Martin Luther King, Jr. Ideas

We are delving deep into Martin Luther King, Jr's dream this week. This is a hard unit for me, partly because its hard to explain prejudice and hate to my littles and also because as a white woman I know that I can't truly understand what it's like to face discrimination and injustice. Even still, I tackle this unit with enthusiasm because it is so thought provoking for my students.

We read books like Martin's Big Words and A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. and you can just see how alien it is to my kinders to think that people were treated differently based on the color of their skin. 

One of my favorite ways to introduce the topic is to gather everyone at carpet and give each child a single crayon and the same color construction paper. I ask them to draw me a beautiful picture and then begin reading aloud. I don't get even a paragraph in before the children are telling me that the white isn't showing on the white paper or they can't see the black crayon on the black paper. I act confused that it isn't working and ask what we can do. 

When someone suggests switching crayons I act shocked "What?! We can't mix colors! White has to stay with white! Red has to stay with red!" The children eventually wear me down and convince me that they can make a beautiful picture if they just have different colors of paper and crayon. I reluctantly give in and they then amaze me with beautiful, multi-colored drawings! 


We talk about Love and Peace all week long. I introduce quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as other sources. I want to show my kinders that just because Dr. King died, his dream didn't die with him, and there are still people working to make sure his dream comes true.

We make fingerprint art with each child having a different color paint:


This is to show them how beautiful it can be when we mix all of our talents together and create rather than destroy. 

We talk about Ben Harper's song "With My Own Two Hands". This year I had kiddos volunteer for speaking parts and we're going to perform the song as a poem at our Martin Luther King, Jr. Assembly on Friday. We create this visual of the poem and then write about how we will change the world:



Here's Jack Johnson's version of the song along with student art - I'm not sure what grade this is, but its a wonderful idea!

I made an easy emergent reader about Dr. King's dream:
I thought I had enough blue sentence strips for the whole story, but I ran out. It bothered me to use different color sentence strips, and then I realized that it was perfect for what we were talking about! We read the story several times as a class and in small group lessons, looking for sight words and talking about the message, then my students color their own versions to take home and share with their families:

We also read The Crayon Box That Talked, (not to be confused with The Day The Crayons Quit!) and make our own crayons to be displayed in a posterboard crayon box that I make. This year I flipped over a crayon to check the name and found this note to Dr. King instead:

It says "I love you Martin Luther King." in her invented spelling! My heart was mush ~ I absolutely love my kinders! They have such big hearts!!

This is what the crayons and box look like put together. Some years I have my students draw self-portraits on the tips, or I add a picture of them. This year we have so much going on that I stuck to just colorful crayons! 

By the way, some people have been recommending the BrainPop video about Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to caution you that they do show a cartoon image of Dr. King lying dead on the ground with a bloody towel over his face. Instead, I would show Kid President's video:

My students enjoyed this one, even if it was a bit above their heads. I just paused the video and talked with them throughout to help scaffold their understanding.

If you want to grab the templates for these activities, plus the emergent reader, they're available in my Peace & Love pack on TPT:


What's your favorite MLK lesson or activity? Please rustle up a comment and share!

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