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Five Ways to Celebrate MLK

By Christy Crawford on January 8, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Who said it?  "You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. . . .You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve."

Who said it?  "If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness. . . .By giving that definition of greatness it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve." 

If you are a lover of American history, you probably recognized these quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct." But how many of your students recognized even a portion of the quotes? Most Americans do not, and yet they are the basis of our National Day of Service, Saturday, January 19th.

This year, move your students beyond the "I have a dream" soundbite. Introduce them to the words and deeds that galvanized a generation and won a Nobel Peace Prize for the man behind them.


5 Non-Cliché Ways to Celebrate the Holiday


1. Make Service an Integral Piece of Citizenship in Your Classroom or Community

Learn where your students can serve or find service-oriented lesson plans from The Corporation for National & Community Service and Scholastic. These thoughtful lesson plans for grades 3–8 explore the "power of words to inspire, teach and change the world," and include research, a "Taking Action" section, and quick project ideas. Don't miss the MLK Day Legacy of Service video featuring Congressman John Lewis and Civil Rights pioneer Ruby Bridges. 


2. Create Your Own Talking Museum

Older students will welcome a tech-savvy scavenger hunt. Place a QR code linking not-so-well-known video or audio of Dr. King underneath corresponding pictures or text on several bulletin boards or around the school. Give students ample time to scan the QR codes and enjoy your interactive museum. 

Not sure how to make a QR code? Check out my post "QR Codes in the Classroom" for quick, easy instructions and check out American RadioWorks* for great audio clips. See NBC Learn for King videos and the National Park Service for tours of King's childhood home, home church, and final resting place.  

*Using Radioworks? Check out my post, More Fab Favorites for Black History Month, to compare the Occupy Wall Street Movement with Dr. King's 1968 Poor People's Campaign. 


3. Let Them Eat Cake

Will a King cake spur your grade schooler into action? Create a birthday cake bulletin board and allow students to record their small or grand act of kindness on each paper candle. Discuss community organizations (girl scouts/boy scouts, etc.) that make volunteering an honor. Invite parent volunteers to share in your service celebration.

(On the day before the holiday, I often bought a sheet cake and allowed students to place a candle in the cake for each act of kindness they committed the day or week before the holiday. Be prepared to have more candles than cake!)


4. The Nobel Laureate in Your Classroom

To inspire peacemakers this year, my 4th graders created a podcast about Kevin Curwick, a high school football captain who uses social media to stop cyberbullying. Curwick deserves a mini-Nobel peace prize for positive tweets. But what about the kids in your own classroom? 

Salute students who refuse to be bystanders to bullying or those who use nonviolent means to make your school a safer more accepting place with mini Nobel Peace Prizes. Grab yarn, heavy card stock and photocopied images of the Nobel medallion for your class peacemakers. Fill your mini awards ceremony with lots of pomp and circumstance, including a short viewing of Dr. King's 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Olso, Sweden. 


5. Dr. King Text Study With Word Clouds

What words mattered most to Dr. King? For your youngest students, read Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier's Martin's Big Words and introduce them to really big (or frequently used words) in Dr. King's various speeches with ABCya!'s Word Clouds for Kids

Older students can also highlight and define important new words from Dr. King's speeches with the virtual thesaurus in VocabGrabber or WordSift (see WordSift demo.) or compare and contrast Dr. King 's speeches in Tagxedo or Wordle.  


There are lots of ways to honor Dr. King's legacy of service. Please share what you're doing this year!

Comments (2)


Thanks so much for your comment! Just in case folks didn't see it:

"I'm glad you included a link to The Drum Major speech as it can open discussion
why the paraphrased quote from it is being removed from the memorial in D.C.
Great ideas here!"
As you know, (http://tinyurl.com/bz2kern), the lead architect and sculptor's decision to paraphrase Dr. King, resulted in an INCREDIBLY expensive repair. (Why would anyone misquote one of the greatest orators of all time?) Can't wait to see wait to see how my young writers respond to the recent events. Thanks again for your comment!


I'm glad you included a link to The Drum Major speech as it can open discussion why the paraphrased quote from it is being removed from the memorial in D.C. Great ideas here!

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