Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Classroom January 12 2010

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to travel to Memphis, Tennessee. While there, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum, which is housed in the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. King's assassination. It is a powerful place, presenting permanent and temporary exhibits about the Civil Rights Movement in general, and Dr. King specifically.

Because of my experiences there, I feel a personal commitment to not only honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but to help spread his message of freedom for all people with students each January. The third Monday in January - which, this year, is January 18th - is our nation's holiday set aside to honor Dr. King, so we need to celebrate with our kids a little early! Use these classroom activities and resources to help your kids understand and honor the work of Dr. King.


It's difficult to know just how much kids understand about the time in which Dr. Martin Luther King lived. Take some time to find out using a KWL chart. Then before and after you read, explore the meanings of these words together. The Predict, Define, and Sketch chart may help! A preliminary list of words could include:

  • protest
  • freedom
  • fair
  • character
  • marches
  • slaves
  • prejudice

Read Aloud Books

Reading aloud to your class is a great way to inform and open opportunities for discussion. There's a variety of nonfiction resources to help teach kids of all ages about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and why we have a day set aside in his honor. A few of the offerings include:

Biography of Martin Luther King, Rookie Biographies (a great resource for first and second graders on up!)
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine
My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold
Martin Luther King by Rosemary L. Bray
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr by David A. Adler

As you read, it might be a good idea to incorporate this Fact-Question-Response Chart to help your students process the information.

"Eggs"actly The Same?

This is a simple activity, but a powerful object lesson.

One raw egg per student (a variety of brown and white eggs work best)
One clear cup or jar per student
Magnifying glasses (optional)
Paper and pencil
A container with a lid

1. These are raw eggs. Take a few important minutes to set the ground rules. NO PLAYING WITH THE EGGS. If you break your egg, we will be sad, but you'll not receive another one.

2. Hand out a clear cup or jar and one egg to each student.

3. Have your students observe their eggs, using a magnifying glass if possible. What kinds of details do they notice? These could include variances in color and shape, bumps, spots, and ripples.

4. Have students sketch a picture of the outside of their eggs, taking note of these observations.

5. Together, have students carefully break the eggs into their clear cups or jars. What do they notice about the inside of the eggs?

6. Have them write down their observations of the insides versus the outsides of their eggs.

Collect the egg insides in your container and make sure the lid is tightly closed. Refrigerate until you take them home and have scrambled eggs for dinner!

I Have A Dream

We could not talk about Dr. Martin Luther King with out mentioning his "I Have a Dream" speech. Audio and transcription of the speech are easy to find. Copy the speech for your students and read it together, incorporating this activity.

Use a marker to draw a template of a cloud on a sheet of white paper, then photocopy. Hand out one to each of your students. If you need to, you can include the words, "I have a dream..." along the top.

Have students complete their clouds, discussing what Dr. King might say about our current society - what do your kids think needs to be changed? Have them fill in their clouds. If you want, you can have students decorate their clouds along the outside with cotton balls (this would be fun for younger kids).

Post the dreams of your kids on a bulletin board for everyone to see. They will inspire your school community, and help honor Dr. Marting Luther King, Jr. in the process!