Martin Luther King Jr. Mentor Text Mini-Lesson

Write Like Martin: Mentor Text Work and Metaphors in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” Speech


At first, I was scheduled to start testing tomorrow. But, something didn’t sit right with testing on a day to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the world of “teacher social media,” I have been intrigued by the conversations around what we teach on this day, and what we choose to not teach on this day. On Twitter, I love following Julia E. Torres, a librarian, and she stated: “Just overheard a child in the hallway on the phone, “We are watching MLK videos again because you know they can neeeeever teach us anything new.” This was a middle school student. Let’s think about that…” And I had a nodding moment. How often do I see my colleagues teach MLK videos or don’t teach anything at all? How many times have I felt like I couldn’t make time?

Whether we feel pressured to move through content or curriculum, we have to maintain, some things just matter more. This day, it matters. So, I thought about how to include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech into our mentor text work. This lesson will not take the entire hour. However, my goal is to have students notice different sentences in MLK’s speech, and write like him in regards to their own dreams. I went back and forth on the latter part because I thought dream writing was cliche’, but then Mary Oliver passed away this week. Something in me said…let them write about their dreams. I am calling this: Write Like Martin Mentor Text Work.

Step 1: Introduce Text Like a Book Talk

I always like to start with my welcome screens. I then move into the text the same way I start every Monday…with a book talk. This is more like a speech talk.

During the speech talk, I will show a quick video about the “March on Washington.” Then, I will show the next video, his speech, as a transition into sentence noticing and naming work. I will hand out the speech in print before I ask them to view it on the screen. Their viewing mission will be to underline their favorite line or the line they thought was the most powerful. We will then do an elbow share with a partner before we move on to the next step.

Step 2: Noticing and Naming Sentence Moves

Next, I show students two example sentences I pulled from the speech. We will copy them down together, and then we will do our noticing for each sentence. Normally, I spread noticing and naming out into two separate days of the week; however, we are going to add this into a single step for this mini-lesson. The goal is to determine what the sentences have in common and notice that they are comparing things, but not using like or as. We have been working on similes for the past two weeks, and this is a great transition to start working on metaphors. There are a ton in MLK’s speech! We will come to a conclusion as a class what big strategy we see MLK using. I am open to this being different for different classes as long as we come to a consensus. Again, we are looking at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an author of his own work. Why did he choose the words that he did? What moves is he making? I can predict my students will make the following noticing statements:

  1. I see quotation marks because someone is talking.

  2. I see a repeat in the word “sweltering.”

  3. I see both sentences use Mississippi.

  4. I notice there are commas for quick breaths.

  5. I see a repeat in “Let freedom ring...”

Because I know what they will say, I can provide more think time and more leading questions. An example would be, “Can freedom ring?” “What do we call that?”

Mentor Sentence Warm-Ups MP3 copy 2.jpg

Note: The above mentor text Google Document is a work in progress. I am on a mission to capture some example noticing work for my struggling writers.

Step 3: Provide a Prompt. Provide Scaffolds to Make Writing Less Scary.

The goal will be for students to review how to use metaphors in their writing, and I want to also have them respond to a writing prompt about their dreams. I will give them a handout with example metaphors, and I will also show this metaphor clip just to review before they start writing:

I will have them choose one metaphor to add to their writing. I tried to include some example metaphors that are tied to the prompt as well.

Step 4: Let Them Write

This is my favorite part. I often see the magic happen here. I always remind myself that to not get hung up if they get this part “right” or not. My goal is to have them respond to a prompt about dreams and use one metaphor from the list or one they make up on their own.

Writing Mindset Reflection: What activities do you use for MLK Day?

Note: There are a TON of different resources out there on teaching about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in your classroom. It doesn’t have to be in January when he is mentioned. If we are just teaching about MLK in January or February, we are doing it wrong. I really love the WeAreTeachers site as a resource page. I have also linked my ongoing Pinterest board with resources.