Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorates the birth of one of the greatest civil rights warriors of the 20th century. Although King was an American who focused on segregation and inequality in the U.S., his impact was global.
Decades after his death, King’s nonviolent struggle for equality and justice remains highly relevant to today’s students and teachers. The free lessons and activities below provide a wide range of approaches to teaching about King, from a simple word search for younger learners to thought-provoking, in-depth lesson plans for middle and high school students.
The Fight for Martin Luther King Jr. Day (opens in new tab)
Given the long struggle for civil rights for African Americans, it’s not surprising that the idea of a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King generated plenty of resistance. History.com relates the decades-long fight to commemorate MLK.
The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. (opens in new tab)
King’s biography is accompanied by photos, texts, audio excerpts, and a timeline of key events.
Dr. King's Dream Lesson Plan (opens in new tab)
In this standards-aligned lesson, students learn about King through a brief biography, videos, and photos, then answer questions and complete activities.
Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and the Power of Nonviolence (opens in new tab)
King was strongly influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of civil disobedience via nonviolent resistance. This standards-aligned lesson provides digital readings, videos, and five suggested activities for learners.
Securing the Right to Vote: The Selma-to-Montgomery Story (opens in new tab)
There is no greater asset of freedom than the right to vote. This in-depth lesson plan on the struggle for de jure and de facto voting rights includes: background; motivations; document, map and photo analyses; extension activities; and more. Note the link to "Liars Don't Qualify" by Junius Edwards.
10 Movies to Watch This MLK Day (opens in new tab)
These 10 films about King delve into different aspects and times in his life, from childhood through his untimely death by assassination. The list comprises both dramatizations and documentaries—and includes some great films you may have never heard of.
Nonviolent Direct Action at Southern Lunch Counters (opens in new tab)
Nonviolent civil disobedience isn’t as simple as it sounds. It requires training, diligence, courage, and most of all, a commitment to nonviolence in the pursuit of justice and equality. Using online newspaper articles of the day, photos, and printable worksheets, this complete lesson plan will teach students about the theory and practice of nonviolent direct action.
Martin Luther King Jr. pre-K-12 Digital Resources (opens in new tab)
Created, tested, and rated by your fellow teachers, these Martin Luther King Jr. lessons and activities are searchable by grade, standard, rating, subject, and activity type. With hundreds to choose from, sort by rating to easily find the most popular lessons and activities.
The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Kid President (opens in new tab)
The effervescent Kid President tells the story of MLK in a highly engaging and relatable manner. Perfect for younger learners.
Read Write Think Martin Luther King Jr. Activities and Lessons (opens in new tab)
Searchable by grade, learning objective, and topics, these classroom/elearning activities include lesson plans, student interactives, and related digital resources.
Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement (opens in new tab)
The question of how best to achieve equal rights was, at times, a contentious one. This fine civil rights curriculum explores different views of key black leaders during the 1960s and includes guiding questions and lesson plans. Grades 9-12
12 Classic Songs Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. (opens in new tab)
You probably know some of the famous songs on this list, such as U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and Marvin Gaye’s “Abraham, Martin and John.” But other well-known musicians, from Stevie Wonder to Elvis Presley, have also recorded tributes to MLK. These powerful and emotional tunes speak to the impact of King’s legacy on popular culture, as well as the broader society.
Stanford University: The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute Lesson Plans (opens in new tab)
A bounty of K-12 lesson plans examining Dr. King’s groundbreaking advocacy and principles, from his belief in love and faith to his pilgrimage to India. Searchable by grade and subject (art, English, and history).
Letter from a Birmingham Jail (opens in new tab)
An audio recording of Dr. King reading his influential “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Students can listen to this civil rights classic, learn about the issue of the day, and note his skillful use of persuasive rhetoric. Challenge: Ask your students to determine which of Dr. King’s concerns are still a problem today, 59 years later.
5 Things to Know: Surprising Facts About Martin Luther King Jr. (opens in new tab)
Five fascinating, often overlooked facts about MLK are explored in this article from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Images and links to further study make this a solid resource for students in grades 6-12.
When Robert Kennedy Delivered the News of Martin Luther King’s Assassination (opens in new tab)
Powerful video record of the immediate aftermath of a dark moment in U.S. history. Robert F. Kennedy learned about King’s assassination while he was on his way to a presidential campaign stop. His hastily prepared remarks are unlike any other political speech and reveal much about the times.
The 15 Year Battle for Martin Luther King Jr. Day (opens in new tab)
With today’s broad acceptance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s instructive to look back and recall the divisiveness it originally engendered.
Resources for Virtual Projects (opens in new tab)
An extensive, step-by-step guide for teachers to plan and implement creative virtual volunteer projects for students and others who wish to participate in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
Americorp Volunteer Events (opens in new tab)
Find in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities for the MLK Day of Service. Search by location, cause, skills needed, and age of volunteer.
How Do You Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day? (opens in new tab)
A plethora of inventive ideas from teachers across the U.S. to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., from readings, poetry, and the arts to dreams and solving conflicts. For students pre-K through grade 12.
Birmingham 1963: Primary Documents (opens in new tab)
Using six historical documents, students will investigate the civil rights protests and violent police response in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama.
Martin Luther King Jr., and Memphis Sanitation Workers (opens in new tab)
What happened during the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike, and what was King’s role in his final campaign? How did King view economic issues compared to traditional civil rights causes? These and other questions are thoroughly investigated in this primary-source-focused lesson from the National Archives.
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