Theater Magic — Martin Luther King, Jr. Curriculum Guide

Flyer for A New Tomorrow: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Theater Magic Production by Living Wisdom School
(Click to enlarge.)

LWS mailed these curriculum suggestions to area schools in advance of our 2006 annual theater extravaganza, “A New Tomorrow: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

February 8, 2006

Dear Educator,

Here is an opportunity to expose your students to African American history, literature, art, song, and dance…all through the magic of theater!

You and your students are invited to attend the production of A New Tomorrow: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. The original script, based on scholarly and literary sources, captures the drama of King’s life and the development of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. There is poetry, dancing and singing.

Living Wisdom School’s 14 th annual Theater Magic Production is much more than a typical children’s play. In fact, educators who have seen past productions find the sophistication of the play remarkable, and both students and teachers are always charmed. I have attached testimonials by parents and teachers from last year’s play on Kuan Yin, The Chinese Goddess of Compassion.

For teachers who want a curriculum connection, we include curriculum ideas for social studies, literature, philosophy, and art for Grades K through 8 in this packet.

Due to the generosity of a grant from the Christensen Fund, we offer free admission for teachers and their classes for the morning performances. Attendance is appropriate for Grades K – 8. Please call to reserve (650-462-8150), or email for more details, There is a park nearby where students can relax and have lunch before returning to school for the afternoon session.

We look forward to seeing you!


Helen Purcell



K-3 Curriculum Ideas for Martin Luther King Jr.

(Curriculum suggestions for grades 6-8 follow.)


  1. What is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? by Margot Parker
  2. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington by Frances E. Ruffin
  3. Martin Luther King Day by Linda Lowery
  4. Martin Luther King, Jr. A Man Who Changed Things by Carol Greene
  5. A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler
  6. Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
  7. My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold
  8. Sweet Words so Brave: The Story of African American Literature by Barbara K. Curry and James Michael Brodie

Ideas for K-1

General Introduction to MLK

Read A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask the children to look at each other and notice what they have in common (body parts, clothes, etc) then notice what is different (hair color and length, eye and skin color). Ask them whether these differences mean that it would be acceptable for you, the teacher, to allow particular children certain privileges. Point out the fact that outer characteristics do not determine our inner worth. Ask what the children have in common that they cannot see from the outside (everyone wants friends, likes to play, loves their family, wants to be loved and cared for).

Ask how the white people in the story were affecting the black people’s lives. Ask the children what they know about MLK, what they think about his life, and whether they have participated in a memorial celebration in his honor

“I Have a Dream” Project


  • Human form that can be cut out
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Construction Paper
  • Markers

Each child can cut out their human form and decorate them with marker and construction paper to create self-portraits. Have each child show the class his or herself and ask children to notice differences and similarities. Connect self-portraits by the hands to be hung up in a chain.

Read Martin’s Big Words. When finished refer to his stanza “I have a dream that one day in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will join hands with little white boys and little black girls as sisters and brothers.”

Ask the children to brainstorm other big ideas that could help the world. Have them begin with “I have a dream. . .” and point out that their “dream” will be a wish for the world. If children are able to write, ask them to write their idea on a piece of paper. The teacher writes as younger children dictate. Attach “dreams” to chain of self-portraits.

Ideas for 2-3

Read and discuss several books listed above and talk about what was important in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. Refer to discussion ideas for K-1.


Write MLK’s name in center bubble on chalkboard and surround with bubbles in the following categories: Who he was, His Childhood, What he said, What he did, Characteristics, Accomplishments, His struggles.


Make a timeline of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. beginning with his birth, including the most significant times in his life. When his life is completed children will then do a timeline of their own lives.

Ideas for 4-5

Read and discuss books listed above. Also of interest are Free At Last, The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Angela Bull or Let’s Dream, Martin Luther King, Jr.! P & C Roop

Big words

Read the story listed above, Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, and discuss what made Martin Luther King’s words “big” in a metaphorical sense. Discuss how important it was for King to speak what he believed. Play Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech found on the web at This speech can be downloaded and printed so the children can read along. Ask them what they notice about King’s oration. One interesting subject for discussion is his use of figurative language. Ask the children what they would say if they spoke out in the manner of Martin Luther King. Let them write these thoughts and share them.

Becoming Orators!

Choose excerpts from Martin Luther King’s speeches (all available on line). After introducing the children to King’s recorded voice and discussing what makes it so compelling to listen to, they can take turns reading the excerpts to the class. As they read, the children can practice voice projection and intonating to reflect meaning and feeling. They can choose an excerpt to commit to memory and present to the class. Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman” speech may also be of interest. Finally, the children could draft, revise, and then learn and deliver their own speeches inspired by Martin Luther King.

Mini Research Project

Students could choose a topic of research related to Martin Luther King’s life orculture, such as Gandhi’s ideas about nonviolence (ahimsa), the civil rights movement, or an aspect of African-American culture such as jazz or Langston Hughes’ poetry. They could share their research by presenting a written report, creating a visual representation such as a poster, or by showing a video or playing music and then preparing questions for class discussion. Finally, each student could prepare a question for the class based on their research. These questions could be compiled and students could draw on each other’s research to answer them individually, in pairs, or as a group.

Curriculum Ideas for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Middle School

Was Martin Luther King, Jr. a yogi?

Ancient India ’s Influence On America ’s Civil Rights Movement

Suggested Resources;

  1. Parting the Waters – America in The King Years 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch
  2. Gandhi (1982) A film by Sir Richard Attenborough (contains some graphic violence)
  3. An Autobiography by M.K. Gandhi
  4. Ashtanga Yoga handout – author unknown (attached)

Ideas for Middle School Gr. 6-8

Class Discussion: Martin Luther King, Jr. employed non-violent resistance in his struggle for civil rights in America . His boycott of the buses in the Rosa Parks case and his lunch counter sit-ins are two well-known examples of these tactics.

Where did this idea of non-violent resistance come from? India’s Influence on Dr. King, Jr.

The more astute students may say that Gandhi influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., and they would be correct.

  • Dr. King was first exposed to Gandhi while attending Crozer Seminary where he read That Strange Little Brown Man of India , Gandhi. (Parting the Waters , pg. 74)
  • In 1956 Dr. King is encouraged to adopt Gandhian civil disobedience strategies for the Civil Rights Movement.
  • In 1958 Dr. King and Coretta visit India and the Gandhi ashrams dedicated to non-violence.

Discussion; Gandhi is well known for his non-violent resistance movement in India , but where did Gandhi get the idea?

Patanjali (2 nd century B.C?)

  • Foremost ancient exponent of yogic philosophy
  • Collected already existing teachings into a coherent system
  • Wrote yoga sutras, which are pithy, highly condensed statements that describe the whole gamut of human consciousness, and how to achieve the highest levels of consciousness.
  • Included in the sutras are the Yamas (contols) and Niyamas (practices) which when practiced allows one to live in deep harmony with the universe (see attached sheet for a complete list)
  • Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the Ten Commandments, which are observed by Christians, Jews, and Muslims
  • The first yama is non-violence, also known as ahimsa*

*Note. According to Patanjali if one perfects ahimsa (non-violence), one attains the power to tame wild animals, and criminals become harmless in one’s presence! There is a power that reputedly comes from perfecting each yama or niyama, similar to a video game!

Ahimsa was a principle that Dr. King, Jr. employed in his own life in the face of death threats to himself and his family, bombings of his home, unwarranted arrests, harassment by government officials, and direct violence.


Have the class do an Internet search for a timeline of Dr. King’s life.

  • Study the important events that shaped the life of this courageous, principled man.

Have the students create a timeline of their own lives .

  • Encourage them to include important events such as switching schools, births of siblings, etc.
  • Also have them include events that have influenced them on a personal level such as:
  • Reading an important book
  • Seeing a powerful movie
  • Stories of friends
  • Discovering their favorite artist, musician, actor
  • Family trips
  • Pets
  • Examples of early life lessons
  • Early school experiences
  • Summer camps

This proved to be a fascinating exercise for each student and added insights into each child’s life!

Or have the students create an outline of a video game for the yamas and niyamas and the powers that come with the perfection of each restriction or practice!