Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: MLK in the ESL Classroom

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the ESL Classroom
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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:
MLK in the ESL Classroom

As Language & Culture Assistants in Spain (or wherever you may be teaching abroad), I think one of our most important duties is to share and encourage cultural diversity. Chances are, if you’ve been in Spain over the past few months you’ve seen some things that have taken you aback – black face at Christmastime, the appalling Conguitos brand “mascot”, and even seeing teachers do the f*cking “Asian eyes” in class (I’ve been here for 6 years and that ish still throws me for a loop).

We’re not here to change everything overnight, but we are here to use these teaching moments to do our part to bring awareness. Diversity is comparatively new to Spain and elsewhere, so coming from a multiethnic, multicultural, multiracial country, it’s our responsibility to share the beauty of diversity and the heroes that have helped push society forward.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I Have a Dream Mobiles

“I Have a Dream” Mobiles

Works Best With: Young Learners – Low Intermediate (4º Primary – 4º ESO)
You Need: ¨Martin Luther King I Have a Dream¨ mobile template, scissors, yarn or string, hole puncher, colors (optional)

Many of you likely remember creating these mobiles as a child, sharing dreams to make your school, your country and the world better places. I loved this activity then and I love it even more now!

The introduction obviously evolves quite a bit from primary to 4º ESO, but with some tweaks here and there the activity works great for all. You may need 1 ½ – 2 class periods to complete the activity. If so, make sure they write their dreams down during the first class when the context is fresh in their minds, then they can use the second class to complete the craft and present their work.

I Have a Dream Blackboard Martin Luther King, Jr. ESL EFL Activities and Lesson Plans

“I Have a Dream” Mobiles for Primary Students

(Young Learners, 4º -5º primary)
What does it mean to be a HERO?

In general, most of these little dudes won’t have heard of MLK yet, so here I focus on the concept of heroism.

Warm Up

Ask them: What is a hero? They’ll think of superheroes first, so go with that. Let them name their favorite super heroes and ask them what makes them heroes (strong, brave, helpful, etc).

Tell them that normal people can be heroes too, and ask if they have any heroes in their life. Most will start off with mom, dad and grandparents, but if you’re lucky you’ll get a Gandhi, Malala or Nelson Mandala. Discuss what makes these people heroes.


Then I pop up a picture of MLK and tell them that he’s my hero, and that he’s such an important hero in the USA that we have a whole day off school to celebrate him. Depending on the level of the class (both English level and maturity), I tell them a bit about his legacy, his struggle and his dream for peace, equality and brotherhood.


On the board, I draw 3 sections: I have a dream for Our School, Our Country, Our World. Explain that we can all be heroes in small ways if we dream to make things better for everyone, and solicit ideas how we can improve our school, country and world.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I Have a Dream Worksheet

MLK Mobile Activity

Once you have plenty of examples from the brainstorm, pass out the ¨Martin Luther King I Have a Dream¨ mobile template and let those dreams flow! Once they’ve completed the written activity (maybe the following class period) they can begin to decorate, cut out and put the mobiles together.

Wrap Up

As they start finishing up, I usually have the students come up one by one to read their ideas to class or just to me, and then hang their mobiles up in a designated area in the classroom or corridor.

“I Have a Dream” Mobiles for ESO

(Lower Intermediate – Intermediate level;
Secondary Students)
What can we do to make the world a better place?

Depending on your school, these guys may or may not have heard of MLK, but they should have some concept of racism in the US, both historic and current.

Warm Up

I warm up with this 2015 Selma film trailer (with subtitles) I find that as a feature film it piques their interest from the very beginning, and that it’s just graphic enough that they get an idea of the extremity of the racism MLK was fighting against.

After the clip, I ask where the film takes place, if they know who the main character is portraying and what decade they think the film depicts. I try to access any prior knowledge they may have about Martin Luther King, Jr. or the history of racism in the USA.


Then I show an image of MLK with the words “I have a dream”. We discuss what it means to have a dream and that anyone who’s made a major impact in the world has started with a dream. I then play this clip of MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech (the text visuals really help!) and ask them to note each of the dreams he discusses, focusing on equality, justice, brotherhood and human rights.


On the board, write: I have a dream for Our School, Our Country, Our World. Tell them that the first step toward change is to identify the issues that we need to improve and then to decide how we can make positive changes.

MLK Mobile Activity for Secondary Students

1º & 2º ESO: Once you have plenty of examples from the brainstorm, pass out the ¨Martin Luther King I Have a Dream¨ mobile template and let the dreamers get to dreamin’! Once they’ve completed the written portion (maybe the following class period) they can begin to decorate, cut out and put the mobiles together.

3º & 4º ESO: If your older teens are “too cool” for arts & crafts, use butcher paper (papel marrón), write I Have a Dream on top, and let them come write their dreams on the poster rather than making the mobile, then hang it up in the classroom or the cooridor. This is also a good option for any age if you can’t get your hands on photocopies.

Wrap Up

As they’re finishing up, have the students come up one by one to read their ideas to the class or to you, and then hang their mobiles up in a designated area in the classroom or corridor.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes

(High Intermediate – Advanced)

Martin Luther King, Jr. ESL EFL Activities and Lesson Plans

Works Best With: High Intermediate – Advanced (4º ESO – Bachillerato)
You Need: MLK Quotes – printed, cut and preferably laminated for reuse. I’ve pasted a copy of the quotes I typically use at the bottom of this post to help ya out 😊

MLK was the very definition of eloquence, and there are so many quotable extracts from his speeches that are as relevant today as they were when he spoke them. In this activity, students discuss various MLK quotes – first in groups and later as a class – without knowing who they were spoken by.

Warm Up

Start off with a silly example of a quote to introduce the concept, i.e.

“My momma don’t like you, and she likes everyone.”
– Justin Bieber

Briefly discuss what they think the quote means, if it’s true and if it’s relevant.

Group Work

Give each group 3 – 4 MLK quotes to discuss, but don’t tell them who they are from. Ask them to discuss these 4 questions:

  1. What is the speaker trying to say or express? What does it mean?
  2. Do you agree? Why?
  3. Who do you think said it? Where? At what point in history?
  4. Are the words/meaning still relevant today? Explain.

Some of the quotes can be a struggle to understand, so be sure to walk around the room and help them along if they get stuck. I´ve added some of my favourite MLK, Jr. quotes at the bottom of this post for easy printing.

MLK, Jr. Quotes: Class Discussion

Once they’ve discussed all their quotes, bring the class back together and ask each group to choose the quote that they’ve connected to most, or that they’ve found the most profound. Go through the quotes one by one, discussing the above questions as a class.

Wrap Up

Once the class is winding down (5 – 10 minutes left), put up an image of MLK and tell them that all of the quotes were spoken by him.

Let the conversation go where it goes – it could be a discussion about the history of MLK, it could be race relations today in the US and worldwide, and it could be whether or not knowing the speaker changes their perception and understanding of the words. Go with the natural flow of the conversation, sometimes these guys are wise beyond their years!

How Have You Commemorated MLK in the ESL Classroom?

These activities have been a big hit in my classes, but I always love to switch things up and try new activities, so I´d love to hear about what you’ve done to bring King into your classroom! Please comment below if you have any suggestions, or to let me know how these activities work with your students!

And if you’re looking for more lesson plans in January & February, don’t forget to check these out:

8 New Year Activities for the ESL Classroom 🍾

4 Super Bowl Activities 🏈

Carnaval in the ESL Classroom 🎭

Love & light,

Erica ❤

PS: If you’re still looking for class activities to celebrate the New Year, don’t forget to click here!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes

The time is always right to do what is right. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to… racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal. One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people, but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people. The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
Before the victory is won, some more will get scarred up a bit. Before the victory is won, some more will be thrown into jail. Before the victory is won, many will be misunderstood and called bad names simply because they are determined to stand up. Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

Commemorating King.png

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. laceyryder says:

    This is excellent, thank you for sharing! As someone with many years of experience teaching English, do you have any advice for Valentine’s Day? (I’m looking for interactive activities, but having a lot of trouble finding anything good.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erica says:

      Thanks for reading! It’s actually been a while since I’ve done Valentine’s Day! With Carnival, Chinese New Year, Super Bowl and the Academy Awards I often run out of time. That being said, I’m hoping to get 3 or 4 lesson plan posts up this week for the rest of the February holidays, so I’ll do my best to dig through the old V-Day archives! In the meantime, I just posted a few ideas for Carnival if you’re intersted 🙂


      1. Patricia says:

        Hi! Thanks for sharing all these great ideas. I really want to try these activities out with my classes (although I’m worried about how they’ll go down with the 1/2 ESO classes because with some of the kids, if I don’t do something that is 100% game based, their attention span becomes non-existent /: ). I was just wondering, have you shared/or will you be sharing your Chinese New year activities? Thanks again!


      2. Erica says:

        Thanks for reading 😄 I totally get what you mean about the games, 2 eso can be tough sometimes depending on the groups’ maturity level. I guess my philosophy is that even if 5 of the..erhm “less well behaved” kids won’t get into it, the majority will get something out of it, even if it’s just a tiny little seed and a little nugget of culture/history. At the very least I hope they end up correlation King’s name with Mandela and Gandhi’s. I def so Chinese New Year in class and am hoping to get a post up in time for this year, so check back or hit follow to get notifications on new posts 😘


  2. Summer Colley says:

    Hi Erica! Just wanted to say thanks so much for the great lesson plan! Since I just found this lesson, I’m using it to commemorate Black History Month this February. I also drew some great inspiration from your Thanksgiving lesson plans. I really appreciate your attention to, and creative ways of teaching about, the more difficult parts of U.S. history. We as auxiliares need to play a role in educating about these topics, so thanks again and keep up the good work!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erica says:

      Thank you so much, Summer! This means a lot 🙂 I hope your classes enjoy the activities! I definitely enjoy sharing them 😉


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