Learning About Dr. King

Learning about Dr. King is an important part of January for us. We have so many wonderful discussions in our 1st grade class about Dr. King’s life, equality, playing nicely, using our words and just plain being kind to each other.  What a great way to start the New Year!

Since 1st graders know so little about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the history of Civil Rights, I am always on the lookout for the best children’s books to introduce this complex part of our US history. I look for books that keep the concepts simple without losing the message of this great man. Below are 2 books that teach about Dr. King’s life quite well and are appropriate for children. 

A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. emphasizes his childhood, family, and his early experiences with racism and inequality. Included in this book is a list of important dates in Dr. King’s life.

Martin’s Big Words is another great picture book that also uses vocabulary that is appropriate for young listeners with shorter attention spans. In the book, Martin asks his mother about the “White Only” signs he sees everywhere and her response is, “You are as good as anyone.” Because he spent years listening to his father preach in church and listening to his father teach him at the dinner table, he vowed, “When I grow up, I’m going to get big words too.”

But I needed more for my students. Because they are so interested and engaged with the topic of Civil Rights and Dr. King, simply reading a couple picture books didn’t seem to be enough. They have so many questions about this great man and the inequalities that people experienced. First graders definitely understand the concept of fairness, and 6-7 year olds love to hear about this champion for equality.

So, to fill this need for more information and discussion, I created my own children’s book and activity unit on Dr. King that we use every year. And with suggestions from my teammates and buyers, I modify and improve the unit every year.

Before reading a couple picture books from my library, I introduce some vocabulary words. I post close to 50 words on my word wall and later give each student their own Dr. King word wall to keep in their work folders for easy reference throughout the unit. These become especially handy when my students are writing their reports on Dr. King. (see below)

As we use these vocabulary words throughout the unit, I refer to the word wall. 

Early in the unit, I teach a simple Dr. King song to my students (included in the unit). We sing it during transitions to the carpet and when lining up. They love this simple song and the message it brings.

One aspect of the Dr. King Pack that I spent a great amount of time creating and revising is the Dr. King booklet. This 1/2 page activity booklet includes information on Dr. King’s life and his greatest achievements. Students fill in important words from the word bank at the beginning of the book and then color each page.

Students refer to the word bank on the first page of their book to fill in the blanks on each page.

After reading and filling out the information books, we review the concepts learned with some activity sheets (also included in the Dr. King Pack). Many first graders need support with these activities, so we complete these together. 2nd graders would be more independent with these activities.

At the end of the unit, I have my students write reports about Dr. King’s life and his achievements. They begin with a report planner and fill in the blanks with ideas for each sentence. I encourage them to write simple phrases and keep the sentences for later in their written report.:

Then they write their 1st copy in their spiral notebooks, revise, get teacher edit, and then transfer to their final copy page:

Parents are so proud of what their children have learned about Dr. King when they see the final copies, and so are the students!

Students also have the opportunity to make and use a paper bag puppet of Dr. King to repeat his messages they have learned.

Click HERE to get your complete 41 page copy of the Dr. King Pack.

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I am a newly retired first-grade teacher in the beautiful state of Colorado. I taught for 32 years (17 of those in 1st grade.) Watching my students learn and grow was such a blessing for me, and I'm excited to share what I've learned over the years with you. Read More

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