A Lesson Plan for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

By Annie Thornton 01.10.2017 blog

Help your students understand Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy with Channel One News videos and corresponding instructional resources. We’ve created a four-day lesson plan featuring a selection of news videos that are usually viewable to subscribers only. We’ve also included an interactive timeline highlighting key events in the civil rights movement and the pivotal role Dr. King played in our nation’s history.

Day 1

Warm-up activity:

Watch our news video about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


MLK Day Video Transcript

Check for Understanding:

Distribute the video transcript and ask students to answer the following questions: 

  • What are Jim Crow Laws?
  • What was the Civil Rights Act and when was it passed?
  • What was the Voters Rights Act?
  • How and when did MLK Day become a national holiday?

Share student responses. 

Whole-Class Instruction: Click through the interactive timeline depicting key moments in Dr. King’s life.

Partners: Students work with a partner to classify the timeline events into three categories: Academic Achievements and Awards, Key Moments in the Civil Rights Movement and Personal Life. Have students create a three-column graphic organizer.

Ask partners to discuss the significance of each event. Discussion should include: Why was this event important in Dr. King’s life and work? How did it affect future events in his life? What impact, if any, did it have on our nation? Then, students select the one event from each column that they feel is most important in Dr. King’s life and work, to share with class.

Discuss results with class.

Flipped classroom: For homework, students watch Rosa Parks Anniversary (Montgomery Bus Boycott). Be sure to distribute the video transcript to each student so they can read along while watching the video.

Answer the following questions to check for understanding:

  • Explain the circumstances surrounding Rosa Parks’ arrest.
  • What was Dr. King’s role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott?
  • What sacrifices did protesters make in participating in the boycott?
  • Why do you think the bus boycott was an effective tool of protest?

Day 2

Warm-up: Share students’ Check for Understanding responses to assess student comprehension.

Turn and Talk: Rosa Parks once said, “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” How was Rosa Parks a role model for others during the civil rights movement? What lessons can we learn from her today? Use specific examples from the script to explain your reasoning.

Watch: Friendship Nine, a Channel One News video about the sit-in movement.

Be sure to distribute the video transcript to each student so they can read along while watching the video.

Check for Understanding:

  • Explain the sit-in strategy used during the civil rights movement.
  • How long did the members of the Friendship Nine spend in jail?
  • Why did they choose to serve jail time?

Turn and talk: Turn to a partner and discuss: In what way will the judge’s decision change the lives of the men in the Friendship Nine? How does this decision help to “right” history?

Argumentative Writing: Imagine that you are the attorney representing the Friendship Nine today. Write an opening argument that outlines the crime they were charged with in 1961. Then, explain why that conviction should be overturned today. Use specific information from the video script to support your argument.

Day 3

Watch: Bloody Sunday Anniversary, a Channel One News video about the first march from Selma to Montgomery.

Check for Understanding:

  • Why was the march from Selma to Montgomery organized?
  • What was Dr. King’s role in the march?
  • Explain the events of Bloody Sunday.

Think-Pair-Share: What did President Obama mean when he said that “we honor those who walked so we could run”? To whom was he referring? Explain the “walk” and the “run” in his statement.

Explanatory Writing: What challenges did African-Americans face as they attempted to register to vote? Use specific information from the video script to support your response.

Extend: Explain to students that an Oscar-winning movie depicting Dr. King and the momentous march from Selma to Montgomery was made in 2015.

Watch a brief Channel One News video that discusses the movie and explains how the Selma to Montgomery March helped the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Based on the information they’ve learned and this video, would they see the movie Selma? Why or why not?

Day 4

Culminating Projects

Students self-select one of the following three projects:

1. Day of Service

Watch this video: MLK Day Legacy of Service — 25th Anniversary, from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Check for understanding:

  • According to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what makes a person “great”?
  • How and why did Martin Luther King Day become known as a Day of Service?
  • Why is a national day of service a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Take action: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Work with a partner, a small group or a family member to identify a specific need in your community. How can you provide a service to help?

Suggestions include:

  • hunger and homelessness
  • environment and beautification
  • clothing and necessities
  • children and education
  • senior services
  • charitable organizations
  • making music: http://www.musicmlk.org/#musicmlk

Work with your partner or group to write a paragraph explaining the need you’ve identified in your community. Why would you like to volunteer your time for this cause? How do you plan to help? Devise a plan outlining your idea. Then, prepare to “be great”! Document your day of service through photographs, and then submit a one-page description explaining your experience. Use details from the video to support your response. 

2. Presentation

Dr. King was a master orator. Watch an excerpt from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Then, read the complete text.

Conduct additional research to answer the following:

  • Where was this speech delivered?
  • To whom was this speech delivered?
  • Why was this speech delivered? What was its purpose?

Analyze content: In your own words, summarize the content of the speech. What are the main points Dr. King makes?

Evaluate: Describe the tone Dr. King uses in his delivery. What technique(s) does he use to effectively connect with his audience?

Present: Select a 2-3 minute segment to present aloud to class. Distribute a copy of the highlighted text to accompany your presentation. Be sure to explain the background of the speech and provide context for the segment you’ll be presenting. 

3. Close reading of a text

Read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

While you read, you may follow along and listen.

Conduct additional research to answer the following: Where and when was this letter originally published? Who was letter written to? Why was it written? Why was Dr. King in prison?

Summarize: In your own words, summarize the points Dr. King makes about nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, “white moderates” and just vs. unjust laws. How does the tone change throughout the letter? Cite several examples that support your recognized tones.

Write: Imagine you were living in the 1960s. Write a letter to your local newspaper arguing for the end of segregation. Use Dr. King’s letter and the information you’ve learned about him to support your argument.

Wrap-Up/Final Reflection

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a phenomenal organizer of peaceful, effective protests in the fight for civil rights and equality. If he were alive today, what specific issue do you think he would be planning such an event for? Name the issue and describe the type of protest he would organize. What would he ask people to do?











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  1. Ashton

    I wish i was thier to hear his speech

    • zane.moss

      me too

  2. Chris

    Martin Luther King is a hero.

  3. latessa

    martain is one of the best hero’s in the united states because he showed it doesnt matter whats the color of your skin it just matters what your true character is he had a dream where a civilization can combine with people with all types of skin colors and if it wasn’t for him i probably wouldn’t be able to hang out with any of my friends today or any other day

  4. estebean

    martin luther king is not a talker he is a fighter and he was best of best and he never got to suceed that during

  5. Da'Vondria

    I think that was the best speech i heard

  6. Mariame

    I think it was a great lesson for people bc it teaches kids not to judge people by their skin color

  7. Armando Estrada

    I wish he was still alive

    • tristen

      i think that he was great because he started the american civil rights movements

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