Martin Luther King Jr. Timelines
Students create timelines 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.
Time: Two hours
- Books about the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Copies of a printed list of relevant websites
- A class set of the Fact Gathering Sheet
Set Up and Prepare
Step 1: Ask students to tell you what they know about Martin Luther King Jr. Record their information in column one of the chart paper, titled "What We Know."
Step 2: Now students should fill in the second column with questions they still have about Martin Luther King Jr. This column could be titled, "What We Want to Know."
Step 3: Tell 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 timeline about his life. Tip: Review parts of a timeline with younger students. Tell students they will use books and web sources to find this information.
Step 4: Pass out the Fact Gathering Sheet. Review how to use the sheet to record research, including, entering event name, date the event occurred, and additional information about the event
Step 5: Show students the book selection and pass out the sheet with the relevant URLs. Have students begin research for events they will be including on their timeline. 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 timeline — 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 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 timeline. Remind students that timelines include: a date and title for each event, a line or similar graphic illustrating a continuum. Ask students to add an illustration to go along with each event. (Students may use magazine clippings, etc. to illustrate their timelines.)
- 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.