Growing Like Dr. King (Introduction Grade 3-5)

3, 4, 5

Students listen and respond to a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They discuss the importance of kind acts and service for others. They reflect on a quotation by Dr. King and apply it to their own lives.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 30 minute class period

The learner will:

  • define service.
  • read about and discuss the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to service.
  • discuss the importance of giving.
  • Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

Make a bulletin board for the school hallway where you describe the class service project and post comments and feedback from the students’ Grow Involved service. Post any feedback sent to the students from the people they serve or community organizations they work with. Have the students answer the following question in writing: What act of service did you do and how did you feel about your contribution? Then have them each write their personal response on a cut-out in the shape of a star. Put a title on the bulletin board of “Superstar Service.”


Rappaport, Doreen. Martin’s Big Words. Hyperion, 2007. ISBN: 978-1423106357


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Say the words biography, nonviolence, segregation, and philanthropy. Tell the students that these are big words. Ask them to repeat the words after you. Explain to the students that some words are "big" words because they are long and hard to pronounce, but at other times, words may be called "big" because they are about big, important ideas. These words are about "big" concepts. Today they will be hearing a book called Martin’s Big Words, about the life of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and they will learn about and discuss these "big" concept words.

  2. Show the cover of the book Martin's Big Words and tell the students that this book will teach them about a man who was committed to service—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tell students that service is a helpful action done to benefit others. Ask students to think about and share times when they helped others without expecting anything in return. Ask how it felt to help others and how they think others felt about being helped.

  3. Read Martin’s Big Words to your class. Discuss Dr. King’s life with your students. Focusing on the line, “Martin went wherever people needed help,” facilitate a classroom discussion about helping others.

  4. Ask:

    • How did Martin Luther King, Jr. help others?

    • Have you ever done something nice for someone or done something that made your world (family, school, community) a better place, without being asked?

    • Why did you do it, and how did it make you feel?

  5. Write the word philanthropist in a display area and say the word. Tell the students that a person who helps others or does something to make the world a better place is called a philanthropist. Dr. King was a philanthropist, and the students are philanthropists because they just recalled somethig kind or helpful they have done for others or to make the world a better place. Explain that the definition of philanthropy is "giving your time, talent, or treasure for the common good."

  6. Write this quote by Dr. King in a display area - “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” Ask students to reflect on what the quote means to them by writing a few sentences or through whole class discussion.

Cross Curriculum 

Write this quote by Dr. King in a display area - “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” Ask students to reflect on what the quote means to them by writing a few sentences or through whole class discussion. Have students decorate a bulletin board in the room with more quotes from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech or any of his speeches. Youth may also want to research other quotes from people such as Gandhi, President Obama, or other speakers. Have the students brainstorm possible acts of service they can do without permission this week. Through hearing the variety of things their classmates choose this week, they learn that no one is too small to make a difference.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.10 Give an example of an action by an individual or a private organization that has helped to enhance a fundamental democratic principle.
      2. Benchmark E.9 Describe how philanthropic activities can bring about social change.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark E.2 Give an example of an individual who used social action to remedy an unjust condition.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.10 Identify reasons why historic figures acted for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.