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6-8: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have A Dream” speech

by Charlotte Lammers, Learn NC

Students will display their understanding of the symbolism and references that Dr. King used to enrich his famous speech on August 28, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by constructing a “jackdaw,” a collection of documents and objects.

A lesson plan for Grade 8 English Language Arts and Social Studies

Students will:

  • understand that Dr. King’s personal experiences affected the words and references he made in his speech.
  • Students will understand that the Civil Rights movement had an impact on this speech.
  • Students will understand that American history influenced his speech and affected the literary references he made.
  • The students will interpret his use of metaphor and simile.

Time required for lesson: 5 to 7 hours


  • teacher-constructed model of a jackdaw
  • a copy of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech for every student
  • two different colored highlighters (pink and yellow)
  • one container per student (student supplied), e.g. a large tennis shoe or boot box or a large paper grocery/department store bag
  • paint, markers, construction paper, scissors, and glue or paste
  • box cutter (utility knife) for the teacher
  • books on slavery, the civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • dictionary
  • King James Bible
  • encyclopedia

Technology resources

  • internet access
  • computer
  • printer
  • word processing program
  • Print Shop or Microsoft Publisher software


Students will read the speech and review use of figurative language: simile and metaphor.


Teacher Input

Explain that the word “jackdaw” is an old-fashioned word for a crow, and crows are known to steal things and put them in caches. Bring a previously constructed jackdaw on another subject (person, place, event) to class. Display the documents and objects in the model jackdaw and explain how they relate to the subject (you might have the kids guess the subject of the jackdaw). Tell the students that the container must also relate to the subject matter.

Note: I used a jackdaw on the Hiroshima bombing. The container was a paper grocery bag decorated to look like a Japanese floating candlebox (used to commemorate dead relatives in a Japanes festival). Inside were two children’s books Sadako and Hiroshia No Pika, a watch smashed at the time the bomb dropped, a pair of chopsticks, an origami crane (created), a Japanese flag (created), a poem scroll about war (created), a calendar page for August 1945 with notes about events before and after bombing (created), a banner from an anti-nuclear protest (created), directions for making a paper crane, statistics on death and injuries following the bombing, pictures of “Fat Man” and “Little Boy,” picture of the Enola Gay, picture of the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, leaflet dropped to Japanese citizens prior to bombing (created).

Go over the rubric used to evaluate their jackdaw. Remind them that the subject of the jackdaw is the speech, not Martin Luther King, Jr., although items about him will definitely be appropriate to use in this project. Explain that they will have to create some items (example from model: August 1945 calendar page, origami crane), others they include as is (example: watch, chopsticks). Remind students that weapons are not appropriate for inclusion. Encourage neatness and creativity in completion of their projects.

Student input

1. Have students work in groups to reread the speech while highlighting metaphors in pink and similes in yellow.

2. Brainstorm what they know about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own life. How might that have impacted what he said?

3. To what documents did he refer and why did he include them?

4. Create a list of ten documents and ten objects to include in their jackdaw (ultimately they will have five of each). What type of documents/objects could be used to illustrate important moments in the life of Dr. King (remind them they need to relate in some way to the speech)? Can they think of documents/objects mentioned directly in his speech? What objects/documents could be included as concrete examples of similes/metaphors, other symbolic things?

5. Have each student develop a list of possible containers. How might the container relate to the speech or be altered to relate to the speech?

6. Student will use their lists of objects and documents to choose those items for inclusion in their jackdaw. Students will need to use supplies, reference materials, and computer to create some items. It is possible some items will need to be labeled. For example, one of my students had a wonderful rusty short length of chain in a plastic bag labeled “chains of discrimination.”

7. Students will construct the jackdaw container by decorating and modifying shape/size of box/bag.

8. Students will place objects and documents in their finished container.

9. Have students present jackdaws in class.

10. Place the most outstanding examples in media center or some other appropriate place.


Evaluate using the rubric found here.

Supplemental information

This is a wonderful and fulfilling, if complex, lesson. I taught at a school where many students thought they knew this famous speech. After this, they realized that they had not, but now they definitely did.

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