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Lesson Plan

How Big Are Martin's Big Words? Thinking Big about the Future

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How Big Are Martin's Big Words? Thinking Big about the Future

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time 50 minutes
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Caldecott Honor book, Coretta Scott King Honor book, and an Orbis Pictus Award winner, tells of King's childhood determination to use "big words" through biographical information and quotations. Using this book as well as other resources on Dr. King, students explore information on King's "big" words. They discuss both the literal and figurative meanings of the word “big” and how they apply to Dr. King's words. They read an excerpt from Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech and note the “big” words.  Students then choose one of two options: (1) they write about their own "big" words and dreams in stapled or stitched books, or (2) they construct found poems using an excerpt from one of King's speeches.

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  • "My Big Words" Book Template: Students can use this online form as a template to create a book of their own "big words."
  • Word Mover: Using this mobile application for tablet devices, students can move words from excerpts of King's "I Have a Dream" speeach to create found poems.

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To talk about Dr. King's life is to talk about terrible things: racism, bombings, murders, assassination. Yet it is also to discuss wonderful things: love, peace, harmony, pride, determination. What do we tell children about the "bad" things in the world? How can we "give [them] hope... provide [them] with reasons to embrace life and its possibilities" (Stanley 41)?

Ultimately, Stanley resolves, "Education is the only solution that I know to these dilemmas. Education, understood not as technique or training, not as schooling, but as part and parcel of 'the engagement of being human,' i.e., the shared act of making meaning of meanings inherited from others" (41).

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the NCTE Executive Committee issued a statement that concluded similarly: "We assert that the long-term response to violence and cruelty-indeed the only truly effective response-is education, an education in which social justice and the dignity of all people are held paramount."

In this activity, students focus on this kind of educational goal. Through an exploration of Dr. King's use of nonviolent protest and the power of words as a weapon for social justice, students learn more about Dr. King's life and think about their own impact on the future. And by turning from King's words to their own hopes for the future, the activity specifically highlights hope for the future.

Further Reading

Stanley, Timothy J. 1999. "A Letter to My Children: Historical Memory and the Silences of Childhood." Teaching for a Tolerant World, Grades K-6: Essays and Resources. Ed. Judith P. Robertson. Pp. 34-44. Urbana, IL: NCTE.


Moss, Joy. 2002. Literary Discussion in the Elementary School. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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