Close Reading: MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech"

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SWBAT analyze a "I Have a Dream Speech" and determine what components make it effective.

Big Idea

How did MLK communicate his dream?

Building Background

10 minutes

At the beginning of this lesson students are going to watch a video that I found on that presents some background information plus little known facts about the "I Have a Dream" speech.  I like the color and fast pace of this video, and I think my students will find it interesting.  

Next, I will have the students answer a few questions on a large white board using the consensus map format.  Each student will create his or her own work space, and a large circle will go in the middle.  The students will quietly write about the question then share with the group.  Ideas that they agree on go in the center.  As they discuss, I will bounce around from group to group eves dropping and noting their answers.  I will let students briefly share their answers to question one, and I will ask them to share what they came to consensus on in question 2.  Most students will probably not come to consensus in question one, which is fine. The purpose of that questions is to get them interested and thinking before we jump into the lesson.  

I will pose two different questions.

 1.  What hopes and dreams do you have for your life?

2.  What hopes and dreams do you have for society and the world?

I chose to begin the lesson this way because we are dealing with an extremely rigorous text.  I feel that student motivation needs to be high, and one way to do that is by asking the students to make personal connections to the text.  Plus, giving the students background through the video and having them make connections, helps them prepare to comprehend the information presented in the text.  

Student Example

Initial Reading

20 minutes

Now, I will read a section of the speech to my students.  I chose to read it aloud because I feel that hearing me, my cadence, and pronunciation will aid in their understanding.   The task of reading the entire speech is too much for my sixth graders to handle considering the difficult language and the many unfamiliar historical references.  I do feel that they are fully capable of reading a portion of the speech, however, it will be challenging!  I have chosen the most famous portion of the speech that many students will recognize.

As the student go through this first reading, I will have them circle words that are unknown or unfamiliar to them.  I will have students do this task alone and pair up later for support.

Once they finish reading, I will ask students to tell me the words that really stumped them.  I will record these on the Smart Board.  Next, I'll choose the words that are really going to be crucial to their understanding of the text.  At this point, I'll have students partner up into smaller groups at their table.  I will have each group choose one or two words to look up using their phone or dictionary. I'll have them write these definitions up on my white board for students to reference during their close reading.  

This is a quick vocabulary fix.  I don't want to teach a whole lesson on the vocab in this speech because it could take all year!  I definitely do realize that without some scaffolding in this area, students won't be successful, so we will tackle some of the most important words.  

Close Reading

25 minutes

Now comes the exciting part!  These students will read a complex text and actually get some meaning out of it!  As they read the speech for a second time, they will look for specific elements.  

First, they will look for words or phrases that are repeated and underline them.  

I will ask students to share their findings with me, and I'll record them so they can make generalizations about them.  

Then I will pose the question:  Why did MLK decide to repeat these elements?  I will give students a few minutes to discuss this with their partners and then share out.  

Students will put a box around specific places that are mentioned in the text.  The students will read, share, and I will record.  

I will ask them to discuss why MLK referenced these places in his  speech.  Again, students will discuss this with their partner before reporting out.  

Finally students will read and look for figurative or descriptive language.  They will highlight any figurative language, share it out, and I will record it.  I am not overly concerned about them identifying the type today, although some students will.  I just want them to recognize the phrases that are not to be taken literally and paint a word picture in the reader or listener's mind.

I'll ask the students what effect this type of language has on the reader.  Why did he choose to use it?

I find that stopping after each task like this makes the close reading less daunting.  The students help each other, and even if one didn't understand during the reading, he or she might once we discuss it.  This is another built in scaffolding strategy for complex text that will help set students up for success. 

The rigor of this text and the act of reading it carefully support the common core and help prepare students for more difficult texts they will encounter in the future.


10 minutes

In this section of the lesson, students will decide why Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech is effective .  They will support their reasoning using specific evidence from the part of the text they read.  I know my students will say that it was effective because of it's content, but I want them to really think about the way it was written.  What specific techniques did he use to write a speech that would grab the people's attention.  

Students will use the RACE method of answering.  In other words, they will restate the question, answer the question, cite evidence from the close reading, and explain how the evidence fits.  

I know that some students will really struggle to do this, and I am totally fine with that!  This is a tough text, but I do expect that most students will be able to realize that Martin Luther King used repetition, figurative language, and personal references to many different places makes this speech effective.  

I am excited to challenge my students and help them do something that seemed impossible at first!

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