I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. Teaching Guide
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
I helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I am only 34 when I give the “I Have a Dream” speech. I am Martin Luther King, Jr.
With an introduction written in the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, this engaging biography takes students on one of the most important historical movements of the twentieth century—the nonviolent campaign for African American equality inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. His life story is interwoven with the history of a nation still struggling with civil rights issues. From his teenage years marred by discrimination and segregation, to his soaring speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. represented the bedrock of American values and helped the nation realize its dream of equality for all.
Informational text features, including a timeline, an introduction to historical figures, and numerous sidebars, enhance the chronological narrative of the book. Detailed illustrations help readers visualize Martin Luther King, Jr. and other historical figures, as well as, the struggle for civil rights in America.
Teaching the Book
“I have a dream.” These words evoke one of the most famous speeches in American history, delivered by the great orator of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. This captivating biography provides an opportunity for students to learn about a great leader during a troubled time in American history and to practice identifying main idea and details. Activities engage students in listening to the “I Have a Dream” speech, presenting a play about Dr. King, and writing about their own dreams.
Genre Focus: Biography
Comprehension Focus: Main Idea and Details
Language Focus: Content Words and Concept Wheels
Get Ready to Read
Who is Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Engage students’ interest in Martin Luther King, Jr. by showing them a short video about the civil rights leader’s life. The video introduces important biographical facts, explains segregation, and shows photographs of Dr. King at important moments in his life.
Ask students to share what they know about Martin Luther King, Jr. from the video and other sources. Record their responses on the whiteboard or chart paper. Use their comments as a basis for building a knowledge network about Dr. King that grows in its connections as students read the book.
Content Vocabulary and Concept Wheels
Introduce students to the words below that are part of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s story, as well as important content-area vocabulary. Print Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards and distribute copies to students.
- racism (p. 4)
- prejudice (p. 16)
- segregated (p. 17)
- discrimination (p. 29)
- nonviolence (p. 29)
- boycott (p. 41)
- justice (p. 68)
- integration (p. 78)
Ask students to write down examples and the context of the words each time they appear in the text. After students read I Am Martin Luther King, Jr., guide them to use their notes to fill in concept wheels for the words.
Words to Know
Explain to students that each of the vocabulary words is an idea that describes a social studies concept. Show students how to use a concept wheel to create definitions for the vocabulary words. Model how to use the concept wheel with the vocabulary word, boycott. Write the word in quadrant A. Then brainstorm examples of the word and how the word is used in the book. (Sample answer: The black people of Montgomery boycotted the buses until the rule about moving to the back changed.) Write in three of these brainstorm items in quadrants B, C, and D. Then have students think of a definition of the word based on their ideas. Encourage students to fill in concept wheels for the other vocabulary words and check their definitions against a dictionary definition.
As You Read
Reading the Book
Project the first pages of the book onto a whiteboard or screen and read them aloud to students. After reading the Introduction written in the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr., ask students to describe him. Then project the other special content from the front of the book. Discuss these text features and how they help set up the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life.
If students are able to read I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. independently, help pace their reading by telling them to chunk the book into three to six reading sessions, depending on the amount of time students have to read during each session. At the end of a chunk, prompt students to work with partners to ask questions to clarify the text and to share reactions.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read. Write the question on chart paper or the whiteboard. How does Martin Luther King, Jr. change America?
Identify Main Idea and Details
Explain that the book includes important ideas about Martin Luther King, Jr, and the civil rights movement. These important, big ideas are called main ideas. The main idea is supported by smaller ideas called details. The details provide more information about the main idea and help you understand a period of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life.
Display the spread on pages 18–19 about segregation. Read the text on both pages aloud. Then model how to identify the main idea and details in the text, using a graphic organizer like the one below.
Model: First, I’ll ask: What is the most important idea? Is it all about black people riding in the back of buses? No, that doesn’t seem like the most important idea and doesn’t include all the information on the page. The important big idea that everything concerns is: Segregation. I’ll write that in the center of the circle. What details give us more information about the main idea? I’ll write those supporting details around the main idea.
Main Idea: Segregation
Detail: Laws separated blacks and whites in school
Detail: Blacks and whites had different hotels
Detail: Whites sat in the front of the bus; blacks sat in the back of the bus
Detail: Movie theaters were segregated for blacks and whites
Print Resource #2: Identify Main Idea and Details for students to practice identifying main ideas and details. Pass out copies of the page and guide students to fill out the graphic organizer to identify main ideas and details from two other parts of the text.
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
When he is a teenager, how does Martin Luther King, Jr. show that he has the courage and intelligence to become a leader of the civil rights movement? (Sample answers: Martin skips two years of school; when he is on the bus with his debate teacher, Martin at first refuses to move to the back of the bus because he feels segregation is wrong.)
2. Main Idea and Details
Name the detail that tells more about this main idea: Martin Luther King, Jr. led the protestors during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (Sample answers: The boycott lasted over a year; King marched with Rosa Parks, whose actions started the boycott.)
3. Content Words and Concept Wheels
What is an example from the book of justice? What is another example of justice in our world today? (Sample answers: African Americans being able to vote is an example of justice. Another example of justice is girls and boys being given equal chances to play sports.)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
Do you think you would have joined the marchers during the civil rights movement? (Answers will vary.)
What types of things or issues do people protest today? (Answers will vary.)
What did you learn from listening to the “I Have a Dream” speech that you didn’t find out by reading just the words? (Answers will vary.)
Content Area Connections
“I Have a Dream Speech”
Give students the opportunity to listen to Dr. King’s famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. For a video of the speech, go to the Teacher Tube website. Consider previewing the speech to decide how much of it to play for students. After listening to the speech, ask students to think deeply about some of its important phrases and metaphors, such as “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Scenes from Dr. King’s Life
Provide students with copies of a play about important moments from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life from the Scholastic website. Assign students to the roles of the speakers and narrators and help them rehearse the play until they are fluent at speaking their lines. Provide them with technology to make an audio recording of their reading. Afterward, ask them to share the new things they learned about Dr. King and the movement from the play.
We Shall Overcome
Explain to students that music was an important part of the civil rights movement and that one of the most inspiring songs sung by marchers was “We Shall Overcome.” This old gospel song became an anthem for the movement. Have students listen to one or several versions of the song available on the Internet; for example, visit YouTube for the Morehouse College Glee Club performance.
Ruby Bridges Report
To give students an idea of what the civil rights movement was like through the eyes of a child, suggest that they visit the website of Ruby Bridges. Alternatively, you might want to bring into class several books about Ruby Bridges and her history-making courage. Have students work with a partner or small group to report on how Ruby Bridges changed America as a first-grader.
Write an Explanatory Essay
Assign students to write a short essay based on the big question: How does Martin Luther King, Jr. change America? Explain that they can use their own ideas or the ideas classmates shared when the question was discussed. Guide students to develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples. Direct them to go back to the text to find evidence for the essay. Encourage students to exchange papers to share their essays, or project and read several examples on the whiteboard.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Tell students there is more than one right answer. How does Martin Luther King, Jr. change America?
I Have a Dream
Challenge students to think big thoughts about their dreams, like Dr. King did. Be sure to reread to them the passage from his “I Have a Dream” speech that expresses his dreams for America. Distribute copies of the Big Activity: I Have a Dream to students and have them use the page for the final draft of their writing.
To assess and enhance students’ comprehension, this Storia eBook contains a Reading Challenge Quiz.
About the Author
Grace Norwich has written many books for young readers on a variety of topics, including health, fashion, and animals. She is the author of other biographies in the I Am series including the life stories of Albert Einstein, Harriet Tubman, and Helen Keller. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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