Advocacy and Activism (Introduction Grade 9-12)

9, 10, 11, 12

Students respond to literature about Martin Luther King, Jr. They examine his philosophy about serving and taking action. They follow his model to promote the idea of doing good for others. Students learn that service and social action by one person can change the world.

PrintOne 45 minute class period

The learner will:

  • define service and social activism.
  • explore and discuss the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to service.

Resources about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement

Teacher Preparation 

If the books listed in Materials are not available, go to one or more of these websites and share the online information with the students.

  • service: to provide a community or organization with something that it needs
  • donate: to give or present something, especially to a charitable organization or other good cause

Make a bulletin board for the school hallway where you describe the class service project and post students' reflections in writing, answering this quesiton: What act of service did you do and how did you feel about your contribution? Post any feedback sent to the students from the people they serve or community organizations they work with. 


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the students what made Martin Luther King, Jr. great. Discuss what students already know about his work and the results of his work. Ask the students whether Dr. King was a philanthropist (someone who gives time, talent, or treasure for the common good). What philanthropy work, or service, did he do? (To change attitudes and laws, he gave speeches, led marches, advocated for civil rights). If possible, play a clip from the March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech. The following 5:48 video gives an overview of the tone and purpose of the day:

  2. Tell students that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was committed to service and social activism. In a time when black Americans seemed powerless to make important changes, he led Americans to take nonviolent action to advocate for the rights of all Americans. Tell students that service is a helpful action done to benefit the common good. Social activism is an intentional act to bring about social, political, environmental, or economic change.

  3. Ask students to recall times they or someone else helped others through service or social activism. Ask students to reflect on the impact that these actions had on themselves or others.

  4. Move the students into small groups, and give each group print information about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. Have each group read and prepare a summary about Dr. King, paying special attention to examples of his words about service.

  5. Have each group report to the class, summarizing the information they read.

  6. Hold a class discussion. Ask:

    • How did Martin Luther King, Jr.'s teachings influence others?
    • In what ways was Dr. King a social activist? (Social activism is an intentional act to bring about social, political, environmental or economic change.) List examples.
    • What internal or external conflicts did Dr. King face that may have influenced his thinking about service?
    • What does the following comment of Dr. King's mean to you? "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve."
    • How can we spread his message of service and social activism and continue the work of equity and anti-racism?
  7. Have students reflect in writing about some ways they could "be great" through service or social action.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.7 Identify and give examples of the important roles women and minorities have played in the civil society sector in history.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced national or world history.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark HS.10 Identify reasons why historic figures acted for the common good.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.