Lesson plan

What Does an Activist Do?

Ask an important question this month: What does an activist do? This engaging lesson can be used leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day (and year-round). It supports students in understanding what it means to be an activist and how Martin Luther King Jr. used collaborative action to change the world and speak out against oppression. Perfect for first graders and second graders, this activity explores word meaning and other reading and writing skills.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
  • Students will be able to define academic vocabulary words connected to the story.
  • Students will be able to identify the main purpose of a text.
(3 minutes)
  • Gather the students together in a circle.
  • Show the students a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and ask them to turn and talk to a partner and complete one of the following sentence frames:
    • "I know this person. This is ____. He is important because ____."
    • "I don't know this person. I'm wondering ____."
(25 minutes)
  • Explain to the students that the picture is of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). Elaborate that MLK was a preacher, poet, brilliant orator, or speaker, as well as many other things.
  • Show the students the cover of A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney. Discuss the illustration on the cover of the book. Provide background by explaining that this book will explain the history of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. Ask students to stand up if they've ever heard about the famous speech.
  • Explain to the students that as you read, they might find out important information that they didn't know before. Write the following statements on the whiteboard:
    • 1) Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the "I Have a Dream" speech by himself.
    • 2) Martin Luther King Jr. worked with other important civil rights leaders to write the "I Have a Dream" speech.
  • Explain to the students that now they will vote for the statement they believe is true. Read both statements aloud or allow a student volunteer to do so for you. Reread statement 1 and ask students to raise their hand if they believe it's true. Reread statement 2 and ask students to raise their hand if they believe it's true.
  • Record their answers with tally marks next to each statement. Tell students that they will come back to these statements after reading the book to see which one is true based on evidence from the story.
  • Explain to the students that next you will read the book aloud and they will draw pictures to show their understanding of the beginning, middle, and end of the book. Pass out copies of the Digging Deep into Purpose and Vocabulary worksheet to each student. Reiterate that they will complete Part 1 as you read and pass out coloring materials for students to use.
  • Read A Place to Land aloud to students. As you read, ask questions to check student understanding. Question ideas include:
    • Were you surprised that MLK wasn't sure what to say before his speech during the March on Washington. Why or why not?
    • What did MLK do when he wasn't sure what to say?
    • How have your friends helped you in the past?
    • What was one of Martin's strengths?
    • Why is it important to keep going even when we want to give up?
    • Why is it important to speak up about things we believe in?
    • What are some important lessons we learned from this story?
  • After reading, gather students in a circle and encourage them to share their illustrations. Ask students questions like, "Why did you choose certain pictures to show what happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the book?" Compare and contrast students' work.
(10 minutes)
  • Ask students to return to their seats and put them in partnerships.
  • Project the Digging Deep into Purpose and Vocabulary worksheet on the whiteboard and complete Part 2 together as a whole group. After reading through each definition (e.g., activist, collaborative action, oppression), encourage students to say the definition in their own words to their partner.
  • Have students turn over their papers. Ask students to come up with a drawing to represent each vocabulary word with their partners. Allow partnerships to briefly share their ideas with the rest of the class.
(15 minutes)
  • Read through Part 3 of the Digging Deep into Purpose and Vocabulary worksheet and explain to the students that they will complete this on their own.
  • Provide access to the book as needed to support students.
  • Rotate around the room to support students and dictate student sentences as needed.

Support:

  • Allow students to complete Part 3 of the worksheet in a small, teacher-led group.
  • Allow students to use assistive technology to record their answers to Part 3.

Enrichment:

  • Have students read another book about Martin Luther King Jr. and compare and contrast their findings through drawings, writing, and other mediums such as poetry or art.
  • Encourage students to research one of the civil rights advisors in the back of the book and share their findings with the class.
  • Read the author's note at the end of the book and ask students to write a short, informational paragraph about what they learned.
  • Gather students' worksheets to assess understanding of the purpose of the text.
(5 minutes)
  • Gather students together and ask them to share their illustrations and answers to Part 3 of the worksheet.
  • Compare and contrast students' work.
  • Revisit the statements on the whiteboard and ask students to think about which statement is true. Clarify that Martin Luther King Jr. worked with a team of people to create his speech. Emphasize the importance of collaborative action.
  • Ask students, "How does Martin Luther King Jr. show us the importance of using our voices to speak out against injustice, or things that are happening that hurt others?"
  • Allow students to share their answers with the rest of the class.

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