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Lesson Plan

Entering History: Nikki Giovanni and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Entering History: Nikki Giovanni and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Jaime R. Wood

Jaime R. Wood

Portland, Oregon


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



Students read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in conjunction with Nikki Giovanni's poem "The Funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr." in order to better understand the speech and the impact it had both on observers like Giovanni during the Civil Rights Movement and on Americans today. After researching and writing quiz questions about the vocabulary and content of King's speech, students practice it orally before performing it readers' theater-style in front of an audience. Students synthesize their learning by writing reflections exploring various questions about King's dream in today's society, Nikki Giovanni's response, and ways to promote social change.

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This lesson, taken from the NCTE book Living Voices, uses constructivist teaching methods to explore literature and vocabulary. Wood explains in her introduction to the book, "This philosophy of teaching is beautiful because students are not so much being fed meals of information cooked up by someone else, so to speak. Instead, they are constructing something new based on the ingredients they already have without necessarily knowing what all of the ingredients are or what the meal is to be called until afterwards"(xv). Wood offers the following example of this pedagogical approach:

For example, in Chapter Three [of Living Voices], students are asked to use sensory language to describe known objects in new ways. When they begin, they have no idea that the meal they are preparing is called sensory imagery or that this activity is practice in order to identify and explain the importance of sensory images in one of Pat Mora's poems, which is ultimately the goal of the lesson. All of this is done without defining concepts for students because they come to the definitions themselves through exploration and questioning, and therefore they are feeding themselves new knowledge that is more appetizing than information that is fed to them by someone else. (xv)

Like the activity Wood describes, this lesson plan invites students to explore a text independently then share their reading and reflections with the class. Wood asserts, "Not only are constructivist methods more successful for students, but I have found that I am a more satisfied teacher when I organize my lessons this way. My relationship to students becomes a collaboration in which students show me what they know, and I show them how they can use the knowledge they already have to learn new things." (xv).

Further Reading

Wood, Jaime R. 2006. Living Voices: Multicultural Poetry in the Middle School Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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