Beacon Lesson Plan Library

The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Julia Unger


What made Martin Luther King Jr. an American hero? What events in his life contributed to his importance to our country? Students refine their knowledge of MLK's life through the creation of classroom timelines and oral presentations.


The student extends and refines knowledge about people and events after 1880 honored in commemorative holidays.


-Butcher paper (any color) cut into 3-4 ft. sections (1 per group)
-Yardsticks (1 per group)
-Various timelines of MLK’s life (3-4 per group, each group the same). See weblink.
-1 set of timelines copied on overhead paper (optional)
-8x11 construction paper (1 per student)
-Timeline Summary Sheets (see associated files)
-Crayons, colored pencils
-Overhead projector (optional)
-Packing Tape
-Checklist (1 per student, see associated file)
-Rappaport, D. [Martin’s Big Words]. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2001.


1. Cut butcher paper into 3-4ft. sections off the roll (1 section per group).
2. Gather yardsticks (1 per group).
3. Gather large black markers, one per group.
4. Gather 8x11 construction paper (1 per student).
5. Create group timeline resources (see weblinks for suggested timelines). Also obtain timeline from [Martin’s Big Words] by Doreen Rappaport. Each group should have 3-4 timelines from different websites/resources.
6. Copy timeline summary sheets (see associated file), one date per student depending on group's assigned dates.
7. Gather books related to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. The specific book used in this lesson is [Martin’s Big Words] by Doreen Rappaport.


1. Ask students to name their heroes. Informally discuss what makes a hero. Name Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero.

2. Create a K (Know) – W (Want to Know) – L (Learn) chart. Ask students “What do you already know about Martin Luther King Jr.?” After several students give input, ask “What do you want to know about MLK?” Record answers on the KWL chart.

3. Read [Martin’s Big Words] by Doreen Rappaport. Discuss how he was a hero for many Americans and why. Point out the timeline at the back of the book. Read key events to students. Was he always a hero?

4. Explain to students that today we will spend time getting to know Martin Luther King Jr. by making a class timeline of his life. We will take what we already know about his life and learn even more. We will also share what we learn with one another, and come to understand why MLK became a hero.

5. Model for students the creation of a timeline of your own life on the board or overhead. Model drawing the line with a yardstick, placing important years (mention spacing), and placing important entries above or below those dates.

6. Ask students, “How does this timeline make my life easier for you to understand?” Have students informally answer this question with a buddy or in a group. Report back as a whole class.

7. Place students in MLK timeline groups. Students should be in groups of 3-4 according to the decade or set number of years (see associated files Timeline Summary Sheets).

8. Pass out web/literature timelines resources (created in Prep. #5)to each group. Instruct students that they are to read each timeline and compare them. Are they all the same? Are there any differences?

9. Meet with students again as a whole class. Did anyone find any differences among the timelines? If so, what were they? Why would one timeline be different from another timeline?

10. Locate the important, most critical dates on the timelines with students. Have them highlight the most important dates while you model this highlighting on the overhead.

11. Designate the specific dates from the timelines that each group will be responsible for recording (ex. Group 1 will be responsible for recording the important entries in the years 1929-1955). Refer back to the teacher model of a timeline.

12. Review the checklist and the expectations with the students. Students meet again in groups to create their timelines. They should write the information for their dates on the timeline summary sheet (see associated files) prior to writing on the butcher paper.

13. Pass out materials (butcher paper, black marker, yardstick) to each group after they have completed their timeline summary sheets.

14. Circulate around the room to encourage neatness and correct spacing. Students should report back to the teacher for feedback once the timeline has been finished.


15. Students should have finished their timelines, including the line, year, and significant event written below that year.

16. Today students will individually draw a picture depicting one of the events on their group's timeline using their colored pencils or crayons. Students should meet in groups to decide who will draw which event.

17. Students should glue the picture above or below the matching year.


18. Review the checklist for this lesson. Pay close attention to the oral presentation requirements. Model the expected presentation behavior.

19. In groups, students bring their section of the timeline up to the front of the room. Each student presents his date and the event on that date, describing his picture to the audience. The timeline sections should be done in sequential order. The teacher should look for good speaking skills such as speaking to inform and voice volume.

20. Hang timelines in visible location, using the packing tape to attach them.

21. Return to K-W-L. Fill in the L section of the chart, asking students what they have learned. Review the concept of a hero. Do they think Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero?


In groups, students create a timeline section of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Individually, students then give an oral presentation on their timeline entry, explaining their date and the picture they have created.

•Know important events of MLK’s life.
•Create a drawing refining an event in his life.
•Record dates/events accurately on a timeline.
•Explain why the date/event was important in his life.
Oral Presentation:
•Speak for informational purpose.
•Focus on an informational topic.
•Speak clearly.

Assessment Tool:
Formatively assess each student’s timeline section and oral presentation using the checklist (see associated file). Give feedback and additional opportunities to work on skills as needed.


Students can take the timeline information and write a paragraph about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. This paragraph would not only further refine previous knowledge of his life, but also tie in the reasons for the commemorative holiday in his honor, thus extending their knowledge.

Web Links

A great website that includes many MLK resources. Scroll down to the 'About MLK' section and use the timeline link.
Martin Luther King Jr. & The Civil Rights Movement

Gives a detailed timeline of MLK’s life.
Timeline of the Events in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life

Attached Files

Timeline Summary Sheets     File Extension: pdf

Checklist for Timeline & Oral Presentation     File Extension: pdf

Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.