Activities for Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With Upper Elementary Students

Monday, January 12, 2015

I took this photo over the Christmas break during a road trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas.  When I saw it, I just had to stop because I knew we would be learning about MLK Jr. in January.  I love sharing school-related photos taken during road trips.  I took lots of pictures of sedimentary rock layers, too.  But that's for a different post!  --The Pensive Sloth
Monday, January 19th will be Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Many 4th, 5th, and 6th graders can tell you a little bit about MLK, but as upper elementary teachers we want them to go deeper than that.  Here's what a few of the Lesson Deli teachers are doing in the classroom to commemorate this civil rights hero. 
  • The Pensive Sloth--I think it is important that students know how far we have come in our country, and that a large part of that is due to the efforts of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We do a variety of things in the classroom during the week of January 19th. 
    • I like to start by asking students if it is ever OK to disobey a law before we begin discussing topics like civil disobedience and nonviolent protest.  This is a great discussion starter! 
    • We then make a foldable to tell about life before and during the Civil War of the 1860s, from the 1860s to 1960s, after the 1960s, PLUS I have students tell about what life is like today! 

    • For lengthier topics, like the Little Rock Nine and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, students work in partners to prepare a short report to present to the class.  As reports are presented, students summarize each topic on a portable Civil Rights Movement folding word wall.  

    • Finally, I like to end by having students write about what Dr. King would think now.  What would he be proud of?  What would he think needs work? 
  • TheRoomMom, has her students write simile poems about MLK Jr. after learning about him.  First, using a group of words related to MLK, students order the words from most important to least important based on their opinions.  Students then choose the 3 words they value as most important and write a simile using each word.  The similes can be combined into a poem and published on a paint strip for fun!  You can find the free resources for this activity HERE


  • Caitlin also plans to try something new this year--a choral reading with parts of the "I Have a Dream" speech.  What a powerful, simple idea!  Make several copies of the speech and do a dramatic reading in class.  Then, show the speech on YouTube.   
  • JB Creations says, "I like to embrace Dr. King's belief and dream to include everyone! On MLK day, I hand out 3 different scripts for a reader's theater on the life and time of this great leader. The scripts are leveled with a modified, regular, and enriched version to ensure everyone has a chance to participate at his/her own reading level. Students will learn about Martin Luther King Jr's childhood & the beginning of his dreams, his work, dedication, & accomplishments as a civil rights activist, and his lasting influence on people today!"  You can find the scripts JB uses on Teachers Pay Teachers

  • Erin Beers also uses reader's theater to help students learn about MLK Jr.  Students use the script to complete a variety of activities including context clue word work, journal writing, and figurative language practice.  You can find the resource here.  She offers lots of opportunities to address CCSS while studying MLK Jr. 

Time to teach!

--The Pensive Sloth

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