8 — Giving voice to the voiceless
In this learning sequence the students respond to information on the Amnesty International Australia website. They analyse and evaluate the differences between advocacy and fact, and reflect on how linguistic and verbal symbolism can manipulate emotional response.
A key purpose of the website is to give voice to the voiceless.
The students will write a brief essay that investigates an area of injustice considered in the website and assess the effectiveness of Amnesty International’s protest strategy. They will formulate an essay topic, conduct some research and present their findings, and explore the recommendations for the future advocated on the website.
The essay question the students design will include the words protest, power and language as well as a direct link to the country they have chosen for investigation.
Activity 1: So what’s the problem?
In this initial activity the students gather information about a specific country in need of aid. List some places in the world you identify as troubled and invite the students to select a country. They then explore the interactive map site at the Mapping Worlds website. Here they are able to interactively visualise and revisualise the world according to a range of demographic, social, political and environmental factors.
On the home screen map the students should locate their chosen country. Navigating across the tabs – people, planet, business, politics, living – they are able to select from drop-down menus. These categories provide specific characteristics that animate on the site and reshape the world map according to that characteristic (for example, population size, school completion or water resources). There are also zoom and hover features on the website.
The students are to record notes to help answer the question: So what’s the problem? They should identify some areas of specific concern for their chosen country and start to form the question they will answer in their essay.
Activity 2: Investigating website features
The students now open Amnesty International Australia’s website and read through the site, paying particular attention to key features:
- the name, logo and mission statement
- the layout of the homepage
- site navigation features
- use of images and colour
- information about and references to their chosen country
- its narrative
- factual references.
In pairs, the students divide these elements and individually prepare comments on these features. They then report their findings to each other using the Question scaffold worksheet to guide discussion and deepen thinking as they work in these pairs. The students should also record examples of language features that are effective.
Activity 3: Group activity – analysing a website
Websites are sites of power and influence. They use language to shape opinion and action. Amnesty interrogates the relationship between public and personal power and calls on individuals to enact change. Public power is controlled by institutions (governments, religious institutions and so on), whereas personal power is controlled by individuals who change their local social reality.
As a group activity, allocate the students an aspect of website evaluation. Considering the written, visual and interactive elements in the site, they evaluate such aspects as:
- reliability: currency, use of stereotypes, data
- authority: purpose, source, organisation, mission
- authenticity: authors, credentials, skills, knowledge, inclusion of alternative views
- objectivity: issues of balance, sponsorship, distinguishing between advocacy and information, use of stereotypes.
The students are then rearranged to share their findings across the different aspects of website evaluation, focusing on these key questions:
- In what ways does this website give voice to the voiceless?
- How does it use language features and structures to protest against injustice?
- What insights does it offer on power and its effects on individuals?
Following this discussion, the students reflect on their topics, then finalise and submit their essay questions for approval. Decide on the verb to use in the question. The students might consider question starters such as:
- Describe the change ...
- Evaluate the decision ...
- Compare two approaches to highlight ...
- Contrast two approaches to highlight ...
- Show cause and effect ...
They are required to decide on three criteria for assessment for their question and draft their responses.
Activity 4: Writing the essays
The students write their essays and upload them and their criteria to a class wiki.
Model the way constructive criticism works by showing the students how to comment constructively on the wiki. Each student comments on two other responses and offers advice in terms of the criteria the writer decided for that essay.