It’s easy to find resources on the internet for teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr. Before you start picking resources, I think it’s more important to decide what you are going to teach about Martin Luther King. It’s simple to present King as a leader of the civil rights movement. Fighting for a group that was legally denied equality is a nice, straight forward lesson, particularly for younger students. You can find a summary and lesson plans oriented toward grades four and under at the Weekly Reader website. Learning about King is often a good preparation for February’s Black History month which provides the opportunity to examine African-American history in general.
But there is more to teach about Martin Luther King, Jr. than just as a black American leader of the civil rights movement. He was a leader, regardless of color, of civil rights, regardless of color. Just because most white men had secured their civil liberties in the United States does not mean King’s work wasn’t relevant to them. Are anyone’s liberties secure as long as someone else’s are denied? There is much to be learned about King in studying him in the context of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous quote, “First they came…” about living in Nazi Germany.
Of course, this approach is much more difficult and likely more uncomfortable since you will be asking about who didn’t speak up and why. But doing so makes Martin Luther King, Jr. not just a historical figure but someone who is relevant today. It will require lesson plans that go beyond word searches, creating timelines, or writing rap songs. It would require some serious critical and reflective thinking about comparing the causes of the colonies’ revolution against Britain to that of women or African Americans protests against the government. Definitely something the our current Texas State Board of Education would not be interested in.
If you are interested in studying King as more than just an African American leader, a good place to start is the Seattle Times Martin Luther King Jr.’s website. I think the study guide questions is the place to start. The National Parks Service curriculum starts to move older students analysis of King beyond the context of civil rights for African Americans. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute offers a liberation curriculum for the high school level. Even if you think the curriculum presents an ideological approach (you know, the liberals in academia thing) it’s still worthwhile to critique it and discuss what would be your preferred ideological alternative.
Weekly Reader “Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.“: activities for grades two to four.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Curriculum Guide for grade kindergarten to twelve: lots of lesson plans, I just ignored the whole quadrant thing but others might find it useful.
EDSITEment I Have a Dream: Celebrating the Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.: overview of resources available on Martin Luther King Jr. from EDSITEment.
National Park Service Martin Luther King, Jr. Lesson Plans and Teacher Guides: grades kindergarten through eight.
Seattle Times Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement: activities for older students, could be modified for younger students.
Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute Liberation Curriculum: high school level lesson plans.