Lesson plan

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Use this lesson to teach your students about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy he left behind. With a picture book that shares facts and beautiful illustrations to teach about his life, students will show understanding by organizing information on a graphic organizer.
GradeSubjectView aligned standards

Students will be able to explain Martin Luther King's Jr.'s legacy using information gained from an informational text.

(8 minutes)
Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Give each student a sticky note and tell them that they will write one sentence to show what they know about the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Have them place the post-it notes on a piece of chart paper labeled "At first, I knew..."
  • Read through some of the sticky notes and highlight some of them for the class, pointing out that they tell about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy.
  • Ask students if they can define the word Legacy. Write it on the board, and ask students to talk to partners about their ideas.
  • Provide a student-friendly definition of the word and write it on the board (e.g., something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past).
  • Tell students that today, they will learn about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy by reading a picture book and picking out the key ideas and details.
(12 minutes)
  • Prompt students to think of any other historical figures they have studied up to this point in the school year. Ask them to explain their legacy. Some examples to provide for the class could include: Rosa Park's legacy was that she showed courage when she did not give up her seat on the bus, so that sparked a national Civil Rights Movement for racial equality. Thomas Edison's legacy was the invention of the lightbulb. Amelia Earhart's legacy is that she was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Show the cover of Martin's Big WordsBy Doreen Rappaport and share that it is an illustration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask students to think about this image of him as you read aloud the words in the text. Prompt them to think about why this illustration was a good choice for the cover of the book.
  • Read aloud the book, stopping periodically to check for student engagement and comprehension. Slow down the reading on the last few pages of the book, which focus specifically on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy. Think aloud about how the pages are sharing big ideas about this historical figure.
  • Ask learners to turn and talk to a partner about the cover of the book and why it is a good choice for the book. Have volunteers share out with the class. Point out that Martin Luther King, Jr. did important, serious work, and that he was courageous and driven to bring about change. He did all of that hard work without violence, so that is why a smiling picture of him is a good choice for a book about his life.
(20 minutes)
  • Hand out a copy of the Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Legacy Graphic Organizer to each individual, and tell them that they will use the information from the book to complete the different sections on the worksheet.
  • Display a copy of the graphic organizer on the document camera.
  • Go over the sections, and guide students to complete the first section "Who was he?" together.
  • Put students into partnerships or small groups, and give them time to complete the remaining sections together.
  • Gather the class back together and go over each of the sections together. Create a teacher copy with the correct information, and have students change their answers to include the correct information if needed.
(10 minutes)
  • Ask students to turn their paper over and write 3-5 sentences about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy. Tell the class they can use their graphic organizers to support their writing.
  • Review the definition of legacy. Circulate while students work, providing support as needed.


  • Provide students with sentence starters to support them on their sticky notes, graphic organizer, and independent work assignment.
  • Invite students to complete their graphic organizer in a small, teacher-led group.
  • Read aloud the picture book again for students that need refreshers throughout the lesson.


  • Have students write 5-7 sentences about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy, citing evidence from Martin's Big WordsBy Doreen Rappaport.
  • Provide additional informational texts about Martin Luther King, Jr. for students to utilize as they gather information about his life.
  • Challenge students to create a piece of artwork, poetry, or reader's theater about MLK.
(5 minutes)
  • Give each student another sticky note and have them write a sentence to show something new they learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. Then have them place it on a piece of chart paper labeled, "Now, I know..."
(5 minutes)
  • Share some of the sticky notes that students wrote during the Assessment portion of the lesson. Call on student volunteers to summarize Martin Luther King's legacy. If time allows, ask students to share what they wish their legacy to be.
  • Remind the class that a legacy is something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past. There are many important parts of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy that we need to continue honoring and following.

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