Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is obviously recognized with a national holiday.  In my area, some schools observe it with the day off, and some schools are in session to learn more about him and the Civil Rights movement.  With Black History month being just after, it’s also a great time to transition into learning about other influential African-Americans that helped to create positive change in our country.  I think it’s so important that every student  knows the injustices that have happened in our country to prevent them from happening in the future.

We started talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. a few weeks back.  To introduce it, we brought both classes together.  And then I split them up by race.  The black students sat in the back of the room behind a table and the white students sat in front, by me, as I was starting to read a story.  I didn’t tell them that’s how I was separating them, I just told them where to sit.  The kids in the back, rightfully, were beginning to get frustrated.

“I can’t see!”  “Don’t sit up like that because then *I* can’t see!”

I gave them about three pages into Martin’s Big Words before I stopped, ask the kids how they felt about being in the back, and then we discussed how it related to Rosa Parks and segregation in general.  Then everyone got to move closer and see clearly as we finished reading Martin’s Big Words.

An activity like this can be very controversial.  If you want to do it similarly, I’d recommend doing it with older students, and do it for only a few minutes.  All in all, our activity lasted about 5 minutes.  You could even change it up and segregate students by something like shirt or pants color.
Afterwards students traced their feet onto construction paper and wrote their Steps to Change ideas.  What they could do to make the world a better place, starting today. We got this idea thanks to A Year of Many Firsts.  Thanks Lyndsey!  If I was on my game, I’d have the bulletin board where we’re putting the feet up and beautiful and I’d have taken a picture to show you.  But I’m not and so just envision it in your mind.  Your imagination probably could use a workout anyway 🙂

Throughout the year I also try to be mindful of the main characters in the texts I present and ensure I not only present a variety of characters and texts, but that the characters are also relatable for my kids.  I love THIS POST from Scott Woods Makes Lists.  It gives a list of texts with black characters who are presented in positive, and often not the least bit controversial ways.  These are ordinary characters who just happen to be African-American.

But now we’re getting into test prep season with our first round of state testing in just 4 weeks.  I hate test prep as much as the next person, but since it’s the first time the kiddos are going to take this big and important test and they’ve never seen the format before, it’s super important that we get them ready.   I need my instruction to also stay relevant and meaningful, and not just test prep, so incorporating practice while we study Black History Month is a perfect application.  So I created this unit to bring both of those ideas together.

It is a series of informational texts on African-American heroes that’s perfect during Black History Month.  It also includes comprehension questions related to the texts.  The questions are text-based, but the far majority are inferential questions.  This time of year I really push my students to go back into the text to support their answers.  I also insist that they write in PQA.  You can see a bit more about that here.

There are 9 heroes included in the set: Martin Luther King, Jr., Doris Miller, Rosa Parks, The Little Rock Nine, Booker T. Washington, Sojournor Truth, Thurgood Marshall, Madam C.J. Walker, and Harriet Tubman.  Each text is written with a Lexile level of 800 and above.  This is to really help push students through text complexity.  For my third graders, I’ll be doing much of the reading and guiding them through this set.  For fourth and fifth grade students, they’ll be able to complete the texts much more independently.

To let you try it out with your students, and see the unit more up close and personally, I’ve put the text and the questions for Martin Luther King, Jr. for FREE in the Preview file.  Just click on any of the image links to go to TpT to download it.