In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, you may want to show the “I Have a Dream” speech to your students. I have found that this speech is captivating for elementary school students, but it is absolutely necessary for you to teach them about the speech before they listen.
I’d like to share my teaching notes (pdf) on MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech with you and your students. I hope it helps you teach the historical context, allusions, and rhetorical techniques. If you copy my teaching notes for your students, I suggest you read the speech with them and explain the context. Then, listening to Dr. King give the speech will be an unforgettable experience for your students.
Why are teaching notes so important? The “I Have a Dream” speech is rich in allusions: historical, biblical, and even financial. Your students will appreciate these allusions—if they know about them.
Take the first few paragraphs: will your students understand the significance of the speech’s setting, the Lincoln Memorial, and the phrase “a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today” if you don’t explain these details? Will your students understand how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution compare to a promissory note? My teaching notes explain these details clearly.
What about the famous part of the speech, at the end? For example, knowledge of geography is essential to understanding the “let freedom ring” section. Dr. King begins it with “let freedom ring…” [in famous landmarks of northern and western states]… “But not only that. Let freedom ring…” in famous landmarks in the southern states.] The sequence will be more memorable for your students if they understand this distinction. Without teaching notes, your students might miss much of the meaning.
I recommend you buy the Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream speech on DVD rather than listen to the speech through the Internet. This DVD introduces the speech with real footage of events leading up to it. You can also watch a featurette about the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Your students will enjoy seeing the marchers and will be impressed with how well-dressed the marchers are. (Every year, this is the first thing my students notice.)