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How to Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Teach Respect and Kindness

I know, I teach music right? But I also teach culture, character, reading, writing, analytical thinking, movement-the list goes on and on. What I’ve found when I come back from the holiday break is that I have to reteach all of my rules and re-establish classroom community. I also know that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is coming up. That’s why I weave the two together using a theme of  KINDNESS.  Here’s some ideas on how to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and how to teach respect and kindness.

Idea # 1 Teach Respect and Kindness with Music.

that get’s the message across-right? I mean, I can stand in front of my students and talk about something all day-and they won’t remember a thing I’ve said. So during the month of January, I teach my students that Martin Luther King Jr. made his stand for freedom in a peaceful way  and that all of us  need to try to deal with conflict with respect and kindness through songs and musical selections.

I want my students to know-

that he cared so much for everyone that he was willing to stand up and fight for his belief’s and risk everything. That he didn’t know the outcome, but he knew that he had to make a stand and speak up for personal freedom.

Teach Hand Actions and Sign Language

I teach them that he fought with his words and with his peaceable actions. I love teaching about him and sharing the great music that is associated with his cause and that reinforces his contribution to the world. And the way I teach them helps them to remember the words and the meaning of his message. I use a lot of sign language and hand actions to help all of the students in my classes learn the songs. Connecting the words with hand actions helps the visual and kinesthetic learners in my classes and it keeps hands busy-engaged!


Here are some of the songs I use in my January Music Class lessons.
“Sing about Martin”


Here’s an example of the sign language you can teach to your students.

After singing the song I’ll ask students to share 1 thing they do to show kindness.

Idea # 2 Teach Respect and Kindness by Sharing Feelings

Another favorite and great teaching song is “Ev’rybody Oughta Know”. This is a great video of a young student singing “Ev’rybody Oughta Know”.

I love this video of “Dance Mom’s” to an interesting version of “Free At Last”.

Idea # 3 Teach Respect and Kindness through History

Here’s Pete Seeger sharing his thoughts in an interview about how he performs the song “”We Shall Overcome”.

If you want your students to sing along–this video is just the lyrics. The music is Peter Seeger singing at a live concert.

I’ve had my 3rd graders perform a music program about the Civil Rights Journey in America. One of the songs that we sing is “Back of the Bus”This video has some nice original photos and an authentic recording of the song.

Idea # 4 Teach Respect and Kindness through Literature

There are many wonderful children’s books written to help teach children about MLK day. This is a link to another blog with a whole list of them. This book is found on Amazon.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Use a picture book with younger students.

Idea # 5 Teach Respect and Kindness through Performance

During preparation for the program, I felt inspired to write a new song about him. The song features some clapping, an Orff Arrangement and also incorporates a Call and Response section. The kids love it too! I feel like this song is easy enough to learn in 1 lesson if you are just going to sing it..but Black History Month is all of January-so we’ll do it for 2 weeks adding it to the other material we’ve been working on. My 3rd graders are going to perform it in their program playing the instruments for their own accompaniment. My sixth graders play it on a C chord and love it. We tap the guitar instead of clapping. Fourth graders can read and play the Orff arrangement.  Martin Luther King Jr. Orff Song Arrangement Martin Luther King Jr. Orff Song and Lesson with Mp3 Tracks


My elementary teacher friends will be using this Literacy Resource-


So excited to present some of my Poetry and Songwriting skills in this bundle. The writing activities will help students internalize concepts about M.L.K., like KINDNESS. I felt like it was important to make each song and poem express a different aspect of MLK’s life and his dream. The readers theater teaches about the basic facts of his life and his contribution to society. Using songs and poems is a great way to help students learn reading and writing skills.MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. Songs, Poems, Reader’s Theater and Writing Activities    There are also writing templates for you to use in your Daily 5 and seat work.Elementary Classroom Teachers can use this song too!
“Martin Luther King” 


What are your ideas?

Wishing you kindness for the month of January!

Looking for some more Winter music lesson ideas?

Check out the Freebies in these blog posts:

January music education lessons for the elementary music classroom.

Winter Freebie Music Lesson from Sing Play Create











What are some of the ways you’ll teach about Martin Luther King Jr.? How will you help your students remember his message?




Please share this article with your Music Teacher Friends.

How to celebrate MLK JR. Day with kindness ideas for the elementary music teacher.

Learn how to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with kindness activities in the music classroom.

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