Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorates the birth of one of the greatest civil rights warriors of the 20th century. Although King was an American who focused on segregation and inequality in the U.S., his impact was global.
Decades after his death, King’s nonviolent struggle for equality and justice remains highly relevant to today’s students and teachers. The free lessons and activities below provide a wide range of approaches to teaching about King, from a simple word search for younger learners to thought-provoking, in-depth lesson plans for middle and high school students.
Best Free Martin Luther King Jr. Lessons and Activities
Fascinating facts about Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s hard to believe that there could still be little-known facts about this widely known civil rights icon. Yet there are! From his early and unusual name change to his history of imprisonment to his Grammy awards, these revelations will provide more ways to understand the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
National Education Association Learning and Living the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
A modest but high-quality collection of lessons and activities for K-5 students to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy.
Martin Luther King Jr. Coloring Pages
Perfect for younger learners, these ten printable coloring pages feature quotes from MLK in doodle-style font. Three other printables provide space for kids to write about MLK and their own dreams.
105 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes for the Classroom
Within these 105 quotes—most of which are just a couple of sentences long—lies a goldmine of material to serve as a starting point for students to explore King’s legacy. Have students choose the quote that speaks to them most strongly, then have them research the context and answer questions about the meaning and message.
Americorps Martin Luther King Jr. National Day Of Service
Unique among holidays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day focuses on service to the community. Explore a diversity of free project ideas and ways to engage students in community service, from helping the homeless and refugees to community cleanups. A great source for hands-on projects.
Martin Luther King Jr. and the Power of Words
When we talk about nonviolent resistance, we have to talk about the power of words. Designed to be completed in a single class period, this lesson plan from the Center for Civic Education includes detailed guidelines as well as teacher resources. Grades 7-12.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute: Nobel Peace Prize
The remarkable story behind King’s naming as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1964 includes the reactions of the day, both positive and negative, and how King distributed the prize money.
Teaching and Learning About Martin Luther King Jr. With The New York Times
A wealth of teaching and learning resources that includes lesson plans, songs, photos, videos, a civil rights quiz, and connections to current events. All NYT Learning Network resources are available to use for free without an account.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X
A downloadable, standards-aligned three-lesson unit covering the very different civil rights approaches of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Included are all required texts, a compare-and-contrast exercise plus questions for document analysis and critical thinking. Grades 6-12.
The Fight for Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Given the long struggle for civil rights for African Americans, it’s not surprising that the idea of a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King generated plenty of resistance. History.com relates the decades-long fight to commemorate MLK.
The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s biography is accompanied by photos, texts, audio excerpts, and a timeline of key events.
Dr. King’s Dream Lesson Plan
In this standards-aligned lesson, students learn about King through a brief biography, videos, and photos, then answer questions and complete activities.
Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and the Power of Nonviolence
King was strongly influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of civil disobedience via nonviolent resistance. This standards-aligned lesson provides digital readings, videos, and five suggested activities for learners.
Securing the Right to Vote: The Selma-to-Montgomery Story
There is no greater asset of freedom than the right to vote. This in-depth lesson plan on the struggle for de jure and de facto voting rights includes: background; motivations; document, map and photo analyses; extension activities; and more. Note the link to “Liars Don’t Qualify” by Junius Edwards.
Nonviolent Direct Action at Southern Lunch Counters
Nonviolent civil disobedience isn’t as simple as it sounds. It requires training, diligence, courage, and most of all, a commitment to nonviolence in the pursuit of justice and equality. Using online newspaper articles of the day, photos, and printable worksheets, this complete lesson plan will teach students about the theory and practice of nonviolent direct action.
The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Kid President
The effervescent Kid President tells the story of MLK in a highly engaging and relatable manner. Perfect for younger learners.
Read Write Think Martin Luther King Jr. Activities and Lessons
Searchable by grade, learning objective, and topics, these classroom/elearning activities include lesson plans, student interactives, and related digital resources.
Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement
The question of how best to achieve equal rights was, at times, a contentious one. This fine civil rights curriculum explores different views of key black leaders during the 1960s and includes guiding questions and lesson plans. Grades 9-12
12 Classic Songs Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.
You probably know some of the famous songs on this list, such as U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and Marvin Gaye’s “Abraham, Martin and John.” But other well-known musicians, from Stevie Wonder to Elvis Presley, have also recorded tributes to MLK. These powerful and emotional tunes speak to the impact of King’s legacy on popular culture, as well as the broader society.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
An audio recording of Dr. King reading his influential “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Students can listen to this civil rights classic, learn about the issue of the day, and note his skillful use of persuasive rhetoric. Challenge: Ask your students to determine which of Dr. King’s concerns are still a problem today, 59 years later.
Resources for Virtual Projects
An extensive, step-by-step guide for teachers to plan and implement creative virtual volunteer projects for students and others who wish to participate in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
Birmingham 1963: Primary Documents
Using six historical documents, students will investigate the civil rights protests and violent police response in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama.
Martin Luther King Jr., and Memphis Sanitation Workers
What happened during the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike, and what was King’s role in his final campaign? How did King view economic issues compared to traditional civil rights causes? These and other questions are thoroughly investigated in this primary-source-focused lesson from the National Archives.