Standard Lesson

I Have a Dream: Exploring Nonviolence in Young Adult Texts

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students identify how the rapper, Common and writer, Walter Dean Myers, reinterprets Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of nonviolence in their own works. This lesson also aims to expose high school students to nonviolent options of conflict-resolution. To activate prior knowledge, students will watch Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech and read Doreen Rappaport's picture book, Martin's Big Words, and recall how he approached conflict. The students will connect Dr. King's answer to conflict-resolution with Common's interpretation of nonviolence, as demonstrated in his song, “A Dream.” The students will also connect this dream of nonviolence to Walter Dean Myers' short story, “Monkeyman,” from the book 145th Street.  Students are assigned a particular homework task prior to reading the short story in order to encourage a text-based discussion on characterization and conflict. The students will be introduced to Dr. King's Six Principles of Nonviolence and compose a thesis essay as a final assessment.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The English classroom offers opportunities to explore conflict resolution strategies through reading and analyzing plot structure, characterization, and point of view in short stories.  Multicultural literature exposes students to various nationalities, religions, socioeconomic classes, and cultures. Through the discussion of multicultural literature and the nature of conflict, empathy for diversity will develop and potentially deter the formation or promotion of intolerant behaviors.

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.
  • 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).
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 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



Showcases an online version of the poem "Choose" by Carl Sandburg.

Includes information on the King Center and a Glossary of Nonviolence terms.

Includes "I Have a Dream" video for students to view.

Showcases the music video of "A Dream" by Common.


  1. Prepare an appropriate number of copies for all of the handouts provided. It is also helpful to prepare transparencies for the handouts so they can be displayed on an overhead projector.
  2. Obtain copies of Dr. Seuss books or other picture books that demonstrate conflict-resolution from multiple perspectives.
  3. Secure internet access and test the American Rhetoric and DailyMotion links to retrieve Martin Luther King’s speech and Common’s music video.
  4. Hook up the LCD projector to the computer that will be used to display the online videos and test equipment.
  5. Read over "Monkeyman" and make notes about characterization, conflict, and resolution.
  6. Pre-plan how the homework assignments will be distributed.
  7. Review the definition of conflict and types of conflict (e.g., person vs. person, person vs. self, etc.) with the class using the Literary Elements Map.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • draw connections between Martin Luther King’s dream of nonviolence, Common’s "A Dream," and Myers' "Monkeyman."
  • develop critical reading skills by analyzing characterization and conflict in "Monkeyman."
  • draw conclusions about the ways a writer’s use of characterization influences the message of the story.
  • demonstrate an understanding of the Six Kingian Principles of Nonviolence in a thesis essay.

Session One

  • How were these conflicts resolved?
  • Did it help to take multiple perspectives when looking at the conflict?
  • How many conflicts were resolved peacefully?  Violently?
  1. Introduce the idea of conflict-resolution by reading the poem "Choose" by Carl Sandburg.
  2. Ask the students to explain the poem and its relation to conflict. What is Sandburg trying to say about conflict and how it can be solved? Are there only two ways to resolve a conflict (e.g., with nonviolence or with violence)?
  3. As a whole class (or in small groups), brainstorm definitions and examples for the terms nonviolence and violence and discuss. Where do students see violence in schools? Where do they see examples of nonviolent behavior?
  4. Prompt students to silently think about how they go about solving conflicts. Why would some conflicts prompt violence while others can peaceably be solved?
  5. Divide students into pairs and pass out copies of Multiple Perspectives on Conflict Resolution (one for each student) and a Dr. Seuss book (one for each pair). Explain to students how to complete the handout with the story they are provided. This would be another good opportunity to review the types of conflict presented in stories (e.g., person vs. person, person vs. society, etc.).
  6. After 7-10 minutes, ask students to come back as a whole class and share the conflicts portrayed in their picture books.
  7. To begin a discussion on Martin Luther King, ask students to share anything they know about him. List these ideas on the overhead or white board. Explain that Dr. King believed nonviolence could solve any problem.
  8. Watch the Video of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to emphasize his view and passion about nonviolent resistance.
  9. Pass out Reflecting on Martin Luther King’s Dream and ask students to reflect on their own experiences with conflict-resolution.
  10. Assign "Monkeyman" by Walter Dean Myers to read for homework and which homework assignment specific students will complete.

Session Two

  1. To activate prior knowledge from the previous lesson, begin Session Two by reading Doreen Rappaport’s picture book, Martin’s Big Words to the class. Lead into a discussion about Martin Luther King’s dream concerning nonviolence and his view on how to approach conflict. Ask the students to record the types of conflicts he encountered in his life (e.g., segregation in stores and businesses, marching for civil rights against police and government authorities, having his house bombed by white Southerners).
  2. Instruct students to watch the music video for Common’s "A Dream." Encourage the students to take notes during the video, using the following questions as a guide. (NOTE: You may also find passing out copies of the lyrics would help students take notes.)
    • Compare Common’s dream with Martin Luther King’s dream. How are they similar?
    • In what way(s) does Common use nonviolence (and this song) to achieve his dream?
  3. After viewing the music video, discuss its connection to nonviolence. Some possible questions to lead the discussion:
    • What does the line "Tryna make a living from a gangsta to a godlier role" mean? What is a godlier role?
    • What examples of nonviolence did you see in the video?
    • How does Common approach conflict, based on the lyrics to his song?
    • What similarities can you find between Martin Luther King’s and Common’s view of nonviolence and that of Monkeyman’s?
  4. Ask students to take out their copy of "Monkeyman" and their homework. Ask for a volunteer to recap or summarize the story.
  5. For this session of the text-based discussion, focus on the handouts thataddress the characterization in "Monkeyman." Ask the students who completed Narrator Analysis to lead the discussion on describing the narrator.
  6. Project the transparency of the handout on the overhead so the rest of the class can see. Fill out the overhead as the students suggest information to complete the sections. Be sure to prompt the students to cite the text in order to support their answers. Some questions to consider in the discussion:
    • How would the narrator approach a conflict?
    • Does the narrator’s view of conflict-resolution change over the course of the story? Was it a sudden change or did it occur over time? Why do you suppose it took the narrator some time to appreciate and respect Monkeyman’s resolution to the conflict?
    • Why does Walter Dean Myers tell the story through the eyes of the narrator instead of Monkeyman? Is it easier to relate to the thoughts and actions of the narrator?
  7. Segue into a character discussion of Monkeyman and Clean. Some questions to consider in the discussion:
    • How would you describe Clean mentally and physically?
    • Do you think Walter Dean Myers purposely chose to portray Clean as dense and uneducated? Why would he do this? What might he be implying about people who choose violence as the answer?
    • What adjectives best describe Monkeyman?
    • Have you ever heard of the saying "stand tall"? What does it mean and how could it connect to the Monkeyman (physically and mentally)?
  8. To conclude this session, ask students to refer back to Carl Sandburg’s poem "Choose." Do Monkeyman and Clean believe that there are only two ways to approach a conflict?

Session Three

  1. Start this lesson by asking the students who completed Connect 4 to share their findings. Place the transparency of the handout on the overhead and write down the students’ answers. Some possible discussion questions regarding Connect 4:
    • Monkeyman solved his conflict with nonviolence. Do you think any conflict can be solved with nonviolence?
    • Think about the war we are currently in - could we have avoided it by solving our conflict in a different way?
    • Do you think conflict leads to change?
    • Do you think the war prompted Americans to change their way of thinking? How do you think this conflict played a role in the recent presidential election?
  2. Direct the discussion to the conflicts presented in "Monkeyman." Place the Conflict Map transparency on the overhead and ask the last group of students to lead the discussion.
    • Would the story have been as powerful with a different resolution?
    • Why do you suppose Myers chose to have Monkeyman stabbed after the showdown in the park?
    • Does this plot twist add to Monkeyman’s strength as a nonviolent role model?
  3. Prompt the students to identify what types of conflict are displayed in the story.
  4. Introduce the Six Kingian Principles of Nonviolence.
  5. Introduce each principle one-by-one. When reading a principle, ask students to explain how it may have been demonstrated in the Dr. Seuss stories they previously read.
  6. Share the essay prompt with the students: In a well-written essay, choose one Principle of Nonviolence and defend how Monkeyman demonstrates it (through his words and actions), citing at least three pieces of evidence to support your idea.
  7. Discuss the essay prompt and give each student a copy of the Essay Rubric. Explain the assignment and the review the rubric. Students will be given time in the next session to begin writing their essays.

Session Four

  1. Review the assignment and the Essay Rubric and allow time for students to draft and revise essays. You may want to encourage students to use the ReadWriteThink Essay Map interactive tool to help construct their essays.
  2. After finishing their essays, allow students the opportunity to share their work with their peers, either within groups, or as a whole class. 
  3. Formally assess the student essays using the Six Principles of Nonviolence Essay Rubric. The goal of these essays was to identify nonviolent approaches to conflict and the role characterization play in achieving this resolution in literature.  Allow students to comment on one another's essays using this as the focus.


  • In the opening paragraph of "Monkeyman," the narrator mentions how gangs use the art of graffiti in a dangerous, negative way (i.e. as an advertised death sentence). Introduce students to the idea of using graffiti as a way to promote social change. Have students create their own graffiti in response to the story and the Six Principles of Nonviolence. The article, "Bang the Hate’ Mural Pushes Limits" from The Lookout News, describes the use of graffiti as a tool for expression and nonviolent promotion. After reading the article, lead a discussion on the aesthetics of graffiti and its purpose in the community. Students can create their own graffiti as a response to the principles of nonviolence, using their own materials or the Literary Graffiti interactive.  (Note: If using this application, direct students to write their chosen Principle of Nonviolence in the “Summary of the Text” box.)

Student Assessment / Reflections

Formally assess the student essays using the Six Principles of Nonviolence Essay Rubric. The goal of this lesson was identifying nonviolent approaches to conflict and the role characterization plays in achieving this resolution in literature. Feedback on the student essays should take into account this focus.

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