Exciting lesson ideas, classroom strategies, book lists, videos, and reproducibles in a daily blog by teachers
























Martin Luther King Jr. and Other American Heroes

By Nancy Jang on January 20, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2

In California, studying famous people and heroes is a 2nd grade social studies standard. In my class, we begin our studies with Martin Luther King, Jr., and then move on to President Lincoln and President Washington.

After watching short videos and reading nonfiction books, we create projects together in class. Then, having learned about each of these men, we compare them and discuss why they are considered heroes. We also talk about the difference between a hero and someone who is merely famous.

MLK2Most of the units that I design include:

  • a multimedia presentation with video, audio, and photos
  • multiple books both in fiction and nonfiction
  • a writing prompt
  • a song or two
  • an art project
  • a hands-on activity or interactive experience
  • a reading comprehension passage or play
  • an online activity

Even if we are using a social studies or science text, I try to incorporate these items to appeal to multiple intelligences and create a richer learning experience.

The Scholastic Teacher home page always has tons of high-quality resources that include many of the items on my list, so it's one of the first places I look. Below is a quick video clip of Martin Luther King at the Washington Memorial as well as a link to an audio file for the speech.


Listen to the original recording of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the Washington Memorial. (Beware, it's a little over 15 minutes long.) With regard to books for this unit, the Blast to the Past series is a great resource. I usually read King's Courage by Stacia Deutsch when we study Martin Luther King, and Lincoln's Legacy for our hero unit.

Amazon.com Widgets

Scholastic and Weston Woods have an awesome DVD of the book Martin's Big Words narrated by Michael Clark Duncan. The video is also available online if your school is a subscriber to Discovery Education streaming. After you have learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, you can take an online quiz.

There is a wealth of resources at Scholastic Printables to supplement any unit. For this unit, I am using a printable with activities about equality and fairness, and printables with the songs "Harmony and Peace" and "Martin Luther King, Jr., Day." Both songs are easy to learn as they use a tune that kids already know. You can also make this an extension activity and have kids write new lyrics to a familiar tune like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

DSC00358 As part of our unit, we read a play about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, we draw a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and write a report using a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, report frame.

After our study of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Washington, and President Lincoln, we begin our study on heroes. Here is a peek into that unit.

What Is a Hero?

What does it mean to be famous? How are our historically famous people different from celebrities? What difference or contribution did they make to the world? What characteristics did each of the heroes and historical figures have in common? How do we define heroism?

The students choose a hero or famous person to write about and report on. Students research this person's life. Whether they are a historical figure, a famous explorer, an inventor, or a living example of heroism, we talk about the difference that each of these people made in our world on a large or small scale. Who can be a hero? We talk about heroes and then listen to Mariah Carey's song "Hero."

Most of the time, we come to the conclusion that anyone can be a hero with courage, perseverance, selflessness, and conviction in their beliefs.

I hope that you enjoyed reading about heroes and will use some of these lessons and ideas in your classroom. Join me next week when I post some easy classroom management tips.


Happy teaching,

Nancy Jang


Comments (4)

I wanted to Martin Luther King Jr. In real life like real

Jensen, Thanks for your comment on the blog. I checked out moral heroes and it looks like a great resource. We talk about character traits in our class and so it makes it easier to relate to what traits heroes have in common. My class is always amazed at how brave heroes were to put others before themselves, even in dangerous and scary situations.

Happy Teaching, Nancy

This is excellent! I am so glad you are taking the time to discuss the nature of heroes with your students. I find that most of my students (Jr high aged) struggle to identify heroic traits, likely because they only learn about heroes but don't engage their ideas.

You might be interested to know that Martin Luther King, Jr. is featured as Hero of the Month over at MoralHeroe­s.org. My goal at some point is to offer standard based curriculum for hero projects. I'll keep yours in mind. http://mor­alheroes.o­rg/martin-­luther-kin­g-jr

Post a Comment
(Please sign in to leave a comment. Privacy Policy)
Back to Top