Standard Lesson

Exploring the Power of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Words through Diamante Poetry

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
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This lesson asks students to explore the ways that powerful and passionate words communicate the concepts of freedom, justice, discrimination, and the American Dream in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Students read, listen to, or view King's speech and pay close attention to his word use and use of literary devices. They analyze King's definitions of freedom, justice, discrimination, and dreams as demonstrated by the details in his speech. After a thorough exploration of the power of the speech, students choose powerful words and themes from the text and arrange them into original diamante poems.

While this lesson focuses on the "I Have a Dream" speech, it could be adapted to any of King's speeches, as well as to famous speeches by others, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech, Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address," or Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?"

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In her article Words Made Public/Words Made Powerful, Susanne Rubenstein writes "...we do not recognize how powerful our students' words are. For both reader and writer, the impact of words made public is tremendous..." She goes on to describe the power of words: "Our children know too well how to arm themselves
with guns and ammunition, but we can-and should-teach them that words are commanding weapons, too. Words can pierce the heart and change a life, and to wield words well is extraordinary power. Young people want to be heard...We can give young people another way to express themselves and the beliefs they hold, and that is through written language." (10)

In this lesson plan, students explore the powerful words of one of the world's most passionate speakers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and in the process they have the opportunity both to investigate the deep meanings of King's words and to choose words that they find powerful themselves as they compose their own poems in response to King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Speech from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 28 August 1963, also known as the "I Have a Dream" speech. Available versions are listed in the Websites section.
  • General classroom supplies (paper, pens or pencils, board and chalk or chart paper and markers, and so forth)




  • Review the available versions of Dr. King's speech, and make arrangements to share the speech with students (e.g., making copies of the text version, setting up computer access to play the audio version, arranging for television or projectors for the video version).
  • Familiarize yourself with the structure of diamante poetry. “Diamante” from Albert Somers's Teaching Poetry in High School can serve as a resource.
  • Make copies of the Power of Words Diamante Assignment and the Diamante Rubric.
  • Obtain copies of dictionaries and thesauruses to serve as resources for students as they read and write.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • read and analyze a text closely for the underlying concepts and ideas.
  • identify rhetorically significant words, words which bring passion to a text.
  • be introduced to the genre of diamante.
  • explore the relationship between the structure and meaning of a poem.
  • draw conclusions about the ways a writer's choices play a role in writing.

Session One

  1. Play the audio recording of the speech for students, pausing after the fifth paragraph. Alternately, if you do not have the resources available to play the speech, read the first five paragraphs of Dr. King’s speech to students, or ask student volunteers to read the paragraphs aloud.
  2. Ask students to brainstorm a list of the words from the opening of the speech that seem most important to them, compiling the list on the board or on chart paper.
  3. Ask students to predict what other words and concepts will be covered in the remainder of the speech. Note these predictions in another area of the board, or on a separate sheet of chart paper.
  4. Continue playing the audio recording of the speech or reading the speech aloud.
  5. Have the students continue to track the important words and concepts in their notebooks as they listen.
  6. Once you've listened to or read the entire speech, break the class into small groups and ask them to share the words they identified as being stressed in general discussion.
  7. Once students have had a chance to share their lists, ask each group to compile a list of the most significant words and concepts on a sheet of chart paper.
  8. When every group has a list compiled, post the lists on the wall where everyone can see them.
  9. Give students a few minutes to look at the lists from the other groups as well as the lists compiled by the full group after hearing the first five paragraphs of the speech.
  10. In full class discussion, ask students to explain patterns of repetition that they see among the lists as well as to identify words that seem more important than others. Have the students defend their responses.
  11. For homework, ask students to reread the speech, and make note of the words that seem particularly powerful to them in their notebooks. Explain that they will use these lists in writing during the next session.
  12. Save all of the compiled lists so that you can refer to them during the next session as well.

Session Two

  1. Ask students to review their lists of powerful words and concepts from the speech.
  2. After a few minutes of review, ask students to identify polarities from the lists, words and concepts from the speech that contrast (e.g., freedom and slavery, or black and white). List these opposites on the board or on chart paper.
  3. Explain that you are going to use the list of opposites as inspiration for a special type of poem that focuses on contrasting words, diamante.
  4. Distribute the Power of Words Diamante Assignment and Diamante Rubric, and review the structure of the diamante and the rubric with the class. You can use the Diamante Poems student interactive to explain the structure of the poem and provide examples.
  5. Model the process of writing a diamante by following these steps, composing on the board, on chart paper or with the Diamante Poems student interactive:
    1. Choose a set of contrasting words. Ideally, choose words that are not included in King's speech. You might simply choose something randomly (sunlight/shadow, or Beauty/Beast), choose opposites relevant to your class or the time of year (Pass/Fail, or week day/ weekend), or invite students to provide a pair for your example poem.
    2. Once you've chosen the contrasting words, write each in a separate area of the board (or on separate sheets of chart paper).
    3. Ask students to brainstorm descriptive words that they associate with each of the two words.
    4. Encourage students to stretch their vocabulary options by consulting dictionaries and thesauruses for additional words to add to the list. In addition to stating simply that students can use these books, you might model the process by asking a student to look up more information on a word. For instance, if a student offers the word "fun" for the weekend list, you might say something like "That's a good basic word. Can you get a thesaurus and see if there are some related words that we can add to the list?"
    5. Once your students have brainstormed plenty of words for both of the contrasting words, return to structure of the diamante to review the form of the poem.
    6. Using the word lists as resources, invite students to draft a diamante as a group. Begin by going through the lists and circling words that stand out for some reason.
    7. Allowing plenty of room for crossing out and revising, write the contrasting terms in a new area of the board or on a new sheet of chart paper—one term at the top and the other at the bottom.
    8. Move through the structure for the poem, choosing words from the list and adding them to the appropriate line for your draft.
    9. Demonstrate process writing by rearranging, changing, or moving words, and so forth as students make suggestions.
    10. Take the opportunity to discuss -ing and -ed participles briefly, explaining how the words are formed and how participles are typically used. You might also discuss parallelism at this point if pertinent (e.g., should all of the participles match in form, or does it make sense in your poem to mix -ing and -ed forms?)
    11. Once you've included words for each line of the poem, step back and read through the poem aloud, giving students the chance to hear the complete piece.
    12. Return to the structure of the diamante and move through the lines, confirming that each matches the requirements for the form. Make revisions as necessary.
    13. If appropriate, make a new "polished" copy of the poem. Once the copy is finished, model proofreading the poem by checking spelling and ensuring that commas between words are included.
    14. Refer to the pertinent areas of the rubric and think-aloud about how the poem fulfills the requirements.
    15. Leave the poem on the board or posted in the room as a model for students.
  6. Answer any questions that students still have about diamante or the rubric.
  7. Divide students into small groups.
  8. Explain the assignment, referring again to the assignment sheet and rubric. Point to the lists of words from Dr. King's speech which will serve as resources for students as they write. Students can also return to the text of the speech as well as consult the dictionary or thesaurus.
  9. Explain that students should use group members as resources as they write and revise. Encourage them to share drafts and to help one another revise and polish the poems.
  10. Ask students to begin work on their own poems, either individually or as a group, using the Diamante Poems student interactive to create their final draft. If necessary, students can also work on their poems as homework, with the class sharing taking place during the next class session.
  11. Circulate among groups, answering questions and helping students as necessary.
  12. Bring the class back together, and have each individual or group share poems.
  13. Have the class identify the similarities and differences in each of the poems (or as many as possible depending on the timeframe).
  14. Return to Dr. King's speech. Ask students to compare the words that they choose to those that Dr. King used, and ask them to think about the reasons for the differences. Encourage students to share any new realizations that they made about the speech as a result of writing their poems.
  15. Before collecting the poems at the end of the class, ask students to write a short reflection on the process they followed as they wrote the poem. In particular, ask students to reflect on the two words that they choose to contrast—on the reasons that they choose the words, the process of choosing descriptive words for the poem, and which words in their poems seemed most powerful to them and why.


Before submitting their poems, students can use the Stapleless Book student interactive to publish their diamante. Because there are only six pages available in the Stapleless Book, be sure to distribute the Stapleless Book Planning Sheet, and to discuss layout plans in the book to avoid confusion. Students will also need to choose a title for their diamante. Students can decorate their finished Stapleless Books with markers, colored pencils, or images clipped from magazines.

Student Assessment / Reflections

For formal assessment, use the Diamante Rubric, which has been shared with the students with the assignment sheet. As the focus of the lesson is the power of words, feedback should highlight the powerful words that students have chosen. As you respond, comment on particularly strong word choice and use of unusual words which fit the topic. Student discussion in groups and as a full class will also provide useful feedback on the poems.

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