As we prepare to commemorate the life and life’s work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we hope teachers take this opportunity to do the same in their classrooms, offering lessons that dive deeper into the many causes and good works Dr. King championed.
To help educators build upon and move beyond Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, we’ve compiled some of our best MLK resources, as well as lessons and texts from our friends in the social justice education world.
We hope this collection of lessons, teachable texts and further reading helps you bring the work of Dr. King to life in your classroom this week—and any time of the year.
Dr. King on Poverty: Then and Now
This learning plan—created by Jarah Botello, former teaching and learning specialist for TT, with the Learning Plan Builder—introduces students to the call for economic justice in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and it encourages them to consider where that fight for economic justice stands today.
Dr. King and the Movement
This lesson allows students to consider the legacy of Dr. King’s dream of a just and equal society for all and discuss how much of the dream remains to be fulfilled today.
Economic Injustice Affects Us All: A Lesson From Viva La Causa
This lesson is part of our film kit for Viva La Causa, a documentary about the grape strike and boycott led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s. The lesson helps students define “economic justice” and consider how economic disparities affect us all. Since Dr. King also promoted economic justice, this lesson offers a perfect opportunity for comparison. Using texts included in this resource collection, teachers can compare and contrast the words of Dr. King with the plights raised by farmworkers in the film and the inequities that continue to this day.
Dr. King’s Legacy and Choosing to Participate—via Facing History and Ourselves
This lesson allows students to explore Dr. King’s work fighting poverty—an aspect of his legacy often unexplored in the classroom. It asks students to determine the main ideas in Dr. King’s “mountaintop” speech, connect issues of economic injustice in the 1960s to issues of economic injustice today, and reflect on how this relates to their own vision of a more just world, ultimately collaborating to create a class poem.
The Unfinished Business of the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Movement—via KQED
This lesson has students analyze the goals of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom before determining the march’s immediate and long-term successes. Students also explore what aspects of Dr. King’s dream—and the march’s goals—remain unfulfilled.
Hidden in Plain Sight: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Radical Vision—via the Zinn Education Project
This unit of lessons helps counter the whitewashed legacy of Dr. King and contextualize his work in terms of social justice work today. Students identify ways media have portrayed Dr. King over the years. They discuss the views Dr. King espoused that rarely get covered in commemorations of him, and they consider the power of dominant narratives. Finally, students consider how his call for radical change still applies today.
The King Center Archive: Economics
This collection of primary documents helps supplement any lesson on Dr. King and economic justice, chronicling his thoughts on poverty, employment, housing and more. Documents include speeches, written letters, notes and correspondence from Dr. King himself.
Teaching the Movement's Most Iconic Figure
This episode from our Teaching Hard History podcast offers historic knowledge and guidance for deconstructing the mythology surrounding Dr. King and instead, presenting him as an activist whose views evolved over time and whose activism was part of a larger, collective movement that shaped him.
Dr. Martin Luther King Marches on Washington
This photograph from the Associated Press depicts Dr. King in a crowd of people at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Use it as a supplement to help students understand the scope of the march as well as the causes championed by its participants.
I Have a Dream
Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech before a crowd of some 250,000 people on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. This resource includes the full text of the speech as well as text-dependent questions for your students.
Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Dr. King wrote this famous letter on April 16, 1963, after being arrested for participating in non-violent protest. This resource includes the full text of Dr. King’s letter and text-dependent questions for your students.
StoryCorps: Dr. King’s Final Speech
This resource is a conversation between Taylor and Bessie Rogers, a couple recollecting Dr. King’s final speech. Both the audio and transcript are available for this conversation. It was recorded for StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral history organization seeking to collect and preserve the diverse stories of people throughout the United States.
“It’s Time to Pick Up Where Dr. King Left Off”
This video clip is from 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets, a documentary film about the 2012 murder of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn. The clip contains a brief overview of media coverage of the case and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed. Please be aware this text contains mature language and content.
Civil Rights March in Selma
Selma’s first civil rights march took place on March 7, 1965, often known as “Bloody Sunday” because of the violent attacks perpetrated by state and local police upon protesters as they reached the end of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. This text includes the transcript of an NBC segment titled “Civil Rights March in Selma,” which aired on March 26, 2000.
The Fog Machine
This is an excerpt of Susan Follet’s 2014 novel The Fog Machine. The scene includes black children reacting to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and sharing their own dreams.
Publications for Professional Development
The March Continues
This guide is intended for teachers and school leaders who want to cultivate a deeper understanding of an important era in our history. In it, we identify five essential practices for teaching the civil rights movement that keep its lessons fresh and meaningful for students today.
Civil Rights Done Right
Civil Rights Done Right offers a detailed set of curriculum improvement strategies for classroom instructors who want to educate for empowerment; know how to talk about race; capture the unseen; resist telling a simple story; and connect to the present.
“Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” Download and print our free One World poster and display this inspiring quote in your classroom.
Teaching Tolerance Articles
Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story
In 1957, readers could pay 10 cents to buy a 16-page comic book called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. In this article from Teaching Tolerance, Andrew Aydin explains the history of this comic book and the under-appreciated role that comics played in the civil rights movement.
Reflections on a Dream Deferred From John Lewis
In this article from 2008, civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, who worked with Dr. King, writes for Teaching Tolerance about the legacy of Dr. King’s ideals.
Teaching MLK With the Social Justice Standards
These classroom suggestions acknowledge the depth and complexity of the movement Dr. King helped to lead. Through the lenses of identity, diversity, justice and action, these suggestions help educators go beyond “I Have a Dream.”
From MLK to #BlackLivesMatter: A Throughline for Young Students
When it comes to making civil rights movements of the past accessible for young students, the connections to the present are right in front of us. In this short article, Bret Turner explains how he connects the work of Dr. King to the Black Lives Matter movement for his 6-year-old students.
Teaching About King's Radical Approach to Social Justice
While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and work are often sugarcoated, it’s important to teach that King championed economic justice and taught Black self-love while also pushing back against neutrality, imperialism and systemic racism.
Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream: A Guaranteed Income for All Americans—via The Atlantic
This article explores Dr. King’s “vision for fighting poverty” and the Poor People’s Campaign. Educators looking to equip students with an understanding of Dr. King’s fight for economic justice can find links to primary texts and fodder for class discussion in this article by Jordan Weissmann.
Dr. King Launches the Poor People’s Campaign—via PBS
This short, classroom-friendly video summarizes the philosophy and action behind Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.
Fifty Years After the Kerner Commission—via The Washington Post
This 2018 article examines a new report finding that racism, poverty, segregation and income inequality remain—as the Kerner Commission concluded 50 years earlier—pervasive problems in American society. This article can help supply educators with facts they need to connect past to present and counter the myth that the King-era civil rights movement marked an end to systemic racism.
Collins is a senior writer for Teaching Tolerance.