Help Students Find Their Dreams With MLK Jr. Day Lesson Plans
The Classroom

Help Students Find Their Dreams With Martin Luther King Jr. Day Lesson Plans

Newsela Editorial
Jan 2, 2024

Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most important leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The United States as a whole started recognizing his impact and legacy in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday named in his honor into law. Each year on the third Monday in January, we remember his powerful words, actions, and the impact he left that keeps people fighting for civil rights today. We’ve curated text sets and resources to make it easier for you to create Martin Luther King Day lesson plans and to recognize this holiday in class with your students:

Meet MLK Jr. with Newsela Social Studies

Discover the background of historical figure Martin Luther King Jr., how he influenced some of today’s political leaders, and how the fight for civil rights continues with these text sets:

The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. inspired others to change the world. Help your students understand why we honor him every January by exploring his background and his accomplishments.

  • Watch an interactive video that explores Dr. King’s life and how his experiences pushed him to fight for justice and civil rights.

  • Learn more about Martin from the people who knew him personally, like singer and activist Harry Belafonte, as he recalls the events around the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

  • Learn how the King family tradition of fighting for civil rights lives on through King’s granddaughter Yolanda, and her push for youth involvement to end gun violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. and political leaders today

As a Black leader, Martin Luther King Jr. made an impression on others who came after him. Use this text set to explore how modern Black leaders influence society and how their legacies parallel his.

  • Learn about this historic campaign and term of President Barack Obama, the first Black president in United States history. 

  • Discover the life and careers of diplomats Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and how they impacted institutions like the United States military and the State Department.

  • Explore how Vice President Kamala Harris broke barriers with her historic election as the first woman, Black, and South Asian person to hold the position.

Explore civil rights books and speeches with Newsela ELA

Explore the fight for civil rights through fiction and informational texts with some of our curated text sets:

The power of words: Martin Luther King Jr. 

One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most memorable moments is his “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington in 1963. The words of this speech are still powerful and resonate with people today. Explore the impact words can have with this text set:

  • Read the text of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech and use scaffolds like annotations or a writing prompt to explore the themes discussed in the speech.

  • Read and discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written three months before the March on Washington. Have students compare and contrast the themes of the two documents.

  • Examine the program of events for the March on Washington, which included speakers from many races, faiths, and organizations. Encourage students to consider why people from different walks of life participated in this civil rights demonstration.

  • Make the lesson interactive by sharing premade Formative activities for both the “I Have a Dream” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” primary sources. 

Civil rights novel studies

Help students put themselves in the shoes of characters navigating civil rights issues with novel and book study collections like:

Explore MLK Jr.'s leadership with Newsela SEL

Use the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. to make a social-emotional learning connection with these curated resources:

Leadership reflections - Discovering qualities through Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. has become one of the most influential leaders of his time. Leaders in all historical periods share similar qualities that help them influence other people and make changes in the world. Use this social-emotional lesson to help students identify good leadership qualities with Martin Luther King Jr. as an example. Then, have them choose a modern leader and create a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast their qualities with his.

Support struggling readers in social studies

Do you have social studies students who are struggling to understand concepts and show what they know in the social studies classroom? Social studies might not be the problem. They may need extra reading support to boost their comprehension of history, current events, and civics topics. Read our blog post by Dr. Brian Furgione to learn how you can help them succeed in the social studies classroom and beyond.

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