Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader, a family man, and a promoter of peace. When we think of what a good citizen is, we can use pieces of the life of MLK as examples for our students. We devote a day every year to celebrating the man and his accomplishments. It is important to teach children not only the importance of historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and national holidays, like MLK day (and social studies standards) but, we should also teach students that the “content of a historical figure’s character” counts as well (to use the words of MLK himself).
I have often seen the usual “cut and color MLK” assignments and the “write about a time you did something like MLK” pre-fillable worksheets being completed to commemorate the holiday. Those assignments are not wrong; I do feel like we can do so much more in our classrooms to honor the man, and the holiday, and produce high-quality content that will help students practice skills like analyzing character traits and building content knowledge in both reading and social studies. In previous blogs, I have discussed the power of the teachable moment that can be found in a good read-aloud. This blog will be no different. I plan to explore the art of the read aloud by integrating social studies and literacy content as we analyze, discuss, connect with, and share about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Integrating Reading and Social StudiesAs an elementary literacy coach, I coach teachers to use our state standards as a base for every lesson they plan. As a supplemental resource, I usually find the text or text set to read aloud or show and then target a skill or bundle of skills to use with the text (as a mentor text). In this case, I already know my topic is Martin Luther King, Jr. There are specific skills that need to be taught in each subject, so integrating subjects could be ideal for maximum impact. Integrating subjects has been cited as a powerful way to build knowledge. In fact, Dr. Timothy Shanahan mentioned research in his April 2022 blog that states:
“teaching social studies and science units during a literacy block in grades K-4 effectively increased content knowledge and informational text reading skills. The effects were greater for social studies and science knowledge than reading, though there were some reading improvements.”
I believe that there may need to be a heavier emphasis on the reading skills that are targeted within the scaffold of an intentionally chosen text or set of texts. There could be a focus on describing or analyzing MLK’s internal and external traits (depending on student grade level) after reading Martin’s Big Words, for example. Students can respond to the text in writing by drawing pictures or writing words to share their personal reactions or by supporting a response using text evidence after reading I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with paintings by Kadir Nelson.
That last text is also good for studying the author’s purpose and craft as you are analyzing how Dr. King used figurative language and alliteration in his speeches. Focusing on these skills keeps the focus on the character of MLK. It impacts knowledge building because students can read, talk, and write about the topic (MLK) as well as explore historical figures and the reasons behind national holidays. It would be beneficial to create a text set with both expository and narrative texts as well as poems, videos, and songs. I will share a basic list to get you started.
Book List Across Genres
It is easy to find children’s literature across genres on the topic of Martin Luther King, Jr. A good Google search will do. I will add to that list my own recommendations by genre. They may not all be age or grade-level specific, so in your planning, prepare for the appropriate scaffolding.
King: Man of Peace in a Time of War (Movie)
March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation
I Have a Dream
Let the Children March
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an inspirational thought leader who spoke out against hatred and for peace and equality. We celebrate his life and achievements every year and we can and should teach our students about those achievements and their impact on our society today. We can and should teach with intentionality and teachable moments so we can expose our children to both the nuances of reading comprehension and knowledge building as well as the historical significance of the man and the time period. In doing this we should remind our students and remind ourselves that MLK Day is more than a day off.
Thank you for reading,
Pearl Garden, Ed.D has completed her dissertation research involving understanding the vocabulary instruction practices of early grade teachers. She has a passion for the new and novice educator, and it is her goal to help educators tackle the achievement gap with her research findings. She will use this blog to share what she has learned in “pearls of literacy”. The ideas come from her dissertation titled “A Content Analysis of the Vocabulary Instruction Habits by Early Grade Teachers”.