I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Teacher Guide by Elizabeth Pedro and Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Elementary School Category!

I Have a Dream Lesson Plans

Student Activities for I Have a Dream Include:

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a powerful message to the African American community to be strong and persevere during a time of great inequality in the United States.

I Have a Dream Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Key Vocabulary in "I Have a Dream"

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In this activity, students will define vocabulary words from the text, which will provide a stronger understanding of the speech. Accompanying these words are images that portray the definition of these words and display life during this time period.

Example Vocabulary Words from "I Have a Dream"

  • segregation
  • desolate
  • tranquility
  • brotherhood
  • languish
  • oppression
  • discrimination
  • emancipation
  • decree
  • momentous
  • manacle
  • exile
  • appalling
  • obligation
  • insufficient
  • swelter
  • invigorating
  • degenerate

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in "I Have a Dream" by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the text and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of 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.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Paragraph Analysis of "I Have a Dream"

In this activity, students will identify and explore a sentence or paragraph from the text that contributes to the goals of the speech and how it connects to other parts. This example is found at the beginning of the speech and identifies Martin Luther King Jr.'s purpose – to gain freedom and security for African Americans.

"So, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."

Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream

Three sentences connect with this idea in other parts of the speech:

  • “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.” King is saying that they will not stop until justice is realized.

  • The second sentence is, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” King is urging people to not let the desire for freedom allow hatred to overcome them.

  • Lastly, "We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their adulthood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating 'For Whites Only.'" This sentence admonishes his followers not to stop until their children have freedom and will no longer endure oppressive segregation.
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The Central Ideas in "I Have a Dream"

In this activity, students will provide a summary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Have students break down his speech into key parts and illustrate with Photos For Class or Storyboard That artwork in a storyboard.

Example I Have a Dream Speech Summary

  • Martin Luther King Jr. begins his speech by referencing the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the beacon of hope it provided for African Americans. The image shows the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in 1863.

  • Next, he continues on to describe the injustice and segregation that African Americans are facing. The image shows an African American in the back of a police car.

  • King states that this is just the beginning and there will be no backing down until African Americans are considered equal. The man in the image is wearing a picket sign that is encouraging the end of segregation.

  • Next, King demands that people maintain their dignity and discipline; he does not want people to resort to violence. The image shows a young man peacefully sitting in a restaurant that refused to serve African Americans.

  • He continues to encourage people to have faith and to press on until his dream is realized and citizens of different races can live together peacefully. The image is of an African American who continues to pray and have faith in the movement.

  • King ends the speech preaching about all of God’s children across the United States being able to live in a free and equal world. The image used is a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington.

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Ethos, Pathos, Logos in I Have a Dream Speech

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In high school, the ELA Common Core Standards require students to develop formal writing skills, creating essays and arguments that are well-thought-out, and syntactically varied. They also require students to effectively use persuasive writing strategies to defend a claim or point of view.

A key to strong persuasive writing the ability to dissect and validate, or debunk, other arguments. This requires a basic working knowledge of rhetoric. A great way to enhance students' understanding of effective arguments is to teach the Aristotelian concepts of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Students can then identify and analyze the effectiveness of these strategies in a work of literature, a speech, or a letter.

Having students create storyboards that show examples of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos is a great way to introduce and teach basic rhetoric in the classroom! Then, have them create a storyboard with 2-3 examples of each of the following types of rhetorical appeals from “I Have A Dream”.

Examples of Rhetorical Strategies in “I Have A Dream”


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Pathos/Appeal to Emotion

“Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree is a great beacon light of hope it millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But 100 years later the Negro still is not free.”


“The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows examples of ethos, pathos, and logos from the text.

  1. Identify one example of each rhetorical strategy: ethos, pathos, and logos.
  2. Type the example into the description box under the cell.
  3. Illustrate the example using any combination of scenes, characters, and items.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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I Have a Dream Speech Rhetorical Devices

When teaching speeches and letters, it’s helpful to refresh or introduce students to rhetorical devices that enhance rhetorical strategies. After reading “I Have A Dream”, ask your students to do a scavenger hunt using the Storyboard Creator. Give them the following five rhetorical devices and have them create a storyboard that depicts and explains the use of each device in the speech: repetition, analogy, parallelism, restatement, and antithesis.

Literary Elements King Uses in “I Have A Dream”

Repetition Using the same words or phrases to reinforce an idea or concept “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York… when we allow freedom to ring—when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.’”
Analogy A comparison drawn to simplify a complex idea or argument “In a sense, we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check… Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”
Parallelism Repetition of a grammatical structure or word arrangement to highlight an important idea “We will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
Restatement The same idea is expressed in different words to clarify and reinforce a particular point “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds… We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”
Anithesis Contrasting two opposing ideas in consecutive sentences to draw in the listener’s attention “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

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A Quick Synopsis of the "I Have Dream" Speech

King’s “I Have a Dream" speech begins by referencing the Emancipation Proclamation as a “great beacon light of hope” for slaves who were experiencing injustice; despite this hope, King pointed out further work was required for African Americans to be truly free in their own country.

King uses the metaphor of a bad check to describe how America has mistreated African Americans, despite the words in the U.S Constitution and Declaration of Independence that grant all people the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

King tells the audience that now is the time to fight for democracy and for brotherhood. There cannot be any quitting because it is just the beginning of the struggle. He reminds his listeners that the fight must be accomplished with dignity and non-violence; people should not resort to violent actions, but remain disciplined and continue to move forward with the ultimate goal in mind.

King urges people to continue to have faith and not “wallow in the valley of despair”. He states that even though we experience great troubles, he has a dream that this nation will rise up and become truly equal. One day, all across the United States, there will no longer be injustice or oppression.

Essential Questions for "I Have a Dream"

  1. How did Martin Luther King Jr. impact the future of the United States of America?
  2. Why are non-violent protests more powerful than violent ones?
  3. Why is perseverance an important quality for humans to have?

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•   (English) I Have a Dream   •   (Español) Tengo un Sueño   •   (Français) J'ai un Rêve   •   (Deutsch) Ich Habe Einen Traum   •   (Italiana) Ho un Sogno   •   (Nederlands) Ik heb een Droom   •   (Português) Eu Tenho um Sonho   •   (עברית) יש לי חלום   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) انا عندى حلم   •   (हिन्दी) मेरा एक सपना है   •   (ру́сский язы́к) У Меня Есть Мечта   •   (Dansk) Jeg har en Drøm   •   (Svenska) Jag har en Dröm   •   (Suomi) Minulla on Unelma   •   (Norsk) Jeg har en Drøm   •   (Türkçe) Bir Hayalim var   •   (Polski) Mam Marzenie   •   (Româna) Am un vis   •   (Ceština) Mám sen   •   (Slovenský) Mám sen   •   (Magyar) Van egy Álmom   •   (Hrvatski) Imam san   •   (български) Имам Мечта   •   (Lietuvos) Aš Turiu Svajonę   •   (Slovenščina) Imam Sanje   •   (Latvijas) Man ir Sapnis   •   (eesti) Mul on Unistus