Build On MLK’s Legacy With Your Students: Here Are Five Creative Ways

While teaching about the civil rights movement must not be limited to a single day or month of the year, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day may provide educators an opportunity to dive deeper into the life and legacy of the reverend and activist. With the federal observance coming up on Monday, Jan. 17, here are five creative ideas to use with your students:

  1. Integrate language arts and history with this BrainPOP lesson on identifying similes in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. By analyzing this specific aspect of the famous address, students can strengthen their literacy skills and deepen their understanding of Dr. King’s message. The lesson familiarizes students with different literary devices, has them listen for similes in an excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech, and culminates in the teacher leading a discussion of how Dr. King used speeches to advance civil rights.

  2. To highlight the fullness of his life, share images or stories of Dr. King in less-often-seen settings, such as laughing, in the company of his family, or eating. For more dos and don’ts on recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Day, check out this list from Learning for Justice, which is divided into three common educational settings: displays, curriculum, and discussions.

  3. Lead your students in “The Politics of Place-Naming,” an activity from our Resource Library inspired by the many streets named for Dr. King. The activity is designed to take about an hour and 40 minutes; educators may find it convenient to spread it across two sessions. In the first session, students read a handout on the geographic and social settings of streets named for Dr. King and respond to a set of discussion questions. In session two, students continue their exploration, this time using an interactive map to learn about the populations living near streets named for Dr. King. Note that the map has been updated since the activity was published and may no longer match the directions precisely. However, you should still be able to use it to complete the various steps.

  4. Take a virtual tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The museum is based at the Lorraine Motel, where Rev. King was assassinated in 1968 while on a visit to support striking sanitation workers.

  5. Direct students to conduct short research projects into the March on Washington. The “I Have a Dream” speech may be the best remembered part of the event, but the rally featured remarks and performances from dozens of others — Black leaders and white allies alike — focused on civil rights (“Freedom”) and economic rights (“Jobs”). This entry in our Resource Library offers several different directions for you and your students to take the activity, from exploring the role of other civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks to examining the grievances that led to the march.

For more resources on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, check out National Geographic Education’s Twitter or Facebook pages. Then, drop a reply letting us know how you and your students have approached learning about and discussing the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights movement. What tips or lessons would you share with other educators?

Featured image: Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the day of his “I Have a Dream” speech, talking with a volunteer security guard wearing a Gandhi cap, a symbol of nonviolent resistance to segregation. (James Blair)

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