7 Ready to Use ESL Activities for Martin Luther King Day

7 Ready to Use ESL Activities for Martin Luther King Day

Andrei Zakhareuski
by Andrei Zakhareuski 45,558 views |

This is a guest article by Sarah Fudin. Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which recently launched Teach.com, a website to help new teachers learn how to become a teacher and provide resources for veteran teachers. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.
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In the ESL classroom, your job as an educator is not restricted to simply teaching the English language to students with a different mother tongue. In many ways, you are also responsible for bringing these students up to speed with American culture and history.


In the month of January, we commemorate the life and the works of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Studying Martin Luther King, Jr. with your ESL students this month is an excellent way to practice and hone language skills while introducing the class to an icon in American history.

How to Teach Martin Luther King Day

  1. 1

    The Letter H: Talking about our Heroes

    In many ESL classrooms, teachers devise themed lesson plans centered on certain letters. The letter H, for example, is used in this lesson plan as an avenue for talking about heroes. Through discussion, writing and reading, students devise their own definition of a hero. With a few simple modifications, this lesson plan can be easily altered to examine the life and deeds of Martin Luther King, Jr., and explore how his trials may have impacted your students.

  2. 2

    Summary Writing about MLK

    An important skill that ESL students must work to cultivate is critical reading. Part of skill is the ability to read a passage, article or story, then deliver an incisive summary that covers all the pertinent information in the source text. In this lesson plan, ESL students hone their summary writing skills through learning about MLK and his influence over the Civil Rights movement.

  3. 3

    It’s Story Time: Teacher-Tested Ideas for Telling and Writing Stories

    One of the most popular pedagogical techniques used in the ESL classroom involves utilizing stories and storytelling. Students are able to connect with topics and concepts through the aide of engaging stories, and are able to apply what they learn through stories and narrative passages in other aspects of their schoolwork. But you may also focus on the technique of writing stories as a way to teach important concepts like character, setting and plot. In this lesson plan, students learn how to craft stories. This aim can be focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. as the character, the Civil Rights era as the setting and the history itself as the plot.

  4. 4

    Martin Luther King Article

    This site offers many ESL lesson plans and is broken down into convenient categories by topic. Scroll down to the “Culture” section to download this lesson plan (as well as the following lesson plan). In this lesson plan, students read an article about Martin Luther King, Jr. and then answer comprehension questions. This is a classic ESL lesson that tests students’ abilities to synthesize information they take in by reading an article about a new or unfamiliar topic. The article is a biographical sketch of the life and work of Martin Luther King. Jr. followed by a timeline highlighting the major events in his life. The comprehension test that follows is a series of “fill-in-the-blank” questions accompanied by a word bank. Teachers can choose to provide students with the word bank or have them refer back to the article in order to extract the proper answer.

  5. 5

    “I Have a Dream” Speech

    One of the most (if not the most) celebrated speech given by an American is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.” By scrolling down to the “Culture” section after clicking through the above link, you can download the last five minutes of this speech. Use it in your classroom to teach students about public speaking, speech writing, diction or any other pertinent language concept. The speech is an excellent base for any ESL teacher looking to discuss Martin Luther King, Jr. with her students in an innovative and hands-on way!

  6. 6

    English Lesson Plan on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

    This is perhaps the most comprehensive ESL lesson plan/activity set revolving around Martin Luther King. Students read a brief biography of the man, then practice their English skills through activities that involve phrase matching, filling in the gaps, word choice, spelling, rearranging jumbled sentences and paragraphs, discussion questions and writing samples. In all, this a great resource to help you prepare a unit on Martin Luther King, Jr. for your ESL students.

  7. 7

    Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.?

    This lesson plan from ESL-Galaxy.com is a great way for you to teach your students about Martin Luther King Jr. through fun and challenging activities. The handout assumes that your students have already been introduced to a general biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (so make sure you have spoken to them about his life or given them a reading assignment previously) and assigns them a writing assignment aimed at practicing particular skills, like using in the passive voice. By composing their own brief biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr., students are able to master language skills through an interesting cultural lens.

  8. 8

    I Have a Dream Lesson Plan

    Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech is a perennial source for studying the Civil Rights movement in America. This lesson plan uses the speech to introduce students to Martin Luther King Jr. Through listening to the speech and preparing oral presentations, students will not only explore American history, but also become acquainted with one of the greatest speeches ever delivered in the English language. This lesson plan is well organized and comprehensive with links to audio/video media of the speech, well-outlines assignments and excellent sources for your students to reference in their study.

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