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Activity Overview


Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to anatomize without assistance, especially in nonfiction.. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.


Themes to Look For and Discuss

Injustice

A common theme throughout King’s letter is the idea of justice vs. injustice. He lays out several examples of just and unjust laws, along with the idea that the very existence of injustice serves to prompt him and other activists to fight against it to eventually wipe injustice out. He famously writes that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Without good men standing up in the face of injustice in the South, including white men, progress will be stalled.


Apathy

One thing that frustrates King throughout his letter is the lack of passion from the white moderate and the clergy in Birmingham. While he and other Civil Rights activists insist they have tried everything and now must resort to direct action, the white clergymen are pushing for patience and to allow the courts to figure things out. They see no need for the immediacy of King’s and his supporters’ actions.


Effectiveness of Nonviolent Protests

The first three steps of a nonviolent campaign serve to try to effect change through every non-extreme option, until all possibilities are exhausted and direct action is needed. King gives several examples of how those first three steps have been utilized and how they have failed; the only option left, he says, is direct action. He gives allusive examples to illustrate the effectiveness of strong leaders who disobeyed the status quo and made an impact on history.


Extremism vs. Moderation

The Alabama clergy leaders are concerned with actions from the activist that are deemed “too extreme”, and with King in particular as being an extremist. King refutes these claims by pointing out other leaders in history who may have been considered “extremists”, including Jesus, the Apostle Paul, Paul Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. King is concerned that the African American community has been moderate for too long, and extreme measures now need to be taken to combat injustice.


Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 9-12

Difficulty Level 2 (Reinforcing / Developing)

Type of Assignment Individual or Partner

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs



Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)



Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that illustrates key themes in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."


  1. Use the template your teacher provided.
  2. Find two quotes from the letter where the theme appears.
  3. Write the name of the theme in the Row headers.
  4. Create two illustrations of the theme in the cells with scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Rubric

(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)



Themes, Symbols, and Motifs (Grades 9-12)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and/or motifs in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning Needs Improvement
Identification of Theme(s), Symbol(s), and/or Motif(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.
Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.
Examples and Descriptions
Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Depiction
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
English Conventions
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.




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Letter from Birmingham Jail





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