When it comes to sharing about the life and impact of Martin Luther King Jr, we often default to the same lessons and narratives. We might talk about how there is a day to commemorate his legacy or his “I have a Dream Speech”, but there is more to MLK than that. Which is why I’m sharing activities for MLK day that go deeper into his impact.
The Impact of Martin Luther King Jr
Martin Luther King Jr. played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, which forever changed American society and history. By exploring the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., we can help students better understand issues related to race, discrimination, and social inequality.
Talking about race and discrimination can feel like a tricky topic, but they are opportunities for students to develop empathy – which is a component of what MLK hoped to accomplish.
Dr. King gave thousands of speeches during the course of his life, many of which provide powerful insights into leadership, activism, and the power of peaceful protest. If we only introduce students to one speech, “I Had a Dream”, they are missing out on so many other nuggets of wisdom!
Plus, Martin Luther King Jr isn’t speaking on events and issues in the world that are long gone – they still exist today. He can help students understand their civic responsibility and better understand the issues in our world today.
Let’s talk about some activities for MLK day that can help you dig deeper into Martin Luther King Jr’s impact.
Books for MLK Day
The following books can be used as a wonderful MLK day activity for students to learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the impact he had on our country.
“Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.” by Doreen Rappaport – The author uses quotes from some of Dr. King’s speeches to tell a story of his life and work in a simple way.
“Ain’t Gonna Let NOBODY Turn Me “Round” by Jacqueline Woodson – A memoir walking through her life from attending protests as a teenager to fighting for MLK to be a national holiday as an adult. The author wants to show life beyond the protests and what it takes to turn an idea into a law.
“The March on Washington: A Primary Source Exploration of the Pivotal Protest” by Heather Schwartz – Primary sources and photos from the point of view of those who led the March on Washington and from those who opposed them.
“Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop” by Alice Faye Duncan – A picture book of a nine-year-old girl who witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike after her father, who was a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.
“Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March” by Lynda Lowery – This memoir is from one of the youngest marchers in the voting rights march in 1965. She wants young readers to know what it means to fight nonviolently.
Resources of MLK Day
Life of Martin Luther King, Jr
This interactive MLK day activity has students go on an all-encompassing journey of the life of MLK. Students will go beyond his biographical information and “I Had a Dream” speech to explore the life and influence of Martin Luther King Jr.
The resource includes the life of MLK video notes, the life of MLK webquest, speech analysis activity, writing reflection, and more. By the end, students will have a better understanding of why MLK really was – and his lasting impact.
FREE Bulletin Board – MLK Quotes
Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr in your classroom with inspirational MLK quotes. This bulletin board template is free to anyone who signs up for my History Club resource library!
Websites to Explore MLK’s Life
Biography of MLK – This site provides the biography of Dr. King’s early life, education, and leadership. This is a great introduction to who he is before you dive into more complex topics of his impact and influence.
History of MLK Day – Learn background information on Dr. King’s history, the marches, and speeches that he was a part of. This is great for self-study as students explore the different speeches and events Martin Luther King Jr was involved in.
Significant MLK Speeches and Letters – This site breaks down his speeches into quotes and allows students to listen to the speeches and see his work. As an MLK day activity, I like to have students select a quote and write about what it means to them.
Videos for MLK Day
We talked about going beyond the “I Have a Dream” speech as a part of your activities for MLK day. I wanted to share a few of his speeches that always lead to great discussions in my classroom. You can break these speeches up over the course of the week or choose one as an MLK day activity.
“I Have a Dream” speech – This is the most famous speech by MLK where he touches on wanting civil and economic equality.
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech – The last speech given by MLK, mostly directed towards the Memphis Sanitation Strike. He talks about an ideal America where there is peace and equal rights for all.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” speech – After Martin Luther King Jr was arrested for nonviolent protest, he wrote this letter to encourage others to stand up against unjust laws.
“The Other America” speech – Dr. King talks about the racial and economic inequalities in America.
“Eulogy for the Martyred Children” speech – This eulogy given by MLK at the funeral of the four young girls killed in a church bombing.
Don’t feel pressured to use all these activities for MLK Day. Choose the ones you feel will be most beneficial for students or come back to them throughout the year. After all, Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy goes beyond one day!