Martin Luther King Jr. Time Lines
Students create time lines that reflect important events in the civil rights movement and the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
- Conduct research using print and web sources about the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Create a chronology of important events from the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Write about an event in Dr. King's life .
- Books about the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
- A bulletin board, white board, or sheet of chart paper
- Markers for writing on the bulletin board, white board, or sheet of chart paper
- Class access to computers or tablets for research
- Printed copies of the Martin Luther King, Jr. and African American History web articles from the Scholastic Research Tool
- Fact Gathering Sheets, one per student
Set Up and Prepare
- Prepare a bulletin board, white board, or sheet of chart paper as a two-column chart. Label the columns "What We Know" and "What We Want to Know".
- Print a class set of relevant articles about Martin Luther King, Jr. and African American History web articles from the Scholastic Research Tool.
- Print a class set of the Fact Gathering Sheets.
Step 1: Ask your students to tell you what they know about Martin Luther King Jr. Record their information in the first column of the chart paper, titled "What We Know".
Step 2: Now the students should fill in the second column with questions they still have about Martin Luther King Jr. This column should be titled "What We Want to Know".
Step 3: Tell your students that they will now have the opportunity to find answers to some of their questions about the events in Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, as well as when and where these events occurred. Let them know they will be using this information to build a time line about his life. Explain to your students that they will be using books and web sources to find this information.
Tip: Review the parts of a time line with younger students.
Step 4: Pass out the Fact Gathering Sheets. Explain how to use the sheet to record research, including entering the event's name, the date the event occurred, and additional information about the event.
Step 5: Show your students the book selection and pass out the sheet with the relevant URLs. Have the students begin research for events they will be including on their time line.
Tip: To make this a more challenging activity, ask students to include events from the civil rights movement that occurred during King's lifetime. Students can choose to create a double time line — one that includes important events in King's life and events that occurred during the civil rights movement. These parallel time lines could be placed one above the other.
Step 6: After finding between 5 and 8 events, ask your students to number them in chronological order, starting with the earliest one.
Step 7: Once students have collected their important events and determined the proper chronology, assign the construction of the time line. You can choose to divide the students into groups to create multiple time lines or make one time line as an entire class (each student could record one event) or multiple time lines Remind students that time lines include a date and title for each event and a line or similar graphic illustrating a continuum.
Optional: If time allows, ask the students to add illustrations to go along with each event. Students may use magazine clippings, pictures from the web, or hand-drawn images to illustrate their events.
- Read excerpts from The Civil Rights Movement in America: From 1865 to the Present by Patricia and Frederick McKissack.
- Read Dear Dr. King: Letters from Today's Children to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. edited by Jan Colbert and Ann McMillan Harms and then have students write letters to Dr. King.
- Familiarize students with Dr. King's famous "I Have Dream" speech by doing a dramatic reading of it from the book I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King.
- Read Freedom's Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories by Ellen Levine
- Create an ongoing bulletin board which you may want to title, "Keeping Dr. King's Dream Alive" where students can write ideas for what they can do now to keep King's dream alive.
After creating the timeline, students will have a clearer sense of Dr. King's life and the events that shaped it. Ask students to do further research on one event from their timeline. Remind students that they may return to previously used print and web resources. Ask students to write a paragraph describing the event and its significance on the life of Dr. King and other Americans.