Submitted by: Laura Candler

Grade Levels: 3-5

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 3-5, students use BrainPOP resources to learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Students will sequence the major events in Dr. King’s life and discuss Dr. King as a leader and his impact on the civil rights movement using a series of cooperative learning activities and handouts.

Students will:

  1. Learn and use vocabulary related to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.
  2. Sequence the major events in Dr. King's life.
  3. Discuss Dr. King as a leader and his impact on the civil rights movement.


  • Computer with internet access for BrainPOP
  • Interactive whiteboard (optional)
  • Printed or projected copy of the KWL chart
  • MLK Sequencing Events Cards
  • MLK Vocabulary Cards
  • MLK Definition Cards
  • Civil Rights Vocabulary Practice Worksheet
  • MLK Discussion Question Cards


assassination; boycott; civil rights; eloquent; liberal; overturn; pastor; protest; segregate; universal


Print out the MLK BrainPOP Video Packet PDF and duplicate one set of activity cards for each pair or team of students as the directions specify. Many of the activities assume the students are working in teams of four students, but you can easily adapt the suggestions to guided group work, learning centers, or individual practice. If you use all of the activities, you can expect to spend two or three days on this mini-unit. This lesson plan shares some ideas for using the teaching packet in conjunction with BrainPOP resources: the full set of instructions is outlined in the packet.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Seat students in teams of four and present the KWL chart to the class. You can use a printed copy as a recording chart, or use an interactive whiteboard to project the chart while you type directly into it.
  2. Begin by telling your students that you’re going to show them a short video about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask them what they already know about Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement and add their ideas to the first column. Then ask them what they want to know about those topics and add them to the chart.
  3. Introduce the vocabulary words by giving each team one page of vocabulary cards (page 5 of the teaching packet) and one page of definitions (page 6). Ask them to spread all the cards out in the middle of the team and take turns matching a word card to its corresponding definition. At this point they will be guessing, but the activity will make them think about the word meanings.
  4. After each team has matched the words and definitions, review the correct answers with them.
  5. Play the BrainPOP Martin Luther King, Jr. Movie through once without stopping to discuss words or concepts.
  6. Play the movie through a second time, pausing it at least once every minute. Ask student volunteers to summarize the important events and ideas and clear up any points of confusion. Alternatively, you can give each pair of students one set of Sequencing Events cards (page 7). Have them cut the six cards apart and spread them out between them. As they watch the video the second time, ask them to listen for those events and write the year of the event on the card.
  7. After watching the movie and discussing it, ask students to help you add information to the last column on the KWL chart which represents new information that they learned from the video.
  8. Immediately after completing the KWL chart, have your students take the Quiz together as a class. To keep your students actively engaged, have them respond by writing the letter of the correct answer on dry erase boards to show you or by using sign language hand signals for the corresponding letters of the alphabet.
  9. To make sure students understand how to use the vocabulary terms correctly, you can have them practice using the words in sentences. Choose between the one-page worksheet on page 8 of the teaching packet or the two-page version on pages 10 and 11 that can be displayed on an interactive whiteboard. If you use the worksheet, you might want to allow students to work with a partner and take turn filling in the blanks. You’ll find an answer key on page 9 of the packet.
  10. Students can use the vocabulary and definition cards to play the traditional game known as Memory or Concentration. Each team or pair mixes up all 20 cards and places them face down in four rows of five cards. Then they take turns flipping over two cards, trying to find a match. If they find matching cards, they keep the cards and take another turn. If the cards don’t match, they place them back down and the next player takes a turn. Play continues until all cards have been used.

Extension Activities:

To engage students in higher level thinking, use the Discussion Question Cards (on page 12 of the teaching packet) as prompts. This can be done in whole-group Think-Pair-Share discussions: Pair students with a discussion partner and call out one of the questions. Ask students to think about their own answers, and then pair with a partner to discuss them. Next, call on individual students to share what they and their partner discussed.

Another option is to use the cards in small group team discussions. Give each team one set of cards to place face down in the center of the team. The first person flips over the top card, reads it aloud, and gives think time. Then starting to the left of the question reader, students take turns responding and sharing ideas. The last person to voice an opinion is the person who read the card aloud.

As a culminating activity, ask students to write journal reflection entries. Allow them to choose a discussion card question, use the BrainPOP discussion prompt, or create their own journal prompt.

More teaching resources by Laura Candler can be found on her website,