Here are nine Martin Luther King Jr. activities you can do with your students to help them think more deeply about this legendary civil rights figure.
1. Read and share books that showcase King’s beliefs
Martin Luther King Jr.’s message wasn’t exclusively about race. He also spoke about gender stereotypes, poverty, and privilege. Read books about black Americans who were trailblazers. Read more books about the many ways social justice can be sought.
2. Host a Mix It Up at Lunch Day
Teaching Tolerance has a great program called Mix It Up at Lunch Day that helps kids step out of their comfort zone and interact with people who are different from them.
3. Take a virtual museum visit to Memphis
The Lorraine Motel, in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, is now the National Civil Rights Museum. Students who don’t live nearby can take a virtual tour of the space. The Smithsonian site also features King-related items that students can view online.
4. Learn about pacifism and the philosophy of nonviolent resistance
Along with Ghandi, King is one of the world’s most notable pacifists. Nonviolent resistance was at the core of King’s civil rights efforts, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. King’s six principles of nonviolence and six principles for nonviolent direct action are a great way to introduce students to the concept.
Have students read King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and talk about the pros and cons of nonviolent resistance. Or as a class identify several current injustices or issues and discuss ways that nonviolent strategy might address them.
Younger students might work together to identify words associated with nonviolence and then select several words to design their own peace jigsaw puzzle.
5. Let Martin’s great words inspire art
King was a very compelling and persuasive speaker. And many of his words remain inspiring and relevant today. Choose several of King’s quotes to share with your class. Have students create art—a picture, a comic strip, etc.—inspired by a King quote of their choosing. As students work, play one of King’s speeches. After students have finished, ask them to identify the quote they chose and explain how their art reflects it. You might also read books about black artists .
6. Show students how to take on what matters to them and make a difference
Did you know that Bayard Rustin, an activist, was a significant figure in organizing the March on Washington, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech? Or that Georgia Gilmore, a cook and midwife, secretly sold dinners to help pay for the Montgomery Bus Boycott? That’s right. Those and other civil rights efforts required a lot of people to be successful. As a class, help students grasp the importance of working together by choosing a classroom goal to accomplish and identifying ways everyone can work together to accomplish it.
7. Volunteer together
King once said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” And the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has become an official day of service. Identify a simple but effective way your class can serve your school or local community, such as cleaning up a park or helping the custodian tidy up the school or visiting a local senior citizen home. If you can, make it an event that happens more than once a school year. There are so many different volunteering ideas to help make that happen.
8. Decorate your room with quotes and inspiration
Not only do these impressively decorated doors aim to celebrate inspirational black heroes who have made history, but they also empower students and kick-start a dialogue.
“It is so much more than decor. This door has already sparked so many conversations with students I’ve never met or talked to before,” said high school teacher, Mrs. Lewis. Check out some of the other inspiring ways teachers have decorated their classroom doors for Black History Month.
9. Start the deep dive into understanding social justice
If you want to guide your students through conversations about inclusion, diversity, and equity, it’s important to both teach the history and build upon the work of the countless people who contributed to social justice movements throughout the years. Here are 21 Free Resources for Teaching Social Justice in the Classroom.
We’d like to hear how you celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy in your classroom. Come and share your Martin Luther King activities in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, check out our favorite books about Martin Luther King.