Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cathy Burgess
Bay District Schools


Students learn why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day by making a Friendship Circle and a Peace Tree for a multicultural bulletin board and by illustrating a timeline of Dr. Martin Luther King's life.


The student extends and refines understanding that history tells the story of people and events of other times and places.

The student knows significant aspects of the lives and accomplishments of selected men and women, including African Americans and Hispanics, in the period of United States history since 1880.

The student knows about people and events after 1880 honored in commemorative holidays (for example, Veterans Day, Labor Day, Martin Luther King Day).


-Chart paper for KWL chart: (3 columns What We Know, What We Want To Know, What We Learned)
-Suggested books on Martin Luther King:
-[Martin Luther King], Lowery, New York: Scholastic, 1987.
-[A Picture Book of Martin Luther King], Adler, New York: Scholastic, 1989.
-[My Dream of Martin Luther King], Ringgold, New York: Crown. 1985.
-[Arnie and the New Kid],Carson: Puffin, 1992
-Any other books about Martin Luther King, Jr.
-CD or cassette tape, [Greg and Steve Holidays and Special Times],Youngheart Records: Los Angeles, California, 1989.
-"A Man Named King" song written on a chart (CD)
-Boy/girl paper doll cutouts in various skin colors
-Black, brown, and yellow yarn for hair
-Different colors of construction paper for clothes
-Tree made from bulletin board paper for Peace Tree
-White peace doves for bulletin board
-4x5 white construction paper
-Leaves to put on the tree
-White butcher paper


1. Gather books, CD, and song written on chart paper.
2. Make KWL chart on chart paper.
3. Obtain scissors, glue, construction paper, and crayons.
4. Obtain butcher paper.
5. Make giant tree and doves of peace for bulletin board.


Day 1
1. Introduce the lesson by asking who has on tennis shoes? Tell them everyone wearing tennis shoes must sit at the back of the room while we do this lesson. Give them a minute to move. After getting some funny looks and questions, ask the students how they felt when they went to the back of the room for the lesson. This is called discrimination. Back in the l960's, there was a man who thought discrimination was unfair, and he did everything he could to change laws for people who were discriminated against. His name is Martin Luther King, Jr. We have a holiday named after him. We celebrate it because of all the great things that he did.

2. Fill out first two columns on KWL chart on chart paper.

3. Read MARTIN LUTHER KING by Lowery. (See Materials list.) Talk about Martin Luther King's dream for all people from different countries, races, and religions to all live together in harmony.

4. Assign students to make a paper doll model of themselves. Show a teacher example. Pass out the multi-colored skin boy and girl patterns, yarn, and construction paper. Encourage students to choose their own skin color, hair, eye, and clothes so that their paper dolls will look like them. Use construction paper to make clothes. When all students are finished, collect them. These will go on a bulletin board titled Let's Join Hands after tomorrow's lesson.

5. Introduce and sing the song "A Man Named King." (See Materials list.)

Day 2

1. Sing "A Man Named King."

2. Review yesterday's lesson. Go back over the KWL chart. Ask the children if they want to add anything to the third column (What I Learned about MLK).

3. To help develop the understanding of prejudice for the children and relate it to a current setting, read the book [Arnie and the New Kid] by Nancy Carson. (See Materials list.) In this story, the main character, Arnie, begins to understand how unfair he and his friends have been to a new classmate. Talk about the experiences they have had with the handicapped, speaking a different language, different physical features, different colored skin, etc.

4. Elicit several sentences from the class about how they they can work together like MLK wanted all people to do for the multicultural bulletin board titled Let's Join Hands. Make sure each child signs his/her name under the sentences on the chart. Write sentences down on chart paper on a circle so that the paper doll patterns of the children are holding hands and form a circle around the sentences in the middle where the students names are signed.

5. Complete bulletin board.

Day 3

1. Begin lesson by singing "A Man Named King." After the song, ask the students if there is anything they want to add to the KWL chart. Add responses.

2. Read [My Dream of Martin Luther King]by Faith Ringgold. (See Materials list.)

3. Now the students create their own timelines by illustrating one major event from Dr. King's life. Assign a date for the students and then assign them to work with a partner. The teacher must pick out twelve dates. Together they will draw and color a picture for their part of the timeline.

4. Then in the correct sequential order, the teacher calls out the date, and then the students with that date will stand up together, show their picture, and orally tell what part of his life they illustrated. Together, glue it to the timeline and write the date and a sentence.

Day 4
1. Recite poem and sing the song.

2. Review the whole getting along theme and previous days' lessons.

3. Read [A Picture Book of Martin Luther King] by Adler. (See Materials list.) Discuss and answer questions.

4. Complete the KWL chart.

5. Make a Peace Tree with multi-colored leaves and doves of peace. When the teacher or a child hears something that shows kindness and concern for others' feelings at school, put the person's name on a leaf or a dove. This is a positive way to keep MLK's dream alive in the classroom.


1. A formative assessment should be done on Day 1 activity #3 and #4. The teacher should assess a completed paper doll that looks like the student and also assess a statement from each child about how to live in harmony.
2. Do a formative assessment on day 2 activity #2 as students orally retell about living in harmony as Dr. King wanted, as it is added to the KWL chart. A formative assessment should be done on Day 2 activity #3. Observe the students orally tell about predjudices they have experienced. Also,on activity #4, check students sentences for the understanding of how they can work together as Dr. King wanted as they are written on the chart paper.
3. A formative assessment of Day 3 activity #3 should include observation of students correctly illustrating their dates. Also, assess them on how well they work together, complete the activity in a timely manner, and clean up the materials. On activity #4 observe student partners to make sure date, picture, and sentence match and that it is correctly placed on the timeline.
4. A formative assessment of Day 4 activity #2 will be done by the teacher observing oral statements of students about getting along. Also, do a formative assessment on activity #4 by checking for oral statements on who Dr. King was, what he is famous for, and what he did to help people when it is put on the KWL chart.


An extension of this lesson could include the civil rights movement or Black History month.

Web Links

Web supplement for Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr.!
Martin Luther King, Jr

Web supplement for Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr.!
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.