee centre, to a centre for homeless people or to an ethnic shop or café) or inviting a speaker are all good ways to excite curiosity.

When the young people are considering taking action you will need to be ready to advise them about the consequences of what they propose to do. They should be fully aware of the possible or probable personal, social and political outcomes of their proposed action. Encouraging young people to think for themselves and to take responsibility is an important aim of HRE; thus, you should describe any difficulties you foresee, give reasons for your opinions, and advise. If you need to persuade them that some forms of action are inadvisable you should suggest alternatives (refer to Chapter 3 on “Taking Action” for ideas on different forms of taking action).

Special notes for teachers

Feedback from teachers tells us that Compass is used in schools all over Europe in language lessons, geography, history and citizenship lessons and in political studies. For example, in language lessons the quotes in the activity “All equal – all different” can be used as texts to develop vocabulary and comprehension and “Just a minute” can be used to develop speaking skills. Statistics, for instance, about child labour, the gender gap and access to education (which can be found in the different sections of background information in Chapter 5) can be used in maths lessons to replace textbook examples and in this way contribute to a raised awareness of, and interest in, human rights issues. “Web of life” can be used in biology lessons as an introduction to lessons about food webs or biodiversity; “A tale of two cities” in social studies; “Believers” in religious education; “Ashique’s story” and “Beware we are watching” add another perspective on trade in Geography lessons and examples of the “Fighters for rights” add interest to lessons on world affairs. The possibilities are endless.

There may be fundamental challenges to meeting the
aims of HRE in a classroom setting.

It must be recognised that there are some fundamental challenges to meeting the aims of HRE in a classroom setting. For example, a typical lesson period may be too short to complete all but the shortest activities or the pupils may not be in a position to influence decisions about what they learn. In addition, the options for applying what they have learned may be more limited, but these difficulties are not insurmountable. For instance, teachers are finding ways to overcome problems such as timetabling pressures by extending an activity over two periods or by using the opportunities during “theme weeks”, when the normal timetable is suspended.

In some countries HRE requires a change in classroom practice in order to move away from “chalk and talk” (the teacher giving the pupils information that has to be learned by heart) and moving towards encouraging critical thinking and more independent learning. In countries where teachers do not normally have the role of a coach, advisor or facilitator, changes need to be introduced gradually so that both teachers and pupils feel confident working in a democratic atmosphere where questioning and freedom of expression thrive. An understanding of the methods and techniques used in Compass will help teachers make changes; these are described below and include tips on how to organise discussions in large classes. Another way to develop facilitation skills is through working together with someone experienced in this way of working. For instance, invite a trainer from a local human rights organisation to run a session or to team teach together with you.

Ideally, teachers of all subjects need to be equipped systematically with relevant competences within the framework of the initial and in-service training. The publication How all teachers can support citizenship and human rights education: a framework for the development of competences can provide further guidance on how this could be done.13 

A number of practical challenges have been identified in a recent, small research project into using experiential activities from Compass and the Education Pack All Different – All Equal in language lessons in Danish high schools.

The research revealed that the activities themselves were very much enjoyed and the teachers noted how involved the students were. However, some difficulties were encountered in the debriefing and evaluation stages. The students found it hard to break out of their normal way of being in the classroom and addressed their comments to the teacher rather than to each other, which meant there was not so much dialogue, free exchange of ideas or peer-to-peer learning. The students expected a comment or correction from the teacher and for the teacher to invite them to speak in turn. The result was that the students tended to spend their time thinking of what they wanted to say rather than listening to what was being said and responding to each other. Furthermore, it proved hard to change the usual classroom dynamic so that the dominating student dominated and the funny one played the fool.

HRE cannot be imposed or dictated.

The conclusions were that using activities in the classroom can be valuable as they engage students in the topic, but there are likely to be limitations to the extent that all the aims of HRE, especially those of developing co-operation and skills to take responsibility and take action, can be reached. Nonetheless, schools can make significant contributions to developing certain of the competences that are listed here as outcomes of HRE, for instance active listening and communication skills, critical thinking and curiosity. Similarly, at first sight taking action might appear to be problematical in a school setting. However, taking action can mean many different things and in the classroom it might mean an improvement in general behaviour, more consideration for peers, pupils deciding for themselves to find out more about human rights heroes,
or taking a more questioning approach to history. There are more ideas about how to take action in Chapter 3.
If it is difficult for teachers to use many of the activities they should bear in mind that HRE is also about developing knowledge and understanding, for instance, knowledge about what human rights are, the historical development of rights, the legal instruments, and the relevance of human rights for the development of civil society and world peace, all of which can find their place in the formal education system. The background information about human rights and the global themes (Chapters 4, 5 and the appendices) makes valuable teaching and learning material in its own right.

Teachers working with children aged from 7 to 13 may also want to take a closer look at Compasito, the manual for human rights education with children, whose activities may fit the structure of school classes better.

Finally, a comment about “junk HRE”, by which we mean teaching that purports to be HRE, but which, because of the way it is delivered, does not qualify to be recognised as human rights education. There are many ways of delivering human rights
education, but, as elaborated at the beginning of this chapter, the process is important. Thus, for any teaching related to human rights to be recognised as HRE it must be delivered in a way that respects the learners and enables them to respect and value human rights. HRE cannot be imposed or dictated. Furthermore, HRE cannot be viewed as something that takes place isolated in the classroom; it must extend into the whole school and wider community.

Basic methods that underpin the Compass activities

An understanding of the basic methods or techniques that underpin the activities in Compass is essential in order to use the activities successfully.
We call the methods we use “activities” because the participants are mentally active and usually physically active as well. However, they are more than just activities – something to do to fill the time: they have clear educational goals and we use them with a purpose. Sometimes activities are called “games”. This implies that the activities are also fun, which they are! Unfortunately, some people associate the word “game” with what little children play and they forget the serious underlying educational value of games.
An understanding of the basic methodology will help you both when you need to adapt individual activities to meet the needs of the young people you work with and when you develop your own activities. Furthermore, when writing the instructions for how to run activities, we have assumed that people know and understand terms such as “group work”, “brainstorm” and “role play”. They are clarified here.

Group work

Group work is the foundation of many of the exercises; it happens when people work together, combine their different skills and talents and build on each other’s strengths to complete a task. It:

  • • Encourages responsibility. When people feel they own what they are doing, they are usually committed to the outcome and take care to ensure a good
    • Develops communication skills. People need to listen, to understand what others say, to be responsive to their ideas and to be able to put their own thoughts forward.
    • Develops co-operation. People soon learn that when they are working towards a common goal they do better if they co-operate than if they compete with each other.
    • Involves decision-making skills. People quickly learn that the best way to make decisions is to look at all the information available and to try to find a solution that satisfies everybody. Someone who feels left out of the decision-making process may disrupt the group’s work and not honour decisions which are made by the rest of the group.

It is important to note that successful group work must be task-orientated; there needs to be a clear question that needs answering or a problem clearly stated that requires solutions. It is not productive to tell people simply to “discuss the issue”.
Whatever the topic, it is essential that the work is clearly defined and that participants are focused on working towards a goal that requires them to feedback to the whole group. This is not to imply that the product is the only thing that matters! The point is that by working together within a clearly defined framework the participants are better able to learn through the process.

The majority of the activities in Compass use small-group work in the “experience” phase (the activity) and whole-group work in the “reflecting” and “generalising” phases of the learning cycle (the debriefing and evaluation). Small-group work encourages everyone to participate and helps develop co-operative teamwork. The size of a small group will depend on practical things such as how many people there are in total and how much space you have. A small group may be 2 or 3 people, but small groups work best with six to eight. Small-group work can last for 15 minutes, an hour or a day, depending on the task in hand.


Image: Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a way to introduce a new subject, encourage creativity and to generate a lot of ideas quickly. It can be used for solving a specific problem or answering a question.
How to brainstorm:

  1. Decide on the issue that you want to brainstorm and formulate it into a simple question or statement.
  2. Write the question on a large piece of paper or a board placed where everyone can see it.
  3. Ask people to contribute their ideas. You write down the ideas under the question or statement. Use single words or short phrases.
  4. Stop the brainstorming when ideas are running out and then
  5. Go through the suggestions, asking for comments.
  6. Then sum up and, taking the new knowledge, move on to an activity or discussion.

The rules of brainstorming:

  1. Write down EVERY new suggestion. Often the most creative or “crazy” suggestions are the most useful and interesting!
  2. No-one may make any comments or judge what is written down until the end.
  3. Discourage repetition. If someone suggests an idea that is already on the board, thank them and gently point out where you wrote it.
  4. Encourage everyone to contribute.
  5. Only give your own ideas if it is absolutely necessary to encourage the group.
  6. If a suggestion is unclear, ask for clarification.

Wall writing

Image: Wall writing

This is a form of brainstorming. The facilitator writes up the statement or question to be brainstormed, preferably on a wide, blank wall. However, instead of the facilitator then writing the suggestions down, participants write their ideas on small pieces of paper (for example, “Post-its”) and stick them up themselves. The advantages of this method are that people can sit and think quietly for themselves before they are influenced by the other people’s ideas, and the pieces of paper can be repositioned to aid grouping related ideas together during discussion.

The association game

Image: The association game

This is another form of brainstorming that can be used as an icebreaker or as an introduction to a discussion or activity. Participants sit in a circle and the facilitator starts off by saying a key word (a word they have chosen that is at the heart of the topicthey wish to introduce). Go round the circle, each person in turn first repeating the key word and then the first word that comes into their head associated with the key word. A variation is for each person to respond to the word the last person said.



Discussion activities


Discussions are an integral part of HRE because through discussion people learn to analyse information, think critically, develop communication skills, share opinions and learn from experience, which is why “debriefing and evaluation” is a core part of every activity.Image: Discussion activities

Il existe de multiples façons de tenir une discussion, certaines – et en particulier celles qui demandent un certain degré de coopération et de participation – pouvant être considérées à juste titre comme des activités à part entière. Tel est le cas des discussions en petits groupes où les participants doivent résoudre un problème – voir, par exemple, les activités « Juste une minute » et « Parlons sexe ». Il va sans dire qu’après l’activité de « discussion », les participants doivent encore passer à la phase de débriefing et d’évaluation de ce qu’ils ont appris !

Discussions in large groups

Image: Buzz groups

Buzz groups

This is a useful method if no ideas are forthcoming in a whole-group discussion. Ask people to discuss the topic in pairs or small groups for some minutes and then to share their ideas with the rest of the group. You will soon find the atmosphere “buzzing” with conversations and people “buzzing” with ideas!!

The statement exercise

This technique enables participants to express an opinion without necessarily having to justify it. It is a gentle way to encourage people to be self confident to share their opinions.

Prepare some statements (4–6 should be sufficient) about a topic or topics you want to explore with the group. Make two signs, “I agree” and “I disagree”, and place them on the floor about 6–8 metres apart. If you wish to, you can place a rope or tape on the floor between the two signs to symbolise the continuum between the two extremes of opinion.Image: The statement exercise

Read out one of your prepared statements and ask participants to position themselves between the two extremes according to their opinion; those who are undecided stand at the centre point. Invite participants, if they wish, to explain why they are standing where they are. Encourage people to change their position along the line if they change their opinion as a result of the arguments they hear.

A variation is called “Points of view”. Make four signs to stick on the four walls of the room: “I agree”, I disagree”, “I don’t know” and “I want to say something”. As before, people place themselves according to their response and they can change position at any time.

Fish bowl

Image: Fish bowl

This method is a helpful way of getting participants to address their comments to each other rather than to the facilitator or teacher. Invite a few – ideally between four to six – participants to sit together in a small circle in the middle of the room to discuss a topic while everyone else sits around the outside and listens to “the fish in the bowl”. When one of the observers wishes to contribute to the discussion, they come forward and position themselves behind one of the “fish”. This “fish” then has to swap out and join the listeners.
There are several benefits to using this method, the main one being that the participants have control over the discussion in as much as a person may come forward to speak when they themselves decide to, but also other members of the group can shut someone up who is making long speeches or repeating themselves by forcing them to swap out.


Image: Debates

Traditional house debates are useful, especially in a classroom where there are fewer possibilities for using other discussion methods. If the whole class is to discuss, for instance, “This house believes that human rights are a Western invention and not universal”, then let one of the pupils, rather than  the teacher, be the chairperson.

Another form of debate is a panel debate where a panel of “experts” is invited by the audience to answer questions. This is a good way of providing information, encouraging enquiry, enabling people to explore differing points of view and demonstrating that human rights are complex. For instance, give the role cards from the activity “Makah whaling” to eight volunteers (two people to represent each of the four disputing organisations). These eight people use the cards to prepare their positions and then sit on the panel to answer questions and argue their points of view to the rest of the class. At the end the class can take a vote on whether or not whaling should be banned.

Discussions in small groups

Image: Discussions in small groups

Discussion activities are often best carried out in small groups because then everyone has a better chance of contributing. Not only do people feel more confident expressing themselves in smaller groups but each person gets a greater share of the available time in which to talk.

Discussion activities rely on some stimulus material, usually presented on cards. Examples of stimulus material include items on the TV news, posters, statement cards, case studies and pictures. When preparing stimulus materials it is important to think about your target group and avoid including information that may cause offence or be too personal. You also need to bear in mind the level of reading skills of younger groups, and the language skills if you are working in a multicultural group; in these cases keep the language simple. The information on the cards should be kept as short as possible, preferably 2–8 lines and half an A4 sheet as the absolute maximum.



This is a very useful technique when you want people to develop their knowledge and understanding without you “teaching”. People work in small groups to develop their expertise about an aspect of a topic. The groups then re-group and share their knowledge.

Prepare a statement or question card for each group about an issue you wish to work on. Each group is to work on a different aspect of the same issue.
Get the participants to form three small groups; one group is group A, the second is group B and the third group C. Give each group an agreed length of time in which to discuss the question or problem. Then re-group them so that each of the new groups contains one member from each of the original groups; in other words the new groups are constituted as ABC, ABC and ABC. Give the ABC groups the task of solving a problem or coming to a consensus that requires input from each member.

Image: Statements in a hat

Statements in a hat


This technique is a sensitive way to introduce a topic, to get people talking or to generate ideas. Make some statement or question cards and put them in a hat. Either pass the hat round or place it in the middle of the circle. Ask people in turn to take out one card and to comment.

Instead of the facilitator making the cards, he/she can ask the participants to make their own statement or question cards. In this way questions can be put to the group anonymously, which is useful if discussing issues that may be sensitive.

Image: Ranking



This is a useful form of discussion activity when you want to stimulate a focused discussion in small groups. You need one set of statement cards for each small group; nine to twelve statements are adequate. You select simple statements related to the topic you wish people to discuss and write one statement on each card. The groups discuss the statements and try to come to agreement about the order of importance. This can either be done as a ladder or as a diamond. In ladder ranking the most important statement is placed at the top, the next most important underneath it, and so on, down to the least important statement at the bottom.

Pour le classement en « diamant », il vous faudra neuf cartes. Les participants conviennent de ce qui leur semble être la déclaration la plus importante et la placent au sommet du diamant. En dessous, ils positionnent les deux affirmations les plus importantes après la première. Au rang inférieur apparaissent les trois affirmations qu’ils jugent d’importance moyenne, et ainsi de suite, comme le montre le diagramme. Ce type de classement est souvent plus approprié que le classement en échelle car la hiérarchie entre les différents énoncés est moins tranchée. Il s’agit d’une méthode moins rigide et donc plus acceptable pour les participants.

For diamond ranking you need nine statement cards. People negotiate on which is the most important statement, then on which are the two second-most important, then the 3 statements of moderate importance and so on as shown in the diagram.
Because issues are rarely clear cut, diamond ranking is often a more appropriate method than simple ranking. It is less contrived and therefore more acceptable to participants. It also gives better opportunities for consensus building. A variation of the ranking method is to write eight statements and to leave one card blank for the participants themselves to write one.


Case studies

Case studies are short “stories” about people and events that illustrate a problem. Like statement cards, they are useful tools for presenting information in a non-didactic way. They are also valuable because they create a distance between the participants and the problem, which makes discussion of the topic less threatening. For instance, if there are bullies in the group and you want to tackle the problem, you can present a story about bullying that contains parallels to the real situation. Participants read the case story, analyse the problem and try to make suggestions for resolving the problem.

Image: Case Studies


Exploring ideas and issues through drama can provide people with an outlet for emotions, thoughts, dreams and creativity that they might not otherwise be able to express. Drama involves the whole person, their heads, hearts and hands and thus involves not only the intellect, but also the senses and emotions, making it a powerful tool. Furthermore, it is a most efficient technique because it appeals to people of all learning styles, that is, to auditory, visual and kinæsthetic, or tactile, learners.

Debriefing is especially important after activities based on some form of drama, including role plays and simulations. Players may need time to come out of role before they go on to discuss their feelings and why they chose to take the actions that they did.


Image: Role-playing

A role play is a short drama acted out by the participants. Although participants draw on their own life experiences to role play a situation, role plays are mostly improvised. Role plays can improve understanding of a situation and encourage empathy towards the people who are portrayed. They enable people to experience challenging situations but in a safe atmosphere.

Role plays need to be used sensitively. Firstly, it is essential that people have time at the end to come out of role. Secondly, everyone needs to respect the feelings of individuals and the social structure of the group. For example, a role play about disabled people should take into account the fact that some participants may suffer from disabilities themselves (maybe not visible) or may have relatives or close friends who are disabled. They should not feel hurt, be forced to be exposed or marginalised. If that happens, take it seriously and apologise and explain.

Also, be very aware of stereotyping. Role plays draw out what participants think about other people through their “ability” to play or imitate them. This is also what makes these activities great fun! It is useful in the debriefing to ask, “Do you think that the people you played are really like that?” It is always educational to make people aware of the need to constantly review information critically; ask participants where they got the information on which they based the development of the character.


Simulations can be thought of as extended, structured role plays (they do not involve the same degree of improvisation) that take the participants into unfamiliar situations and roles. For example, the court room in the activity “Access to medicaments” is defined and mapped out, and participants are given detailed information about the roles they are to play. Simulations demand a high level of emotional involvement and intellectual ability, especially for those players who have to argue from a point of view with which they personally disagree.

Forum Theatre

Forum theatre is an interactive form of theatre that encourages audience interaction and explores different options for how to deal with a problem or issue. Forum Theatre (also known as Boal’s Theatre, “Theatre of the Oppressed” or “Theatre for Development”) was created in the early 1970s by Augusto Boal, who wanted to empower his audiences.

Forum theatre is a form of role play. The audience watches a short play in which a central character encounters an oppression or obstacle which he or she is unable to overcome; the subject-matter is presented in a way that it relates to the lives of the audience. When the play has been performed it is repeated and members of the audience can take to the stage and suggest alternative options for how the protagonist could have acted. The actors explore the results of these choices with the audience, creating a kind of theatrical debate in which experiences and ideas are rehearsed and shared, generating both solidarity and a sense of empowerment.

Forum theatre is a very useful tool for delivering HRE, for example, when exploring ways of solving problems or resolving conflicts. It allows people to take the stage and explore different possibilities. In this way, the event can be used to rehearse for an imminent event, or to uncover and analyse alternatives in any situation, past, present or future.

Audiovisual methods

Using pictures: photographs, cartoons, drawing, collage

“A picture says a thousand words”. Visual images are powerful tools both for providing information and for stimulating interest. Remember also that drawing is an important means of self-expression and communication, not only for those whose preferred thinking style is visual but also for those who are not strong in expressing themselves verbally. Ideas for activities using pictures and drawings are presented together in chapter 2 under the collective heading of “Playing with pictures”.

Tips for building up a picture collection

Pictures are such a versatile tool that it is a good idea for facilitators to build up their own stock. Images can be collected from, for instance, newspapers, magazines, posters, travel brochures, postcards and greetings cards.

Trim the pictures, mount them on card and cover them with transparent, stickybacked plastic (sold for covering books) to make them durable and easy and pleasant to handle. The collection will look more like a set if the cards are all made to one size. A4 is ideal, but A5 is a good, practical compromise. It can be a good idea to write a reference number on the back of each picture and to record the source, original title or other useful information elsewhere. Thus, people will have only the image to respond to and will not be distracted by other clues.

When choosing pictures, try to get a selection of images from north, south, east and west, as well as from different natural and social environments. When choosingpictures of people look for variety and be aware of gender, race, ability and disability, age, nationality and culture. Also bear in mind the impact that individual pictures have because of their size and colour. This effect can distort people’s perception of a picture, so try to harmonise your collection so you have a reasonably homogeneous set.

Bear in mind to check if there is any copyright on the pictures and photos that you wish to use.

Using films, videos and radio plays

Films, videos and radio plays are powerful tools for HRE and popular with young people. A discussion after watching a film should make a good starting point for further work. Things to talk about are people’s initial reaction to the film, how true to “real life” it was, whether the characters were portrayed realistically, or whether they were trying to promote one particular political or moral point of view, and not to forget which human rights are involved!Image: Taking photographs, making films and videos

Bear in mind to check if there is any copyright or any restriction on public screenings of the videos that you wish to use. A screening to a class or youth group may constitute a public showing.

Taking photographs, making films and videos

The technology of camcorders, digital cameras and mobile phones now makes making films and taking pictures much more accessible for everyone. Young people’s pictures and films vividly show their points of view and attitudes and make excellent display material.

Video letters

Video letters are a proven way to break down barriers and prejudices. They enable people who would not otherwise meet face-to-face to “talk” and to share insights into how they live and what is important to them. One example is a British TV project where a Roma woman and a resident near a proposed Roma camp site refused to talk to each other. However, a mediator succeeded in persuading them to send a series of video letters to each other. Each began by showing their homes and introducing their families. Gradually, in subsequent letters, as they revealed more of their lives, the prejudices diminished and were replaced by understanding and empathy. Each found that they had much more in common than they ever imagined and finally they agreed to meet in person.

The media: newspapers, magazines, radio, television, Internet

The media is an infallible source of good discussion material. It is always interesting to discuss the way news or information is presented and to analyse bias and stereotypes. Further discussions can include issues such as ownership of the media, political distortion, censorship and freedom of expression. The activity “Front page” looks specifically at these issues and you will find more ideas in the background information about the media in chapter 5. Once again, be sure to check for copyright on any materials you want to use.

11 The Training Kits “Training Essentials” and “Organisational Management” provide useful starting points about learning styles and attitudes of trainers and facilitators. T-Kit “Training Essentials”, Council of Europe Publishing, 2002. T-Kit “Organisational Management”, Council of Europe Publishing, 2000. Downloadable from www.youth-partnership-eu.coe.int
12Gollob, R., Krapf, P., Ólafsdóttir, Ó., and Weidinger, W. (2010) Educating for democracy: Background materials on democratic citizenship and human rights education. Strasbourg: Council of Europe
13 Brett, P., Mompoint-Gaillard, P. and Salema M.H. (2009) How all teachers can support citizenship and human rights education: a framework for the development of competences. Strasbourg: Council of Europe