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Teaching MLK in One Day

By Brian Smith on January 13, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

Teaching younger students is exciting. Everything that I introduce them to is new to at least a few of them. Exposing my students to Martin Luther King, Jr. is always a great day. Here are some wonderful books and easy activities that I use to make Dr. King memorable for my students. I do all of these in one day, but you can spread it out over several days if that fits better into your schedule. 






The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

People Colors CrayonsA great book to just talk about how there isn’t one skin color or even two or five different skin colors but a multitude of skin tones.  We compare the skin colors in my class and it always renews my hope in the future of humanity when the students realize that they are all different shades. I used to read this book at the beginning of the year, but I found that by reading it when I teach Martin Luther King, this big idea of equality sinks in more because it's later in the year and they are all friends now. This is also when I introduce my packs of People Colors Crayons and have all of my students pick the one that most matches their skin tone. These crayons are a great addition to any classroom.

Common Core Standard ELA - Literacy RL.K.10 — Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.


We March by Shane W. Evans

This is the newest book in my collection and I love it. Simple text and beautiful illustrations give my class lots to talk about. It also gives me a chance to expand on the story of racial equality.

Common Core Standard ELA - Literacy RL.K.7 — With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts).


Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

This is the first book that I read that really discusses Dr. King and his mission. I love that the first two books build the background knowledge that really lets my kids understand what this book is truly talking about. Because this book introduces “big” words, my class always has the best conversations about big terms like justice, equality, and segegation after we finish the story.

Common Core Standard ELA - Literacy RI.K.8 With prompting and support, identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.


My First Biography Martin Luther King, Jr. by Marion Dane Bauer

I love this book because it’s a natural way to bring the word biography to my students. This book starts out by connecting the man to the holiday which can be important to younger students. This is the last book that we read because I love how it illustrates the injustices that we’ve talk about. At this point the students know the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and so following this final book is the best time for them to retell the story and add the details that the illustrations show.

Common Core Standard ELA - Literacy RL.K.2 — With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.

The Colors of Us CoverWe March CoverMartin's Big Words CoverMy First Biography Martin Luther King, Jr. Cover












Comparing Eggs Activity

Comparing Eggs DiagramSeeing this activity years ago, I immediately incorporated it into my lessons. I use this activity right after We March. I get a half dozen brown eggs and half dozen white eggs. I divide the class into six groups and then we remind ourselves of how everyone is a different shade and why all those people marched. Each group gets a white egg and a brown egg on a plate and as a class we Venn Diagram the two eggs as the students explore the eggs without breaking them. The only thing that isn’t in the middle is the color of the egg’s shell. I then take all the eggs up and crack them onto the plate so the class can see how the eggs are the same inside. We then revisit our Venn Diagram to see if we need to change or add anything.

Water Fountain Activity

Every year, in my weekly newsletter I tell my parents that their child will come home and tell them that there was a time when all people were not allowed to drink out of the same water fountain. This is the idea that sticks with every child. I always hope that other ideas stick as well, but I know that every child walks away remembering this. This activity is done at different points during the day. I have a water fountain in my classroom (for better or worse) and each time my class leaves the classroom for any reason, I put a sign above it saying, “Girls Only” or “Kids wearing Tennis Shoes Only.” This really bothers both sets of kids as they struggle with either why they can’t drink or how they can get their friends a drink of water too.

"I Have a Dream" Speech

After reading My First Biography I pull the kids to the Dance Floor (what we call our carpet) and I dim the lights and we listen. I play a CD of Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" speech. The first time I tried this I didn’t have high hopes about their attention spans, but they were all captivated and it has been that way every year. There doesn’t even need to be a visual because Dr. King’s voice is so auditorily engaging. I only play the speech for about four minutes and everyone is riveted. It’s a great way to end a full day of learning as we talk about what a difference this one man made.

I can’t wait to see you next week.


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Comments (10)

Love the lessons and the books you chose! What CD did you use to play the speech?

Thank you SO MUCH for the egg and water fountain activity. WE usually learn the song "We shall Overcome," and sometimes I act out scenes on a bus, with me as the driver-"You, sit in the back " (Again, with tennis shoes, or dark hair, or girls vs. boys, -same concept as the water fountain activity.

Hi Cathy!
I just saw somewhere today about someone using the song My Own Two Hands (it's by Jack Johnson on the Curious George Soundtrack) and I thought about having my class learn that next week but We Shall Overcome is great! I also love the idea about acting out the scenes on the bus. When I did the water fountain activity this year the first rule was no boys and I had three boys who actually cried that they couldn't drink from the fountain. Anytime we can make things personal it sticks with them so much longer.
Thank you for sharing!

I showed the class a youtube video of Martin Luther King Jr's We Shall Overcome speech. It has still photos that go along with it. I was able to ahow the children the amount of people who were following the movement and what a protest looked like.

I love the egg activity. What a great way to see that it is what is inside that really counts and we're all the same.

Hi Susan
I feel in love with that activity the minute I saw it on Pinterest. Between the eggs and the sign on the water fountain it really gets my 5 & 6 year olds thinking and talking about how unjust it was "back then".

Love your ideas! I always do interactive activities with my kinders to teach the concept of racial equality and I think these will add a little more insight. Thank you for sharing!

Thanks for reading and I hope your class has a great MLK Day!

Love these activites. Can't wait to use these in my classroom all in a day :)

Thanks for reading. I hope your class enjoys their day!

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