Martin Luther King Jr. Lesson for ESL

As always, my newcomers are responding positively to lessons that explain Martin Luther King, Jr. and his role in American history.  I’ll be doing more of them throughout the coming weeks.

These lessons come at a time when our recent immigrants need them most. We have an opportunity to discuss civil liberties and why Dr. King was so passionate about equality and justice.

I initially use the following objectives:

Content Objective: I will identify Martin Luther King, Jr. and be able to explain his role in American History.

Language Objective: I will explain my learning to my partner by completing the following sentence frame:  “Martin Luther King, Jr. was important to American history because _____________________________”

I use these materials over several days so my content objectives change to cover verb tenses, social studies vocabulary, idioms as well as author’s purpose and details.

My goal is to give my language learners enough of the basic facts to elicit rich conversations about social justice and equality.  A larger goal I have is to make sure each of my immigrant students understands the sacrifices made by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.  I want them to know that they are vitally important to the fabric of our nation.  I want them to know that there are so many people then and now that are willing to fight for their inclusion. And that this great man showed us how to fight with love.  These are messages that should not be lost on our English language learners.

Our students need to understand the basic facts about Dr. King’s life.  To help them understand his biography, I have adapted a piece of text that they use in groups to answer the knowledge level questions in a Kahoot.  The questions are at the basic, comprehension level which can still be a struggle for my first year students.  I scaffold by pre-teaching vocabulary and offering shared reading for my beginners/emergent readers.  More advanced students work in pairs. 

My students understand that if they are not the “reader” they should be tracking print to advance their decoding skills.  The listener also has the task of listening for the answers to the questions that will be on the Kahoot.  I give those to the students in this printed document.

Here is the link to play the Kahoot:

I have to give credit to Kahoot Hero NekyaHB.  She created a great Kahoot 2 years ago which I duplicated and adapted for my language learners.

I love the engagement I have with the students because they know there will be a Kahoot over the material.  But I don’t want to waste this engagement at the knowledge level of these facts.  I make sure to use visuals in the Kahoot so I can ask students what they notice.  We stop between many of the questions to discuss their thinking and their questions.  I facilitate structured conversations with the #QSSSA questioning strategy to hold students accountable for their conversations.  If you’re unfamiliar with this great technique, it will change your life!  John Seidlitz developed a great acronym for using several sheltered strategies together called Question/Signal/Stem/Share/Assess.  Valentina Gonzalez wrote a great post about it here.

With my second year students, the reading was less scaffolded.  I used Nancy Motely’s Talk, Read, Talk, Write approach so that the students were doing more of the reading.  If you are not familiar with this great approach, you can watch her VirtuEL keynote video that explains it here. This is how I used it:

Talk #1:  “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  This is what is known as the “Golden Rule.” What does this mean to you?  (Use QSSSA for Talk #1)

We do some extra talking here as I ask students to popcorn out what they know about Dr. Martin Luther King and what they want to know.  (KWL Chart)

Read: Shared reading or partner reading of this text.  Students work to answer questions that will also be in a Kahoot at the end of class.

Talk #2: This happens during the Kahoot.  I use QSSSA after several questions to have students discussing their connections and thoughts about the work of Dr. King.  We also generate more questions during this time.  Native language is allowed but we use frames for English speaking in unison.

Write: After the Kahoot we have a quick write to summarize our thoughts about Dr. King.  I do this as a shared writing with my newcomers (their ideas, I scribe the brainstorm and the quick write in English).  My intermediate/2nd year students do this more independently.  They still offer ideas for the brainstorm and I scribe them, but they compose their paragraphs independently.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo, I will also be using these videos and other great resources from his blog: New videos for teaching about Martin Luther King

Also adding a Flipgrid opportunity for my students.  Thanks to Jess Bell, who sent me this flipgrid example.  She has her students recording what their dream is.  The intro video should get the students off to a great start.  

 There is quite a bit we can teach when we couple Kahoot, videos, adapted text and Flipgrids with our language and learning targets.  Especially when we are using great sheltered strategies techniques.

I hope you found this helpful.  I can’t think of a better time to be using the teaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in our classrooms.

Thanks for reading!


PS:  Please reach out if you are interested in consulting or training. I continue to be inspired by the educators in every district where I work.  We all want the same thing.  We want to help students be successful.  It’s my honor to share strategies that support those goals!  You can reach Kathy Belanger of Seidlitz Education to book me at  Or contact me directly at


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