Teacher Hub: 5 Lessons for MLK Observance

As we approach the observance of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., educators must create plans that challenge all students’ current thinking with the goal of diversity and learning from history. This is a challenge. Simply popping in a movie for students to view and reflect on will not engage students. Unfortunately, mid-terms, state assessments, and marking period grades put teachers behind the planning 8 ball. Check out our lesson starters and resources to help you prepare for an engaging and meaningful MLK lesson.

  1. Social Justice
    Martin Luther King was essentially a founder of the social justice movement. First, review with the students what social justices Martin Luther King was fighting for. Then, task students with researching social justice. What does it look like today? Who is fighting for it? What groups are disenfranchised? Use the tech tools we suggested to engage students.
  2. Identify Bias
    Everyone is biased.  The importance of a multicultural classroom, school, and society is greater than ever. Assign students to self-reflect on their own bias in a private journal entry. Have them seal it in an envelope and hand it in to the teacher – do not read it! Next, have students separate into groups to discuss how it made them feel (Did they feel vulnerable? Did they feel wrong?). Following the group discussions, and sharing out, break into a class-wide discussion. The final question of the lesson should center around the importance of identifying our own bias. Additionally – what would Martin Luther King suggest we do regarding these biases?
  3. “I Have a Dream”
    First, print out Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech and play the audio while students read along. Stop the audio for discussion at any parts you feel most relevant or may need clarification for reading comprehension. Upon completion of the audio, ask students to reflect on the speech with a partner. Next, ask them questions such as –  “What was the intention of this speech?” “Did Martin Luther King anticipate this speech becoming so reknown?” “Would this speech resonate with today’s society?” While circulating the room, prepare students to share out with the entire class. Following the discussion, assign students to write their own “modern” I Have a Dream speeches in pairs. Students can deliver the speech with tools like Paper Slide or simply upload it using their own mobile device!
  4. Virtual Timeline
    Show students a model timeline of the civil rights movement from the beginning to the present. Discuss this importance of timelines and how timelines allow us to put lessons from history into perspective. Next, provide students with resources regarding Martin Luther King for online research. This is a good place to start. Students will create their own individual timelines outlining Martin Luther King’s life. Lastly, students must identify what they believe are the most significant time periods in his life and use images and text to explain why.
  5. Write a Letter
    Especially for students in elementary school, this may be their first introduction to Martin Luther King Day. First, read the I Have a Dream speech to the students or have them listen to it while reading the speech. After the speech, summarize the influence Martin Luther King had on today’s society. Finally, students will write a thank you letter to Martin Luther King. Show a model letter (particularly for younger students), and then assign them a letter of a length you feel appropriate.


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