Teaching and Learning History - 011916

Classroom Applications

Martin Luther King Jr. and History's Habits of Mind

By Kristy Brugar
University of Oklahoma

Thousands, if not millions, of students across the United States are listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and/or are reading “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day provides a wonderful opportunity for students to explore the contributions of Dr. King and for teachers to promote History’s Habits of Mind.  Here are a few ideas.

  Habit of Mind     Description    Class Ideas
1 Significance of the Past
...understand the significance of the past to
their own lives, both private and public, and to
their society.
After listening to King's I Have a Dream speech, students will do a "quick write" about the impact of this speech/ideas on their lives.
3 Historical Empathy
...perceive past events and issues as they were
experienced by people at the time, to develop
historical empathy as oopposed to present-

After listening to King's I Have a Dream speech, ask students to talk with one another as if they had attended this landmark 1963 speech.  What are their reactions, feelings, or understanding of what they heard?  How might these reactions differ in 2016?
 10  People Who Made a Difference
...recognize the importance of individuals who
have made a difference in history, and the
significance of personal character for both good
and ill.
Create a venn diagram comparing the approach and actions to oppressive governments by King and Gandhi.
 13  Evaluating Evidence ...read widely and critically in order to recognize
the difference between fact and conjecture, and
between evidence and assertion, thereby to frame
useful questions.
Cut & Paste Primary Sources
In preparation for this activity, print out “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and cut the document into reading selections for each member of your class (approximately one longer paragraph or two to three shorter paragraphs per student).  Ask each student to read the assigned/selected passage.  After reading the passage, the student:
1) summarizes the passage;
2)  identifies the passage as fact or opinion and describes their choice;
3) develops a question about the passage.

Resources Worth Checking Out:
Classroom Resources for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, National Education Association
The King Center
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford
ReadWriteThink: I Have a Dream: Exploring Nonviolence in Young Adult Texts
Time Magazine: Person of the Year: A Photo History
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About NCHE

The National Council for History Education promotes historical literacy by creating opportunities for teachers and students to benefit from more history, better taught.