Lesson plan

Significance of "Let Freedom Ring" in MLK, Jr.'s Speech

In this lesson, Significance of "Let Freedom Ring" in MLK, Jr.'s Speech, students will be able to understand the allusion Martin Luther King, Jr. makes to the song "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Have students discuss allusions in this speech.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Students will be able to evaluate and discuss allusion in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

(5 minutes)
  • Pass out an index card and ask students to write all they know about the song "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
  • Have students share their ideas with their elbow partners while you listen along. Write some of their responses that focus on freedom, singing, and mountaintops.
  • Review the ideas in the song "My Country 'Tis of Thee" if students are unfamiliar with the song. If necessary, play the YouTube video as a reminder.
  • Tell students today they'll evaluate and discuss how Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, used a historic American song to talk about African American freedom in the 1960s United States.
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students that an allusion is when a writer mentions something from popular culture to make a point or share an idea. Explain that Martin Luther King, Jr. will allude to "My Country 'Tis of Thee" directly when he quotes it, and then indirectly when he uses the same words from the song in his speech.
  • Give students a preview of the MLK, Jr. speech. Remind them that in the beginning of the speech he spoke about the Declaration of Independence, he mentioned how African Americans had struggled together to get more freedoms, and he tells of his dreams for making freedom a reality for all Americans.
  • Remind students that they will try to understand why MLK, Jr. alludes to the song (see the answer sheet for the "I Have a Dream" Speech and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" Song worksheet for some ideas).
  • Listen to an audio of MLK, Jr. giving the speech starting at 14:25 -16:31 using the NPR web link. Ask students to raise their hand or give another signal every time Martin Luther King, Jr. mentions lyrics from "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
  • Explain to students that since MLK, Jr. does not mention the title of the song, or even discuss why he is mentioning it to begin with, he is alluding to an idea by linking his "I Have a Dream" speech to the "My Country 'Tis of Thee" song.
(12 minutes)
  • Ask students to listen again and follow along with their copy of the worksheet "I Have a Dream" Speech and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" Song.
  • Have them highlight the references to "My Country 'Tis of Thee" with their partners.
  • Conduct a class discussion about how Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes the song and then uses the words repeatedly throughout the rest of the speech.
    • Review your classroom expectations for peer discussions.
    • Allow students to share their ideas about the importance of the words MLK, Jr. chose.
    • Use the answer sheet from the "I Have a Dream" Speech and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" Song worksheet as a reference tool to help you spark conversation ideas and probing questions.
  • Remember to validate student responses and encourage them to cite or refer to specific ideas from the text in their answers.
(15 minutes)
  • Review the directions on the worksheet "I Have a Dream" Speech and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" Song.
  • Ask students to complete the open-response questions making sure to cite the text or the speech in their written answers.


  • Preteach a lesson on "My Country 'Tis of Thee" to help students gain background knowledge of the song and the historical context of the piece. Use the worksheet Examine the Song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in the lesson.
  • Preteach some of the history leading up to the civil rights movement, such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and prejudices in the United States.
  • Provide transcripts of the song and the speech for students to follow along as they listen to the audio clips.
  • Allow students to discuss their answers before writing them down.
  • Provide sentence stems for citing the text, such as "When the author mentioned __, it made me think..."


  • Research the states that existed in 1831, when the song "My Country 'Tis of Thee" was written. Ask students to explain why Martin Luther King, Jr. would mention in his speech states that did not exist during the writing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
  • Ask students who have good understanding of the song or speech to summarize either of them with the class.
  • Have them share their ideas first to begin the conversations.
(7 minutes)
  • Allow students to choose partnerships to share their ideas from their worksheets.
  • Monitor their conversations to check for understanding.
(6 minutes)
  • Review any misunderstandings or disagreements you overheard during the partner discussions.
  • Conduct a "Connect, Extend, and Challenge" exercise in pairs where students answer the following three questions:
    • How does what you learned about allusion or the "I Have a Dream" speech connect to what you already knew?
    • What new ideas did you get that extend or push your thinking about the topics today?
    • What is still challenging for you to understand?
  • Choose volunteers to share one answer to the questions.
  • Take note of student responses to inform future lessons.

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