Every January, my kids bring home pictures they have colored in school. These pictures normally include side-by-side crayon portraits of themselves and Martin Luther King Jr. These pictures have led to great discussions with my kids. I teach college, and I think it would be less successful to have my college students do coloring pages. However, there are still great ways to incorporate Martin Luther King Jr. Day into our classroom activities and discussions.
“I have a dream…”
At the beginning of every semester, I watch King’s famous “I have a dream” speech with my students. We discuss the importance of his choice of words with dreams. I then assign them a five-paragraph essay, in which they must tell me about three of their dreams for the future.
Speaking Versus Writing
Developing communication skills is a goal in many college courses, and includes both oral and written communication. Without identifying the text, I give my students selections from King’s speeches. We discuss the readings and their impact without identifying the author or context. Then I show them the videos of the speeches, or play audio recordings. This leads to great discussions about why his speeches are so much more powerful as speeches, and what we can learn from him.
The Boy King
If you can track down a copy of it, The Boy King was a 1986 TV movie that focused on King’s childhood and the experiences that helped shape him. Look at King’s childhood. Either before or after looking at his life, encourage class members to remember their childhoods, and discuss (or write about or illustrate) experiences that have helped to define them.
Many of my students are parents, and so can identify with King’s dream “for his four little children.” Make the point that all parents, regardless of race, gender, or other factors, can identify with this desire for a better life for your children. What do your students want for their children? [Many of my students have returned to college in order to help to provide a better life for their children.] How can we teach concepts like tolerance to our children?
Reverend King was an incredible man, but he was only one of many people working towards change. Divide the class into groups, and assign each a different influential figure from the Civil Rights movement. After they have all researched their assigned person (such as Malcolm X or Rosa Parks), you could even have them meet together as a panel, and play the roles of their assigned person in a discussion.
No matter how you choose to do it, incorporating some study of Martin Luther King Jr. into your class is always worth the time investment. Just remember to treat the subject and your students with respect, and relate the subject to them.