With the MLK holiday approaching, teachers are often searching for activities that they can use in the classroom to reinforce the ideals and dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr. While the holiday may be appreciated as a three-day weekend or an extra ski day, the purpose of recognizing Dr. King is to highlight his lifelong commitment to social justice and his adoption of peaceful protests and passivism to make a difference.
ThinkFives offers these activities as just some examples that teachers could consider as they plan to introduce Dr. King’s ideas to a new generation of students.
Appreciate Martin Luther King as Hero
MLK Day provides a great opportunity to teach about heroes. The ReadWriteThink organization created lessons that explore ways to help students identify with Dr. King—an American hero who lived and died long before they were even born—through reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities that provide a glimpse into Dr. King’s life.
Students record what they know about Dr. King on a chart. They then read aloud a picture book like My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers and add information to the wall. They take a virtual tour of Dr. King’s birth home and compare it to their own homes. Throughout the week, they explore websites and other sources of information about Dr. King, record new information on the KWL chart, and keep a journal of their own thoughts and ideas.
As a culminating activity, they plan a birthday party for Dr. King to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Also, a great cartoon video introducing MLK to younger students can be found at: https://youtu.be/ALQeX7IFBcg
Create a Dream Cloud
Another great activity for younger students uses arts and crafts to illustrate the lessons learned.
For elementary students, teachers can have students draw I Have a Dream Clouds. Students are given a piece of paper to brainstorm a list of things that they wish to have in the world. It can be a dream for the future, for their family, for their friends, or even personal possessions.
Students can be creative in both how they draw their clouds and how they decide what to dream. They can also dream of solving world problems as a way to help many people.
This activity can be adopted for students as young as kindergarten if the teacher reads stories to class and asks the students to draw something that will make the world better.
Identify Ways to Make a Difference Today
Similar to the Dream Cloud, teachers can show students how to take on what matters to them and make a difference.
There were many other activists who worked with Dr. King to accomplish his goals. Students can research those other pioneers and discuss how they made a difference.
One question that Dr.King often asked was, “What are you doing for others?”
Dr. King taught the importance of serving others. In his honor, many communities celebrate MLK Day with a day of service. Teachers can make the day particularly meaningful for their classes by creating a service project. Students of all ages can develop their own service project for their school or community. If you need ideas or lesson plans, check out the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Dr. King dreamed of a world more tolerant than the one he lived in. Teachers can use this opportunity to introduce SEL lessons in conjunction with MLK activities. There are many online lessons that are perfect for celebrating King’s life and are designed to teach students about tolerance.
This is a great time to read students stories on stereotyping, appreciating differences, recognizing how words can hurt (or heal), bullying and more. Students can identify behaviors they see in themselves or the school and create a simple promise or plan to avoid these behaviors.
These activities can be highlighted in drawings, discussions – or for older students – reflections on their behavior and the identification of areas for improvement.
Organize a Modern-Day Peaceful Protest
We have all heard the phrase: Think Global, Act Local.
Teachers can use MLK’s birthday to identify an action they can take in their local school community highlighting a problem and raising awareness. This could include an extension of a national movement happening at the time or something very specific to the local school community.
For younger students this might mean a discussion on something that they think isn’t right in the school or with their friends. They can then draw a picture or talk about it with the teacher.
For elementary school students this may include a group discussion on a key event while breaking students into small groups to discuss actions that can be taken at the school to increase awareness.
Middle school students might be able to take this further and organize a peaceful protest at lunch, recess or after school to raise awareness throughout the school.
What MLK Activities do you recommend to other teachers?