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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


Student Objectives

Instruction & Activities

Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will:

  • read (or listen to stories) about Dr. King's life and think about their own impact on the future.
  • identify the different meanings of the word "big" as it relates to the idea of "big words."
  • analyze sample quotations for "big" words.
  • think reflectively about personal dreams and ideas and create a list of their own "big words" either originally or as a found poem.

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Instruction & Activities

  1. Either as a whole class activity or in small groups, read books or online resources on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life chosen from the resource lists. If available, conclude your exploration by reading Martin's Big Words to the whole class.
  2. Talk about the difference between a word's literal meanings (its denotations) and figurative meanings (its connotations). In Martin's Big Words, the book's author, Doreen Rappaport, quotes King's resolve as a child: "When I grow up, I'm going to get big words, too." Either after reading Rappaport's book or exploring Dr. King's speeches online, talk about the defintion of "big." Dr. King's "big" words are not always so large in length as they are in importance: Freedom, Peace, Love, and so on.
  3. Distribute copies of the "I Have a Dream" speech or show the speech on a computer screen or overhead projector. Read the second paragraph of the speech (the "fivescore years ago" passage) aloud, asking students to follow along on their copy.
  4. Ask students to read the paragraph to themselves, noting the "big" words in the passage. Tell students that they will share their lists with the class.
  5. Read the paragraph aloud again to help students think about the sound of the words before sharing from their lists.
  6. Ask students to share the "big" words they found in the speech. Write the words on the board or overhead. Discuss with students why they have chosen the words that they have and why they consider the words "big."
    More Practice
    If your students need more practice identifying "big" words, divide them into groups and ask each group to focus on a different paragraph in the "I Have a Dream" speech (or another speech). Circulate among groups and monitor student progress. Provide individual help as necessary. After students have had time to complete their lists, have each group share their list of words. Note in particular words that show up on more than one group's list.
  7. When you are confident that students understand the concept behind "big" words, ask students to create their own list of big words—either creating found poems using Word Mover to choose words from an excerpt of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, or working independently to build a book about their own "big" words. When students have finished creating either the found poems or their books, give them the chance to share their work with the rest of the class.

    • Found Poems
      • Share the example found poems and original excerpt from which it was drawn with the class.
      • Have students look at the passages from the"I Have a Dream" speech that are within the app (by choosing "I Have a Dream" and then refreshing the word bank, as necessary).
      • Instruct students to convert the prose passage into a poem by deleting words and playing with line breaks. Students can use the "I Have a Dream" Found Poem Word Mover to arrange words into a variety of different poems, or they can write their different versions out on paper.
      For more information, see the Found Poems/Parallel Poems lesson plan.

    • Independent Lists
      • Have students begin by brainstorming a list of words that are meaningful to them, a list of their own "big" words. If students need additional help, you might share a list of Dr. King's quotations that they can use for inspiration.
      • Once students have a list of words, have them choose the five words on the list with the "biggest" meaning for them. Each student's list will be different—and each will be right. This is a personal list.
      • Once students have narrowed down the list, they need to think about their reasons for choosing each word. Provide the following example:
        One of Dr. King's "big" words is love, which he has used in the quotation, "Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that" [emphasis added].
      • For each of their five words, ask students to think of or compose a short sentence that demonstrates why the word is important to them.
      • Explain the template for the "My Big Words" book. Students type their name on the first page. On the following five pages, they type their big word and the related sentence or quotation. On the final page, students can create their own conclusion to the book—they might list all the words as on the final page of Martin's Big Words, for instance.
      • Once students understand the template, they either type the information on the pages if working online or write on printed copies. If working online, have students print out their work once they've typed in their text.
      • When the text is finished, students cut out the individual pages.
      • Once all the pages are finished, staple the pages together, or stitch the pages together with needle and thread (see the Web Resources section for details on stitching a book together).
      • Once the books are assembled, students can draw illustrations on the backs of each page. Explain that illustrations will pair with the quotation on the facing page. You can use pages from Martin's Big Words to demonstrate illustrations facing pages of text. The last page of Martin's Big Words provides an example of this layout (with the picture on the left side and the words on the right side.

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The "big" words that students choose can't be assessed easily. A word that seems "big" to one person may seem quite unimportant to another. The best way to assess students' work on this project is first to see that they've finished the task, and second to base feedback on students' reflection on the project:


  1. Ask them to write a reflective paragraph that talks about their choices. Ask them to explain how they chose the words that they did for the found poems, or why they chose the five words that they did for the books.

  2. Ask students to submit their finished work and any notes they've taken. From this material you'll be able to see how the students chose their "big" words.

  3. As you review their work, focus your feedback on the connections between the words that they chose and the reasons that they chose them. Students whose reflections show close connections between their choices and their explanations have demonstrated an understanding of the underlying concepts of the lesson. Students who can't explain their choices may not yet understand the concept of "big" words.

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