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Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Classroom

Janelle Cox

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Classroom

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a true American hero.

He worked tirelessly to make sure people of all races were treated fairly and with respect. Because he worked so hard for freedom, we honor him every year on the Monday following his brithday. Use the following activities to teach students about this historic American figure. (Grades 3-5)

The Power of Words

Explore the power of words and how they can inspire people or even change the world. To get started with this activity, introduce Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the students by reading his biography and sharing a few of his quotes. Explain that words have power and they can inspire people as well as infuriate them. Moderate a discussion about the different types of words (the good and the bad) that can change the world. Brainstorm words together such as love, peace, war, family, civil rights, etc. Ask students, "What words would motivate you to make the world a better place?" "What are some ways these words can help others in your community?" Discuss these ideas, and then have a class vote where students choose one of the ways to help their community. Examples: Volunteer at a nursing home or shelter; donate food, clothes or books.

The "I Have a Dream" Speech

To elaborate on the power of words activity, read King's "I Have a Dream" speech to the students. Discuss how the words in that speech changed the world. Ask students to think about what their dream is for the world. Ideas may include curing hunger, ending poverty, or ending war. Then discuss what their dream is for their own community, and their family. Encourage students to think more deeply and steer away from superficial dreams like "My dream for my community is to have fewer days of school," or "My dream for my family is to have a new toy every day." Ask students to brainstorm what would make their communities and homes better places to live in. Have students fill in the "I Have a Dream Worksheet" with their ideas.

Create a Timeline of MLK's Life

Read the book, A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr., by David Adler to the students. Tell students to pay close attention while you are reading, because afterwards they will be put into groups to create a timeline of King's life. At certain times while reading the book, stop and point out the key moments in King's life. Scan and print out the pages of the book and give a set to each group. Then, have students create a timeline of the important events in his life with the printed pages. After the groups have accurately assembled the timeline, join together as a class and discuss what they have learned. Call groups up to the front board one at a time to re-create the timeline and check their work. 

Books to Read:

Use the following books to enhance and compliment the above activities.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, by Jean Marzollo

Martin Luther King, Jr., by Jacqueline Woodson

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Biography for Young Children, by Carol Hilgartner Schlank and Barbara Metzger

Let's Dream Martin Luther King, Jr.!, by Peter and Connie Roop

I am Martin Luther King Jr., by Grace Norwich


Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted peace, freedom and for everyone to live in a place where they were not discriminated. The activities above show students the power that words have, and how it feels to be discriminated against. 

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