5 Activities for Studying Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” Speech

Most secondary students are familiar with the speech, or at least the main idea, by the time they are in a secondary ELA classroom.  And that’s actually an advantage.  That means that additional study can scaffold on what they already know, or think they know, about the speech.  Plus, secondary students can examine the speech in several ways, from medium to message, which adds depth and higher level thinking.


Here are some activities, including some short ones, great for working in study of the speech even if otherwise juggling exams or semester change:


  1.  Analyze the Analogies in the Speech: works great also as general practice for studying analogies and meaning.  Students explain the phrases in their own words and consider the impact of the use of the analogy.  Can be done in a single class period.(Available as a free item!)
  2. Graphic organizers are a great way to dig into the text without taking a lot of time.  One engaging activity that is short but useful is to map the locations mentioned in the speech.  Diagramming the key ideas in the speech is also a good way to review the content.  And, since it is a speech commonly referred to in early grades, a KWL can be an engaging way to get into the text. slide2
  3. What if the speech had been delivered on YouTube?  Or posted on Twitter?  Media can have a profound impact on message.  Students, who are used to online media, can really get into examining and considering how the different media would impact the message, such as in the speech.  Include conclusion analysis for students to practice providing support for their reasons.
  4. Tweet the speech. Students will retell the speech in Tweets of 140 characters or less, then analyze how that impacted the message.  Good way to introduce exploration of media or works as a stand-alone project and discussion.slide3
  5. Critical Thinking questions: students examine the text, take a position and write short responses.  Practicing with short responses, over essays, can help them refine and focus their argument on a topic. This skills can be carried over to focused essay paragraphs.  Plus, using a short response can help fit in the activity in a short time span. I noticed an improvement in simple paragraph writing with regular use of short paragraph responses and the paragraph model (required at first, then just heavily encouraged.)

Studying the “I Have a Dream” speech is a good way to include analysis of non-fiction and informational text.  Another good option is to read about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre!  Or check out my list of Winter Reading for some additional non-fiction ideas.


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