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Lesson Plans

Lessons from Martin Luther King Jr. for today

January 21, 2019

Full Lesson


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and then answer the discussion questions. Follow along with the transcript here.

Summary: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of an America where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Monday, Jan. 21st, is a federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around King’s birthday, Jan. 15.  Anniversaries present important opportunities to teach about the history of the civil rights movement and the ongoing effects of racial discrimination in America. After watching the video, you may want to read the column by PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill, who died November 14, 2016, My Dad heard the call to action.’ Gwen Ifill on her father and Martin Luther King.

On April 4, 1968, King was in Memphis, Tenn., to support striking sanitation workers when he was shot to death on a hotel balcony. What followed was a national reckoning and the greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War. More than fifty years later, Americans honor King’s sacrifice, in hopes of connecting his message to today’s struggles.

Discussion questions:

  • Essential question: How does the legacy of Dr. King inform activism today?
  • What did you learn about Dr. King in the video that you didn’t know before?
  • How have you been impacted by the social justice values of Dr. King?
  • Media literacy: Watch the video below with NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff, featuring four voices who have been involved in the civil rights movement in different ways. Follow along with the transcript to help you.
    • Do you know an E.D. Nixon in your life? That is, as civil rights leader Vernon Jordan stated, is someone in your community who is a leader but may not be as famous as other leaders? What fifth voice would you like to have included in the interview? Explain.
    • Activist Brittany Packnett said it’s important to remember that freedom work will always be more important than it is popular. “Dr. King was terribly unpopular when he was actually performing his work, despite the conversation that we have about him now.” Why do you think this was the case? Can you think of leaders today who may also be unpopular, but who are doing important work?

Extension activities:

  • Watch this interview with NewsHour’s Charlayne Hunter-Gault who sits down with one of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest friends, artist and activist Harry Belafonte, who remembers how they met and what made King so special, as well as why he says America is more racially divided than any other moment in his life.  Follow along with the transcript here. Ask your students: What or who do you think gave King his sense of moral justice?

  • Teachers, take a look at these lessons and let us know how you tackle this important subject in your classroom. If you are interested in submitting a lesson, we’d love to hear from you. Fill out this form to share your thoughts on today’s lesson.

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Discrimination – Fair or Unfair | Lesson Plan

A History of Discrimination and Its Consequences | Lesson Plan