Martin Luther King, Jr. Activities: Teaching Perspective and Main Idea
By Mary Montero
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While I firmly believe that Black History should be taught all year long, January is the perfect time to embed some of this learning with crucial reading skills. With Martin Luther King. Jr. Day coming up, you may be looking for ways to educate your students with Martin Luther King, Jr. activities. I am by no means an expert at all, but this is the approach I took last year with my own girls while homeschooling, and it is well-suited to the classroom as well. I’ve committed to educating myself, my family, and my students on both historical events and current events related to social injustices, and this was a weeklong unit we did as part of that, but you can do this unit ANY time of year to teach perspective or to teach about Martin Luther King, Jr.
For this unit, I focus on the skills of perspective and main idea. I really wanted students to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr while also critically examining the sources from which we were learning the information. So not only did we pull main ideas and details, we considered how the perspective from which each book or video was told impacted the information given. This was. HUGELY eye-opening!
During the unit, we watch three videos, read six picture books, and analyzed two primary sources. I made booklets for students to hold their learning all week, as well as a book/source list that we use throughout our unit. Both of those are free here. For each source, students take notes in their booklets about the perspective from which it is told as well as the main idea, along with recording three facts from each source. The source list is an editable PowerPoint file so that you can modify it to include the resources that are most appropriate for your own classroom. You can see all of the books we used for our Martin Luther King, Jr. activities here (Amazon affiliate links). Each one has been chosen specifically because it is written from a different perspective but gives a ton of information.
I think starting with children’s experiences and perspectives related to the social injustices they faced and their roles in the Civil Rights Movement makes it most impactful for students as we move through the week. With that in mind, we began with the Kid President video, Let the Children March, A Sweet Smell of Roses, and the Ruby Bridges video (affiliate links). We identified the main idea of each, pulled out key information they learned, and discussed the important perspectives each one gave.
After that group of perspective books, I shared a brief explanation of A Letter from a Birmingham Jail for context. Then, we read four excerpts from it that I felt were understandable and appropriate. This text is easily accessed online for you to preview and determine whether or not it’s a good fit for your classroom. I personally chose several excerpts that were the best fit for my students. I would recommend this for grades 4+.
We followed this with a video of the I Have A Dream speech.
I hope this gives you a place to start studying Martin Luther King, Jr. with your students. If you’re looking for more ideas, I highly recommend following and consuming the content from these accounts that offer important perspectives. By reading and watching their content, I have learned so much and challenged/changed a lot of my thinking. I encourage you to follow them, but please respect their spaces!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.