Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr!

This past week I had the opportunity to have some serious conversations with my students regarding the history of African Americans in the United States. I teach third grade this year- I looped with my second graders from last year. What I appreciate most about looping is seeing their academic and social growth from last year up to this point. Last year we talked about Dr. King but I didn’t get “too deep” because my students just weren’t ready yet. This year, I am able to take things a step further because I’ve been working them all year on how to have “class discussions”.

One of my priorities is making sure that I teach my students how to effectively use their voice. Student voice has a home in my classroom. My students know that their thoughts, words, and ideas are valuable. Most importantly, they are encouraged to use their voice to express themselves. Not just to share their thoughts, but to also express confusion, anger, pain, enthusiasm, and interests. One way I encourage student voice is through our daily morning meetings. It is during this time we discuss the going ons in our class, current events, and our important life events. This past week during morning meeting we discussed Dr. King everyday. What my students walked away with was impressive. The more information they soaked up like a sponge, the deeper I would go! Seriously…by the end of the week they could tell you about the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws, a variety of peaceful protests… the list goes on.


It started with these two images:

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How amazing is it that not even 50 years ago, African Americans could not vote for a president in the United States of America. And here we see in this image, Dr. King’s granddaughter meeting our first African American President, President Barack Obama.  Dr. King says in his famous I Have a Dream Speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In 1965 when the Voting Rights act was signed into law- two years after this speech was given- Dr. King’s dream was just beginning to become a reality. 

I showed these images to my students and pointed out the young lady in the blue dress as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s granddaughter. I then asked why they thought this image was significant. I followed up with a brief overview of the Civil Rights Movement and what many Civil Rights Leaders fought for during this time. This was the perfect introduction for the book I read throughout the week:

DK Readers L4: Free At Last: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.


This book was perfect because it broke down Dr. King’s life and highlighted significant moments during the Civil Rights Movement. It opened the door for some great discussion and my students asked some really good questions. They made several connections to things they have heard in the past and watched on television and/or read in books. They were ecstatic to hear the book mention Selma, Alabama (text-to-media connection)! Last year I had my students complete a MLK “I Have a Dream” craftivity. This year I focused more on our discussions and shared several books and video clips with them.



These are three of my favorite books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his wife Coretta Scott King, and the Mother of the Montgomery Bus Boycott- Rosa Parks.


The titles of these books are: Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, and I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson








Here are the links to the video clips I shared with my students:

MLK on Brain Pop

MLK on National Geographic for Kids

And after I finished reading Free At Last, I showed MLK’s famous last speech in Memphis, Tennessee . Watch it below. 

The book  I Have a Dream comes with Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech on CD. After reading the book to my students, we listened to the CD. My students had a large piece of paper. While they listened they  were directed to write the words and/or phrases that stood out during the speech on half of their paper. On the other half, they had to draw what they saw in their head while listening to the speech. We discussed what they wrote and shared their images after listening to the speech. I wrote what they said they heard on a large piece of chart paper. I posted the chart in the classroom as an anchor chart. For homework they had to take their paper home and talk about what they wrote with an adult. The goal was to not only share what they know with their families, but to learn new information from a different perspective.

IMG_6207These are lessons that can be shared in your classroom year round, not just in preparation for MLK Day. I strongly suggest adding these books to your classroom library if you don’t have them already. To read a full review of the books posted above, click here.


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