Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated each year on the third Monday of January. This federal holiday commemorates the life of one of the most important civil rights leaders.
Here are five learning activities that teachers can use to observe MLK Day with their students.
Brainstorm other societal problems Americans face today
Teachers can share with their students that Dr. King greatly helped African Americans gain civil rights in this country. Although African Americans have gained much respect since his contributions, there are still other societal issues Americans face on a daily basis. For instance, poverty has been and still is an ongoing problem in many areas of the country. Teachers can encourage their students to brainstorm other societal problems that should hopefully be lessened in the future.
Celebrate his birthday with a cake
Teachers can have some fun with this holiday and bake a cake to share with their students. Before the teachers eat the birthday cake with their students, teachers should briefly discuss a history of the Civil Rights Movement or the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Have open discussions about the Civil Rights Movement
If teachers do not want to celebrate his birthday with a cake, they can still have discussions about the Civil Rights Movement. This will help students’ awareness of the important events of the movement, including contributions from people such as Rosa Parks and Huey P. Newton.
If possible, attend a march to honor Dr. King
There will be numerous marches this year throughout the country, including in some Southern and Midwestern cities, to honor Dr. King. Teachers can bring their students to these marches to honor the late civil rights activist. For example, there is a march each year in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Read books about the civil rights leader
Lastly, teachers can assign books for their students to read about MLK or the Civil Rights Movement in general. Teachers can assign primary sources to their students, including speeches, poems, and other writings. A great poem that can be assigned to read is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” or his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” If teachers would like a list of books that can be assigned, the National Council of Teachers of English has published a list. Additionally, teachers can use time in their classroom to have an African American Read-In.
These are just five of many possible educational ways to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Teachers should remember not only Dr. King’s contributions, but how the Civil Rights Movement has been shaped. Showing videos can also be good to help motivate students; “To Kill a Mockingbird” would be a fine film to show to celebrate the annual holiday.
“2014 National African American Read-In,” NCTE.org.
Phil Nast, “Classroom Resources for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,” NEA.org.