M.L. King Jr. - His Story Was In the Past!

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SWBAT apply word analysis skills to identify and decode past tense verbs.

Big Idea

Past tense..regular or irregular and what's the root?


  • Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappoport
  • Lesson vocabulary words from the Reading/Writing word wall: informational text, words, quote, picture
  • Set up the whiteboard
  • Verbs worksheet
  • ML King Jr coloring page for the project
  • computer and screen to create a ABCYa word puzzle  (if you haven't made one before, take a moment and practice this website with a list of words, some that repeat)


I chose this text because it is at the second grade level and has great illustrations and wording. The book has direct quotes from Martin, as well as language that is simple enough for the students to understand. The concepts are a little more mature, but second graders should be able to understand with discussion. Our class lesson about this book led to higher level concepts such as 'discrimination' and 'equality'. 

This lesson is an example of why I believe the Common Core Standards make sense. I'm integrating a Social Studies topic into reading lesson and writing lessons. Instead of reading about a random concept, why not read and write about those topics that you're studying? With this emphasis on using literature to learn about and reinforce the other academic areas, my students are getting a cross-curricular experience and I am able to 'fit in' all the subjects during the school day.

There is also a nice video of this book read aloud with music. This might be a great follow up at the end of the lesson or for the next day.

Let's Get Excited!

5 minutes

Underlined words below are lesson vocabulary words that are emphasized and written on sentence strips for my Reading & Writing word wall. I pull off the words off the wall for each lesson, helping students understand this key 'reading and writing' vocabulary can be generalized across texts and topics.  The focus on acquiring and using these words is part of a shift in the Common Core Standards towards building students’ academic vocabulary.  My words are color coded ‘pink’ for literature/’blue’ for reading strategies/’orange’ for informational text/'yellow' for writing/’green’ for all other words)


Common starting point

  • "Today we are going to read an informational text about a person who lived in the past.  How do you think the author shows that this person lived in the past with his words?"  Take ideas - uses words from the past, ideas from the past, PROMPT with "uses verbs with past tense"
  • "Verbs show the action. Past tense verbs show us that the author is talking about events or actions in the past. If I was talking about what I did yesterday, I would use words like 'walked' 'talked' 'slept'." (use a variety of regular and irregular past tense words.)
  • These are some of the verb examples that I had on the board.
  • "This is a great book because it has some unique text features. There are quotes from Martin, as well as some great pictures."  Here's my review of the text features.


The focus on verb tense is a common one for second grade. Identifying, changing and spelling verbs with regular and irregular tense can be difficult. (L.2.1d)  Students at this level typically use verbs expressively but struggle, at times, to fluently read them through the text. Writing a story with consistent verb tenses is also a challenge for second graders. I'll be following up this lesson with a unit on about writing narratives, which will use past tense verbs to describe the life of M. L King, Jr..

Teacher's Turn

15 minutes

Give the purpose of the lesson

  • "Looking at past tense verbs can help us decode some words we may not know. Also, when we read a text, it sounds more fluent or smooth if we realize that many verbs are past tense."
  • "Today we'll identify words in a story that show past tense. Then we'll figure out if they are 'regular' or 'irregular' and what the 'root word' is."
    • "The 'root word' is the word that the word starts from - the root or basic word."
    • "A regular verb is one that you add an -ed to make it past tense - such as 'walked' or 'joined' or 'jumped'."
    • "An irregular verb is one that you change to make it past tense, such as 'ate' or 'read' or 'drank'."


Introduce strategy - teacher models

  • "Since you noticed that my verbs are regular (have -ed) or are irregular (do not have -ed), I'll read and look for words to put in the list. I'll write the root word under the word to help me know the meaning."
  • Read up to the page that says, "Martin grew up..." and say the words. Are the verbs 'regular' (have an 'ed') or 'irregular' (the verb changes)?  
  • Write the words in the column. Talk aloud about how root words help you figure out the meaning of a word."
  • The verbs are:
    • remembered, listened, used
    • saw, were, said, read, felt, told, sang, became, heard
  • "Let me go back and read fluently and smoothly with those words. Notice how it sounds when I pronounce these words clearly. It's easier to read because I know they'll be past tense verbs."
  • This is the how the whiteboard looked when we were done.


Practice strategy - guided practice

  • "Help me figure out what the next few verbs are. If I'm not sure of some words, we can think about the 'root word' of the verb."
  • Read through the page that says, "He studied the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi."
  • "What verbs do you hear?  Are they regular or irregular?"
  • "Does someone want to volunteer to read that aloud so we can hear those past tense verbs clearly?"
  • Here is a look at the completed whiteboard.

Students Take a Turn

20 minutes

Assign Task

  • "I'm going to show the pages on the Elmo and see if you can find some more verbs. Let's make a list and see if we can decode or figure out the meaning of some words."
  • "As we work, I'm going to ask you some questions about the words. What does that word mean in that sentence?"


Work as a class

  • Read through the book (page by page) on the Elmo.
  • Take time to discuss some of the great vocabulary in this book - the illustrations are not that helpful, but the use of root words (protested, admired, convincing) will really help the kids to understand the topic and ideas.
  • There's also great figurative language - use the time to discuss that verbage.
  • Give students time to write verbs and the root words. Help as needed.  This is how it looked when I was correcting a student's answers.
  • This is an example of one of my student's completed worksheet.
  • I did some formative assessment as my students worked. I like to ask them how and why they make choices and see if they can verbalize why they picked certain words. Here is an example of a student reflecting on her verb choices and how they help her..


As students focus on these words, they are defining vocabulary and determining the meaning of words and phrases relevant to a 2nd grade topic (RI.2.4). As students learn how to decode words, they are learning how to draw on their own abilities to learn and read, a shift in the Common Core Standards. 

**This is a great read aloud that you can use a 'voice' for. The writing sounds poetic and it will encourage the students to hear the beauty of the author's words. The text level is 2.5, so it is within the students' reading level, but I still like to read it myself to the kids as I put it on the Elmo. 

Share What You've Learned

15 minutes

Share what you know

  • Now that we've read about this man and the many things he did, we need to think about how some of these verbs really describe his life."
  • "Take a minute and circle 5 verbs that you think really describe him. 'Went' would not be a good word because it's too general- pick verbs that show the facets of his life." 
  • "Take turns and tell me your verbs - I'm going to show you a cool way to show which words the class really felt described him - we'll make a word puzzle."
  • Have the kids read the words as you type. Type all the words they say, even if they repeat. It will make the words on the puzzle bigger.
  • Use the word creator website to make the puzzle.   Here's our word puzzle.
  • "So what do you think? These words really seem to describe this important man. I'm going to post this wordle with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. It will show that our class thinks he is an important man!"


Scaffolding and Special Education: This lesson could be scaffolded up or down, depending on student ability.

Students with academic challenges will need help identifying verbs and whether they are regular or irregular. I would suggest putting some prompts on slates or the whiteboard to help them. They could also work with a partner for this section. They will be able to pick their 5 verbs and participate in the puzzle.

Students with more academic ability should also be challenged during the discussion about the more complex vocabulary. I would expect deeper thoughts to some of the questions posed, "Why does ML King talk about waiting?" or "How can love drive out hate?"