Take a look at your hands.

If you ball them up into a fist, what can you do with them?

Not a lot. Punch something, get in a fight…maybe fist-bump a friend.

Now open them. What can you do now?

A high five. A handshake. A hug. A friendly wave. A helping hand for someone who needs it.

This is the conversation I had with my kindergarten through 3rd grade students last week as we learned about the life and important work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, we read the book We March by Shane Evans:

image from http://www.indiebound.org

This is a lovely book about the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, told from the point of view of a family who travels to Washington, DC to participate. Beautiful illustrations and simple text make this a book that’s easy to adapt to many audiences, because you can supplement the story with additional background information as needed.

In 2nd and 3rd grades, where the social studies standards go into the civil rights movement in more detail, we read one of my favorite picture book biographies, Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport:

image from http://www.indiebound.org

This book beautifully illustrates how Dr. King wanted people to fight hate and injustice by using their words and showing love to each other, and students really picked up on this message as we read and discussed the story.

After reading, we discussed the difference between the closed fists people use for fighting and the open hands that we can use for helping and supporting each other.

Then, students moved to the tables, where they created their own hands with words and illustrations describing how they could make the world a better place, and the hands were glued to giant banners that now hang outside the library:

You might notice that the hands are all different sizes, shapes, and colors–just like all of us.

In 5th grade, we also read Martin’s Big Words, but our activity took a different direction; instead of focusing on our hands, we focused on King’s words. We paid attention to how many of the inspiring things he said could still encourage people today.

After reading the story together, 5th graders moved to the tables and made motivational mini-posters by illustrating Dr. King’s words with their own artwork, then hung their creations all around the school.

If you walk down the halls at Chase Street this week, you’ll be surrounded by inspiring messages like this one:

An inspirational poster bursting with love
An inspirational poster bursting with love

Here’s a video showcasing some of the students beautiful work:

Music: “Talk to Me” by Jahzzar, used via Creative Commons and downloaded from the Free Music Archive