Rights and Freedoms

civil rights movement

During my first-semester placement I was given the opportunity to plan and deliver a unit to year ten history students on the topic of rights and freedoms. Magic, right? This theme has it all, including an in-built means of connecting history to students’ own preoccupations and passions. I mean, one question on the test was: “design your own protest banner on a topic of your choice.”

See below for a detailed overview of the unit, submitted as part of my history teaching studies. Teachers, get in touch if you’d like any further info or individual lesson plans.


This unit of work follows the AusVELS curriculum’s “Rights and Freedoms” unit, Depth Study 2 of The Modern World and Australia, at Level 10 of The Humanities – History. “Students investigate struggles for human rights in depth. This will include how rights and freedoms have been ignored, demanded or achieved in Australia and in the broader world context.”

The length of the unit conforms to the curriculum model of the school at which I completed my placement. Here, history is a half-year elective at year 10 in which the whole sequence of the AusVELS curriculum (overview and three depth studies) is presented. With public holidays, exam scheduling, excursions and other special activities taken into account, this allows ten 75-minute lessons in which to complete each unit.


The design of the unit conforms to the outline defined by AusVELS, but also attends to the ongoing development and practice of the “unnatural act” of historical thinking (Wineburg, 2001). Taking seriously van Drie and van Boxtel’s suggestion that their framework of historical reasoning “provide a structure for the design of a curriculum and learning tasks” (2007, p. 105), the unit develops all six elements of historical reasoning within discrete learning actvities. For these researchers:

skilled historical reasoning can be described as reasoning which reflects contextualization or taking into account the historical period and setting, the use of substantive and meta-concepts to describe, compare, and explain historical phenomena, and sound argumentation based on a careful inspection and evaluation of available sources (2007, p. 105).

These techniques are applicable to the study of all historical topics and periods, but hold a particular value for the analysis of rights and freedoms, a theme which is itself a substantive historical concept that rewards analysis via the framework that van Drie and van Boxtel outline. This is history arranged thematically, drawing disparate elements together within a single field of reference – rich territory for the exercise of historical questioning, argumentation, using sources, contextualisation, and the use of historical concepts.

See below for a summary of each element of historical reasoning as it’s practiced within the unit. Examples of learning activities are provided within each element, with complete documents available on request.


1: The United Nations; the human rights movement after World War 2 (AusVELS ACDSEH023)
Audio source: “Four Freedoms” (Roosevelt, 1941)

2: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Ausvels ACDSEH023)
Written source: The Declaration (United Nations, 1948)

3: International movements for rights and freedoms (AusVELS overview material)
Primary sources from History 10: The Modern World and Australia (Ashton & Anderson, 2012)

4: Civil Rights: Rosa Parks and the Freedom Rides (AusVELS ACDSEH105)
Video source: Rosa Parks (Bruton, 2012)
Written and visual sources: Freedom Rides sources (Yale University, 2008)

5: The Stolen Generations (AusVELS ACDSEH104)
Written sources: Stories from Bringing Them Home (AHRC, 2007)

6: The 1965 Freedom Ride (AusVELS ACDESEH134)
Video source: Excerpts from Freedom Ride – Blood Brothers (Perkins, 1993)

7: Mabo and Native Title (ACDSEH106)
Primary and secondary sources from History 10: The Modern World and Australia (Ashton & Anderson, 2012)

8: The Reconciliation movement (AusVELS ACDSEH106)
Written source: Reconciliation timeline (Reconciliation Australia, 2011)

9: Unit overview and revision
Primary and secondary sources from History 10: The Modern World and Australia (Ashton & Anderson, 2012)

10: Source analysis test



Historical questions are asked, evaluated and refined across the unit, including within the source analysis test where knowledge about “historical thinking” is assessed based on a series of questions devised by the student. The “five Ws” – who, what, when, where, why – are practiced at several points, including within the test, but often the focus is not on giving answers but on the questions themselves as the “engine” for historical reasoning (van Drie & van Boxtel, 2007).

Signature pedagogy: best questions.
In Lesson 4, students work in groups with visual and written sources about the Freedom Rides:

1. In your group, read letter aloud and answer the questions
2. In your group, develop five observations and three questions about the photograph
3. Choose your best question and be ready to share it with the class
4. Best questions are collected and assessed by the whole class – if we could ask only one question, what would it be, and why?


Throughout the unit, students practice “thinking historically” as outlined by van Sledright (2004), determining the nature of a source before using it for historical analysis. This four-step technique – identification; attribution; perspective judgment; reliability assessment – is practiced as a whole class [Lesson 4, using the provocative example of a video made by a six-year-old], in small groups [Lesson 6, using multiple textbook sources about the 1965 Freedom Ride] and individually, including during the source analysis test [Lesson 10].

The distinction made by Rouet and others (1996) between reasoning about and reasoning with documents is also taken into account. In Lesson 6, students practice van Sledright’s historical thinking on textbook sources [reasoning about], then use the same sources to complete textbook questions in which the sources are used as historical evidence [reasoning with].

Signature pedagogy: revising historically.
In Lesson 9, students revise the uni by working in groups with five historical sources [3.2, 3.12, 3.19, 3.28, 3.39 of their textbook (Ashton & Anderson, 2012)].

1. In your group, complete the revision sheet about your source. Be ready to present your findings to the class.
2. Group presentations: teacher to call on individual students to ask questions of each group.


The AusVELS curriculum itself works to contextualise this unit, placing it after a depth study on World War 2, out of which the modern human rights movement developed. Early lessons are devoted to drawing out this connection. At another level, international movements for rights and freedoms are studied as a context for the indigenous rights movement in Australia, which is presented alongside other movements with which it intersects: decolonisation, the women’s movement, and – most compellingly – the civil rights movement in the United States.

The chronological scope of the unit reaches the present, allowing activities that directly connect student experiences and concerns with the historical material that they study. In this way, the historical study undertaken by students provides a context for their own lives as informed citizens (even activists) in the present.

Signature pedagogy: jigsaw.
In Lesson 3, students work in groups to research and present one international movement for rights and freedoms, using extended excerpts from their textbooks – independence from colonial rule; Aboriginal land rights; the women’s movement, civil rights movement in the United States.

1. Jigsaw stage 1: in one of four groups, use source material to research one international movement
2. Complete one section of the answer sheet (two terms; two dates; two people; two demands), ready to share your findings with other members of the class
3. Jigsaw stage 2: in your new groups, speak for one minute about your movement, then verbally share answers with your classmates, completing all four sections of the answer sheet and answering any questions.


The unit can be seen as a history of argumentation, in which social values are debated and adjusted over time. This primary mode of argumentation is practiced by students in an activity in which they attempt to recruit their peers to imaginary but well-designed civil disobedience actions [Lesson 5].

Historical argumentation is also studied and practiced. Van Drie and van Boxtel describe this as “informal reasoning,” in which conclusions are “never definite, but only more or less probable, as new evidence can alter these probabilities” (2007, p. 97). Activities that exercise this skill include the final question on the source analysis test, in which students are asked to assess the historical significance of Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generations [Lesson 10].

Signature pedagogy: argument compass.
In Lesson 4, students consider the contention “that civil disobedience should be encouraged.”

1. Based on our study of civil disobedience and Rosa Parks, take a position on the issue: agree, disagree, neither/nor or different position.
2. Move to the side of the room indicated by the teacher that corresponds to your position.
3. Take part in a whole-class discussion in which students defend their positions and/or adjust their position based on new evidence presented by their peers.


The AusVELS curriculum structures the whole depth study around the substantive concepts of rights and freedoms. These are examples of Halldén’s colligatory concepts, which provide a thematic (rather than strictly chronological) organisation of historical knowledge (1997).

Other major substantive concepts within the unit include civil rights and the reconciliation movement. Activities encourage students to engage with seemingly disparate historical material using the language of an overarching theme.

Signature pedagogy: reconciliation timeline
In Lesson 8, students study a timeline of the reconciliation movement, which provides an overview of post-contact relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

1. Take a fragment of the timeline.
2. Move to the appropriate place in the timeline, arranging yourselves chronologically.
3. In chronological order, read your piece of the timeline.
4. Take part in a whole-class discussion about the timeline: what patterns are emerging? Where are the hot-spots? How does this timeline intersect with other historical patterns we’ve studied?


The methodological tools of history are studied and practiced across the unit. From Limón’s list – evidence, cause, explanation, empathy, time, space, change, source, fact, description and narration – evidence, empathy and change are especially pertinent to the study of rights and freedoms (2002). In addition, van Drie and van Boxtel’s emphasis on comparison as a heuristic allows students to read historical accounts alongside each other, separating extraordinary from common events (2007, p. 102). Meta-concepts related to source analysis are exercised within van Sledright’s model of historical thinking, described above.

Empathy is at its least contentious as a historical meta-concept when engaging with the study of the Stolen Generations. In the major written project for the unit, students are able to channel their historical understanding into an action plan that directly involves them in the reconciliation movement. This is supported by in-class activities that locate this contemporary movement within a historical context of change.

Signature pedagogy: placemat.
In Lesson 5, students read and summarise selected stories of survivors of the Stolen Generations from the Bringing Them Home Report.

1. Read one personal story from a victim of the Stolen Generations.
2. With others who read the same story, summarise the story in one or two sentences.
3. In new groups, with three others who have read other stories, write your summary sentence/s onto one edge of a four-sided placemat. Compare the language of the four sentences.
4. In the centre of the mat, draw together language and ideas from the four summaries and create a synthesising phrase, sentence or paragraph about the Stolen Generations.


Ashton, P., & Anderson, M. (2012). History 10 – The Modern World and Australia. South Yarra, Australia: Macmillan.

Australian Human Rights Commission. (1997). Stories from the Report. Bringing them home: The ‘Stolen Children’ report. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/stories-report

Bruton, Bobby. (2012, February 27). Rosa Parks. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://youtu.be/naE1Bytu2Q0

Halldén, O. (1997). Conceptual change and the learning of history. International Journal of Educational Research, 27, 201-210.

Limón, M. (2002). Conceptual change in history. In M. Limón, & L. Mason (Eds.) Reconsidering conceptual change. Issues in theory and practice (pp. 259-289). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Perkins, R. (1993). Blood Brothers – Freedom Ride [excerpts]. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/freedom-ride-blood-brothers/

Reconciliation Australia. (2011). Reconciliation Timeline. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://www.reconciliation.org.au/getfile?id=1328&file=1153+04+Timeline.pdf

Roosevelt, F. D. (1941). Four Freedoms [excerpt]. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/four_freedoms/four_freedoms.html

Rouet, J. F., Brit, M. A., Mason, R. A., & Perfetti, C. A. (1996). Using multiple sources of evidence to reason about history. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(3), 478-493.

United Nations. (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

Van Drie, J. & van Boxtel, C. (2007). Historical reasoning: Towards a Framework for Analyzing Students’ Reasoning about the Past. Educational Psychology Review, 20, 87–110.

Van Sledright, B. A. (2004). What does it mean to think historically … and how do you teach it? Social Education, 68(3), 230–233.

Wineburg, S. S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts. Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Yale University. (2008). TAH Lesson Plan: Freedom Riders. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://www.yale.edu/glc/aces2/lessons/montanaro.pdf


37 thoughts on “Rights and Freedoms

  1. Tanith Davidson

    Hi Philip,
    I’m currently planning a Rights and Freedoms unit to start next term (my school is implementing Ausvels and it hasn’t been taught before). I’m interested to know how your students responded to your unit – what was most engaging?
    I came across this blog after I’d done a google search to see what others are doing and am very impressed with your approach and ideas. Thanks for sharing! One of my challenges is that I only have three weeks to deliver the unit (roughly 10 lessons) and it has been difficult narrowing the topics to fit timing. It looks like your timeline is similar to mine. If you have any further info or lesson plans, I would be a most gracious recipient of any insights you could share.
    Many thanks, Tanith

    1. philipthiel Post author

      Hi there, Tanith. It’s really great to hear from you and I’m glad you found your way to this post.

      Students at my placement school responded well to this unit. For teachers it’s a free kick, in some ways, connecting students to exciting and positive stories about people fighting for their rights. What’s not to love?

      In particular, I was pleased with how students took the opportunity to engage closely with the history of Australia, in particular the complex topic of the (withholding of) rights of Indigenous people. When I teach this again I’ll be less cautious about launching straight into this material at its most troubling – students showed themselves more than ready to think deeply and critically about the Stolen Generations and the role they themselves might play in the movement for reconciliation.

      I’ll email you now with some further info about the unit. When your topic sequence is set I’ll very happily forward the lesson plans I used to deliver this material.

    2. Maranata Titimanu

      Dear Philip

      Thanks for sharing this topic. As I am teaching the unit this term I would ask you please if you could send some individual lesson plans? The unit is well planned and suitable for the reluctant learners as well.

  2. Kate

    Great work Philip! AM currently on maternity leave but very much looking forward to teaching this next year – looks like you’ve given me a great head start with the resources. Thanks a lot!

  3. Janene

    Hi Phillip,
    I came across your ‘Rights and Freedoms’ unit whilst researching as I am teaching this in 2014. It seems very accessable for the level of students that I have, and given my lack of experience in this area, accessable to me. Any further resoureces or lesson plans would be much appreciated.
    Many Thanks.

  4. Lisa

    Hi Philip,
    I have just moved to Vic and have to teach this Unit in a new school, new city….I would love some more detail if you’re still happy to share. What you have here looks fantastic!
    Many thanks

  5. Ellie

    Hi Phillip,

    I am just about to start teaching this unit to my Year 10 History class. You’ve produced an excellent unit here and would love to see some more resources if you’re happy to share? It appears to be very interactive and you’ve produced some excellent tasks to keep the students interested.
    Many Thanks,

  6. Alyssa Worthington

    Hi Phillip,

    I’m a first year MA Teaching student and would love to look at some individual lesson plans if you wouldn’t mind – I love the subject matter of this topic but am nowhere near as creative as you are with taska! I’m also struggling to make more seamless the transition between teaching about the US Civil Rights movement and that in Australia in my planning right now…


    1. philipthiel Post author

      Hi there, Lys. I’ve forwarded the lesson plans via email. Generally I’ve found that connections between the US and Australian movements don’t need to be too prescriptive or explicit, except when there’s direct crossover like with “Freedom Rides.” Best to explore each case study separately then see if/how students are able to make connections between them. Good luck with your studies!

  7. debra

    Hi Phillip This is a great unit! I am teaching a low ability class and I was wondering if you had different resources for this level of students? Thanks any help is appreciated.

    1. philipthiel Post author

      Hi there, Debra. Sadly no – I generated this material with a particular group of students and haven’t revisited the material since. Hopefully at least some of these sources can be analysed at a range of depths/levels? Let me know how you go.

  8. tmfrancis

    Hi Phillip, I am teaching this unit for the first time next term for Year 10 History and was wondering if it was possible for you to also email me your lesson plans/additional resources? It would be greatly appreciated!

      1. Pauline Hansford

        I am about to teach this unit for the first time and would appreciate any lesson plans or additional resources. Many thanks.

    1. philipthiel Post author

      Hi there, Sonya. I tried emailing some additional resources to your twitter.com email address but the message bounced. Could you get in touch (maybe via Twitter @philipthiel) so that I can forward you the requested material? Thanks!

  9. Daniel

    Hi Philip, I came across this unit in a google search and am very impressed with the depth of analysis for year 10 students. I wanted to ask if you have any lesson plans you could share with me especially about the comparison between the civil rights movement in the US with that of Australia during the 1960s?

  10. Toby Miles

    Philip – this looks fantastic. I have a (mostly) low ability year 10 history class in regional Australia and am in a bit of a pickle. I was wondering if I too could have some lesson plans for this unit? You are like some sort of historical teacher godsend.

  11. Elaine Horton

    Hi Philip, Your Unit Plan is brilliant and wonderfully informative!!! I’m teaching this unit on my placement and was wondering if you would be so kind as to forward me some lesson plans. I’m looking forward to teaching Rights and Freedoms, so anything you could send would be very appreciated.
    Best Wishes Elaine.

  12. Emily

    Hi Phillip,
    Thank you so much for sharing this unit plan – it is exactly what I need before I start my Year 10 History teaching placement! I didn’t do this topic at school therefore I felt a bit lost as to where I should start on my upcoming rounds.
    Would you possibly be able to send me the lesson plans you mentioned? That would really be amazing.
    Thanks so much again, Emily.

  13. Emily Haegi

    Hi Phillip,
    I have inherited this unit as a contract teacher, but have been instructed to read the book and answer the questions. I would LOVE, at this late stage, if you could send me the lesson plans. I am sure the students would appreciate it too!
    Emily (a different one)

  14. Nate Fallen

    Hi Philip,

    What a great unit you have put together! I, similar to Elaine and Emily, am about to teach this unit on my first placement, which is very exciting and having read your post, now even more so! I was wondering if you would be so kind as to send me any further resources/lesson plans you had. I would greatly appreciate it to give me a starting point with some more ideas.

    Kind Regards,

  15. Lindy Whale

    HI Phillip- looks like some great ideas. Do you have the actual unit written? That and any other resources greatly appreciated
    Cheers, Lindy

  16. Kerri Drage

    Hi Philip,
    Wow, what an amazing site!! Like most of the comments left, I am trying to put this unit together for the first time and your planning sounds amazing. Is there any possibility of getting any further resources or lesson plans sent to me? I love that you have used a jigsaw, I always get scared off from them and would love to see how you structured it and the depth of the resources used?
    Thank you in advance!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s