Lesson plan

The Seattle Times’ Newspapers In Education program has prepared a variety of activities that look at Martin Luther King’s philosophy.


Martin Luther King Jr. had an amazing life that spanned over three decades. Within that time, King changed our world. Have students research his life and create a timeline of events that they think are significant.

Next, have students interview a family member, friend or neighbor who was alive during that same time period. Have students record his or her significant events on the same timeline they created for King

Then, have students identify four events of significance in their own lifetime. They will be adding two of them to a class timeline. As a class, create a timeline that includes at least two events from each student’s family history. Include the King events on your class timeline. You may want to highlight those so as to distinguish between his and others.

Discuss the following questions as a group:

  • What are the shared experiences of those interviewed?
  • What are some differences between the experiences of those interviewed – how could you categorize them? Race, class, gender, age, urban/rural, etc.
  • What voice is missing from this timeline? Why? What does it tell you about your school community and its diversity?
  • How have we changed? How have we not changed?
  • Has our nation grown?

Is King’s dream our reality?

One of King’s most famous speeches is “I Have a Dream.” In it, King describes his vision for the United States. Have students read this speech in groups.

Have each group identify five items that King visualizes for the U.S. Then, have students search through the Sunday newspaper for articles and ads that illustrate those five items. Do the articles/ads provide witness to the realization of King’s dream?

Discuss the findings as a group – be sure to challenge students’ assumptions using some of the headlines from the newspaper. After the discussion, have students write a 500-word opinion article that defends their own opinion on the issue.

Today’s leaders

Using King as a prototype, have students brainstorm a list of leadership traits and skills. Record these adjectives on the board or on a large piece of paper.

Have students, in groups of 3 or 4, identify the top five leadership traits a U.S. president should possess from your brainstorm list. Each group should record these traits on a large piece of paper and provide reasons the president needs them.

Next, have students peruse the Sunday newspaper looking for articles about the presidential candidates. They should read each article looking for the leadership traits of each candidate.

Have each group rate the leadership qualities of each candidate. They must come to a consensus on this rating. 1 = Very Poor, 2 = Poor, 3 = Average, 4 = Good and 5 = Excellent.

Each group should “endorse” a candidate and prepare a brief speech regarding the leadership traits of that candidate.

Learning from history

Have students look for additional articles in the newspaper that discuss King and his legacy. Then, have them summarize it using the 5W and H method (who, what, where, when, why important and how it relates to their lives).

MLK Speeches

Place students in groups of 3 or 4 and distribute one of King’s speeches to each group (each student should have his or her own copy).

Ask the students to read the speech silently and then discuss it with each other for about 15 minutes. Someone in the group should keep notes of the conversation for reporting back to the larger group.

Near the end of the class, have representatives from each group stand up to summarize the article and provide the larger group with highlights of their discussion.

As the students leave your room, have them write one thing they learned from this activity on a post-it. Collect them as they leave class. Review them and find out what your students learned from you today!

Study guide

As a companion to this Web site, the following study guide is intended to prompt further discussion about King’s life and legacy, and particularly about how the society has changed (or not changed) due to the civil rights movement. The Internet can be a powerful tool for learning. Educators and parents may want to use the following questions as a way of talking about these critical social issues, and of exploring this and other Web sites.

  1. Why was Martin Luther King Jr. attracted to the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi? Research Gandhi’s life and philosophy and discuss how the two men’s approaches and beliefs were similar, and how they might have disagreed.
  2. Julian Bond writes: “The civil rights movement, enjoying its widest national support at the Edmunds Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965, was actually preparing to self-destruct, its demands increasing and its public support diminishing.” In what way was it preparing to self-destruct? What happened with the civil rights movement in the next ten years after 1965, and why did its course change so dramatically?
  3. What examples of a movement similar to the civil rights movement exist today, either in America or elsewhere in the world? What are some of the strategies people are using to win those rights?
  4. What did King mean when he said, in 1965, “I’m much more than a civil rights leader”? See the discussion by Julian Bond, and try to imagine what King might have done in five years or in 10 years had he lived.
  5. What were the reasons people argued FOR and AGAINST creating the King holiday? Do you think it was a good idea? Why, or why not?
  6. Is the King holiday important mostly to African Americans? Why or why not?
  7. If King were to come to your school one day, and look around and listen, what would he say about the nature of race relations there now?

Civil rights quiz

1. What year was Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated?

1968: He was killed in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to support a strike by sanitation workers.

2. Where did Rosa Parks become famous?

On a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest Dec. 1 lead to a yearlong boycott aimed to desegregate the bus system.

3. Which president signed the first major civil rights act of this century?

Lyndon B. Johnson. He signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2 that year.

4. Which president signed the law creating the Martin Luther King holiday?

Ronald Reagan. It was in November 1983, more than 15 years after King was killed.

5. What was the name of King's first book?

Stride Toward Freedom. He was only 29 years old when it was published.

6. Where was the tactic of the sit-in protest first used?

At a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The 1960 protest was one of the key moments in the civil-rights movement.

7. Where did King deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech?

At the Lincoln Memorial. He addressed a quarter-million people who turned out for the 1963 March on Washington.

8. Who is the protagonist of the Charles Johnson novel, Dreamer?

A bodyguard in Chicago. In the novel, this man was picked because of his resemblance to King.

9. What foreign figure has King been compared to?

Mohandas Gandhi. King admired Gandhi greatly, and traveled to India in 1959.

10. What year was the Martin Luther King national holiday first observed?

1986. The first legislation for the holiday had been proposed almost 18 years earlier.

11. What black leader was killed five years before King's assassination?

Medgar Evers. The NAACP leader was murdered June 12, 1963.

12. Why was King arrested in 1956?

Driving too fast. (He was driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.) That same year, in the very early days of the civil-rights movement, his house was bombed.