Every January we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States to remember the contribution Dr. King made to the civil rights movement. At great personal risk, he passionately and peacefully championed equal rights for African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport is a beautiful picture book that reviews Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. My favorite part is that it weaves in quotes that emphasizes Dr. King’s mission and motivation.
Plus the illustrations are incredible. Take a sneak peek at a few of them here:
Where to find the book:
You can check the book out of your local library or purchase a copy for your classroom/home: Martin’s Big Words on Amazon. You can also watch a video of the book being read: Martin’s Big Words on YouTube.
This story is a must-read in my classroom every year. After reading the book, we do an assortment of activities to assess comprehension and extend the learning.
Activities I do with my students:
At the start of class I give my students a copy of the K-W-L chart. Before we read the book I have them fill in the Know column with things that they already know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Then I ask them to write 3 questions they would like answered (in the Want to Know column) about Dr. King’s life and legacy. As I read the story they fill in the Learned column with at least 5 facts they learned from the book. If any of their questions were answered, I ask them to draw a line to connect the question with the answer.
After we discuss our K-W-L charts, I give them a true or false activity to assess their listening comprehension. The students have to read each statement and then color or circle the thumbs-up if it is true and the thumbs-down if it is false. We talk through each statement and find the answers in the story if there is any doubt or dissent among the students.
Then we do a quick lesson on antonyms, or words that mean the opposite. I remind the students that Dr. King was known for standing up for the opposite of what he saw in the world. On the activity sheet the students have to read the word in the lefthand column and connect it to its antonym on the right side. I then challenge them to come up with their own opposite pair.
Next I assess their comprehension with a cause and effect activity. I have provided them with the cause and they need to fill in the effect that happened as a result. This is an open-ended activity and sometimes students answers vary. I have provided an answer key using information from the text, but I encourage teachers to use their best judgment and accept other answers if they are accurate and applicable.
Now on to my favorite activity in this unit! This book is filled with powerful quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that the help the students see into his mind and understand the motivation behind his actions.
I have 10 of the quotes from the story printed on 8.5×11 posters:
Food for Thought: Then I have each student choose one quote that is meaningful to them and fill out an activity page with why the quote is important and a drawing to illustrate the main idea.
After that I challenge the students to think of their own quote they can use to inspire or motivate others. You may be surprised at the wisdom your students come up with!
The quote posters and the activities make an excellent bulletin board or hallway display. I always take pictures of the students holding their “I Can Use My Words for Good” activity sheet. This is a powerful exercise that reminds kids of the importance of their words, to use to build up or tear down.
Finally, to wrap up the unit, we listen to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” (you can listen to it on YouTube here) and then they fill in the “I Have a Dream” worksheet with words and pictures of things they dream about that would make the world a better, more peaceful place. I have each student present their “dreams” to the class.
Simplify your lesson planning!
If you’d like to use these activities with your students, you can check out the unit in my Teachers Pay Teachers store: Martin’s Big Words unit by Jessica Lawler – Joy in the Journey
Some years I have more time to devote to it and throw in some extras, like:
- We read the book Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
- We watch the BrainPop Video: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- We read the book I Have a Dream