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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Five Books for Middle Grade Classrooms

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often part of any teacher's January classroom studies. We look forward to a long weekend and plan to show a movie or read aloud a book the Friday before that explains why we have the day off. Is that enough? Are we really honoring a civil rights icon by giving him 30 to 45 minutes a year? I don't think we are. 

The Challenge

Dr. King's legacy is too big to fit into a 45-minute time slot. If we want our students to really understand the weight of his work, we need to devote more time to teach them about it. For me, that means teaching across content areas. It looks like close reading about Dr. King's life during Reader's Workshop. It sounds like students discussing civil rights and peaceful protests during Social Studies. Maybe students are writing word problems using a timeline of his life's events. Maybe you find a reader's theater about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and perform for your grade level. These lessons are all-encompassing because we want to stress the importance of his legacy. 

Is it time-consuming for the teacher? Absolutely. But the IMPACT of lessons like these outweighs any frustration we might feel because we spend a little longer teaching our students about his life. 


The Books

By the time students arrive in my classroom, they've read Martin's Big Words and seen Our Friend Martin about 1,000,000 times. They are usually aware that Dr. King delivered an important speech. They know he worked to make sure people had equal rights. My job as their 5th-grade teacher was to build on what they knew and apply it to the world they live in. I was not always good at this. I still have a lot to learn. BUT - When we know better, we do better. 

I started by bringing in new books and new lessons. We had conversations about social justice issues, including whether or not our schools are truly segregated. I let them draw their own conclusions, but the most important piece for me was letting them read, teach, and explore. 

Today I'm sharing the titles we loved the most. I hope you'll find something here to use in your own classroom! (Full disclosure: There are affiliate links below to the titles I love. This means I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

1. I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kadir Nelson

I love anything Kadir Nelson illustrates. When I saw that he had illustrated Dr. King's speech, it was a no-brainer to add this to my classroom library. 

2. Love Will See You Through by Anna Farris Watkins

This title comes from Martin's niece, Anna. She draws from her own experiences with her "Uncle ML" to teach students his six guiding principles of integrity and nonviolence.

I've found that I really love the books by Dr. King's family members the most. My class really loved this title. I think it made him more relatable, as it detailed his actions and emotions throughout the day of the March on Washington.

I created a Social Studies Pop-Up to go along with it. It helped me teach across content areas for the week leading up to MLK Day. I came back to it later in the year when we looked specifically at Dr. King and his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement

4. Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Bonnie Bader

Do your kids love this series as much as mine? Last year we called them the "big head books" 😂 and now that's all I can call them. What I love about the "big head books" is how accessible they are for a variety of readers. There is just enough visual support to keep students motivated, without making them feel like they are reading a book meant for a younger audience.

5. Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford

The author draws lots of parallels between Dr. King's life and the world our students know. It is beautifully written and the perfect read aloud to celebrate his legacy. I'm adding it to my "to-do" list for future Social Studies Pop-Ups for sure!

If I've missed a title you think I should know about, make sure to leave it in the comments. Pin this post as well so you'll have it for many Januarys to come!

Synonyms and Antonyms: Teaching Texts, Freebies, and MORE!

Synonyms and antonyms don't have to be hard! Use task cards, books, songs, and a FREE resource (or two!) to make it more engaging for your students!

I'm so excited to share my favorite tricks for teaching synonyms and antonyms with you. I promise when you finish reading, you'll be loaded with books, resources, AND a synonym and antonym freebie... OR TWO!

There are a few affiliate links in this post. That just means if you order something through one of these links, I get a commission (at no additional cost to you) that I use to keep this lovely little blog up and running! :)


A frequent "hiccup" in my planning game is that I often run into resources that are a bit too primary for the concepts my big kids need to learn. In fifth grade, they probably would have laughed me out of the room if I'd pulled out a "synonym roll" craft. 😂

But show them a meme and it's ON! Fourth and fifth graders can find themselves in this awkward learning phase where they don't want to be babied, but they still need some F-U-N to bring it to life. (Don't we all??)

Get your students engaged while teaching synonyms and antonyms with this post FULL of great resources!


Task cards for antonyms and synonyms will make assessment a breeze! Three types of questions and interactive notebook pages are included!

Task cards don't have to collect dust in one of your stations or centers! Spread them out in the hallway and make it a "hallway hunt" or use them as a SCOOT to keep students moving around the room. My students didn't know they were taking an assessment when they were constantly going from card to card. 

Teacher Tip: If you're going to do a hallway hunt, make sure you start students in different spots so that they aren't all clustered around the same 2-3 cards. 


Teaching kids to use a thesaurus can be about as much fun as getting a cavity filled. 😒 But it doesn't have to be!!

My big kids 😍LOVED😍 my Synonym Search game and the thesaurus activity in my Synonyms and Antonyms Resource Pack. In both games, students can think of synonyms on their own OR you can ask them to use a thesaurus.

This thesaurus game is perfect for intermediate grades! Students can use their background knowledge and a thesaurus to earn the most points possible!

Teacher Tip: If you have iPads or Chromebooks, try the link to this online thesaurus, Merriam-Webster's kid friendly version.

My last group used these student thesauruses. I kept two in our Daily 5 area for partner games and another two or three in our classroom library for Writer's Workshop.


How about a few book recommendations to enhance your synonym and antonym instruction? I've collected them all on my Amazon Influencer page!

My favorite teaching texts for these vocabulary concepts are all on this list.

The "If You Were..." books worked a *little* better for my third and fourth grade classes. However, everyone loved the Brian Cleary texts. I love the rhythm and rhyme that reinforces each concept and presents vocabulary in an engaging way! 😀

I noticed that my ESL students were able to better grasp these concepts when I kept one of our read-alouds at my small group table. They were less intimidating than a thesaurus, but still a good source of information and support.

However, we need more than just a fun book to really solidify their understanding of synonyms and antonyms.


My students LOVE this SynoAntonym game by Pacon!

The folks at Pacon recently sent me their Synoantonym game by MindSparks and I am here to tell you it is forever living in my vocabulary morning station. I love that it encourages students to make synonym and antonym matches within the game. This was great for my students who had more confidence with one vocabulary skill than the other.

My students LOVE this SynoAntonym game by Pacon!

There are also two levels of cards students can play with, so I can have multiple games going at once! The competition between my kiddos to collect the most synonym and antonym matches was insane! I'm planning on adding this to our morning station options, as well as rotating it through our literacy centers.

One of the things I'm excited to share with you in a few weeks is how I used an AMAZING Donor's Choose project to create morning stations for my students. One of those stations involved vocabulary games.

Let me tell you something. If you missed your cup of coffee, do NOT try to play Blurt! with a group of wide-awake fifth graders. You will LOSE. BADLY. 😂😂😂 This was also one of our favorite indoor recess games, especially since so many people could play at once.

Both of these games have strengthened my students' vocabulary and solidified their understanding of synonyms and antonyms. They would be great additions to any classroom!


Right here! I have TWO awesome freebies for you today!

First up, I have a little tune I like to teach my students. Yes, even the big ones like to sing! I really believe that a song can often solidify student understanding and help them commit concepts to memory. Click HERE or on the image below to grab your copy from my TpT store.

This freebie is great for reviewing or introducing synonyms and antonyms with intermediate grade students!

I also have an EXCLUSIVE freebie for my email subscribers! If you're already a subscriber, I'm sending this out today (11/10/2018) at noon. If you haven't signed up yet, just enter your email below and I'll send you a copy right away!

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    Using Diverse Texts to Teach Across Content Areas


    We need diverse texts during content areas for the same reasons we need diverse texts in every other Our students need to feel represented - especially when we are teaching Science or Social Studies. Social studies, in particular, should not be filled with stories of white men and women. Whether we're reading biographies or historical fiction, we need to do everything we can to make sure our students see themselves in our lessons.
    part of our day.

    When I look for texts that align with our content units, I purposefully look for books that represent as many groups of students as possible. The texts I'm showcasing today - What Can a Citizen Do? and Lillian's Right to Vote - are two that I would use with our first social studies unit on Government and Civic Understandings. They are filled with images and instances where my students can see themselves and still learn the content we need to master.

    A retelling of how the U.S. Constitution was written would've have worked great, but let's be real. How many of my students are going to connect with a text where the focus is on a group of old white men in leadership? Very very few.

    When you know better, you do better. 


    Well, this post is a great start! I've joined The Reading Crew to bring you several new pieces of multicultural literature that you can bring in to your classroom today! Even better --- we're all sharing a freebie for you to use as well! You'll find the complete link-up at the bottom of this post.

    I also follow the Nerdy Book Club blog (and on Twitter), I search random phrases on Amazon 😂, and I collaborate with my fellow bookworms all the time. Don't be afraid to dig deep in those Google searches, bookworms!


    TIME is not something we have a lot of as classroom teachers. Teaching across content areas is one of the biggest challenges I've faced in the classroom. It was also an area I found lots of success once I discovered how to connect the pieces in my classroom.

    When I brought mentor sentences into my classroom, I found that my students needed more practice than just the small lesson I was leading them in each day. I began to extend my lessons and add in a few additional activities to give my students extra practice during our Daily 3 reading centers. Soon, I was searching for texts that mirrored the concepts we were learning in social studies. I wanted to make cross-curricular connections to give myself more time to teach everything they needed.

    Towards the end of the year, I discovered Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter. Lillian's story is beautiful and I wish I'd found it sooner. Jonah Winter does a brilliant job of bringing all of the pieces in history together to communicate the importance of voting for Lillian to the reader.

    It also lent itself quite easily to an informational close reading passage that I wrote to supplement our social studies lessons. The sentence I chose was full of opportunities to discuss the different ways we use capitalization in our writing. This was the perfect skill for the beginning of the year when I would typically use this unit, or towards the end of the year when we need to review grammar rules for state assessments and we approach our civil rights unit.


    When What Can a Citizen Do popped up deeeeep in an Amazon search for kids' books on citizenship, I was beyond excited. Then my heart fell. It wasn't even out yet! This gem was published in mid-September, a few weeks after I really needed it. But when an amazing book falls into your Amazon cart, you go ahead and pre-order it!

    Dave Eggers has written such a beautifully simple message for our students - Be good humans. Be good to each other. If you can do that, you'll be a good citizen of this earth. In 40 beautiful pages, he manages to cheer on student activists, celebrate differences, and empower our young people with the will to stand up and do the hard work with us.

    While this book is fairly simple prose, it gave me a great starting point for writing an informational close read on what the right and responsibilities of a citizen are. In my state, that's part of our Government and Civic Understandings unit so I jumped at the chance to bring this book full circle.

    I also added a cloze activity to each book's companion unit and I'm excited to share one with you today! They are even differentiated!! I noticed that some of my attention-challenged children 😉 were taking a bit longer to complete these tasks. So, I reduced the numbers of words I expected them to "find" within the passage.

    Cloze activities typically use a reading passage students have seen before, with keywords and phrases omitted. The missing words are put into a word bank and students are asked to select the correct word to fill in a given blank. You can make your own cloze activities using a site like this one, or you can build your own in a basic document.

    You can choose to give your students access to the original text while they work, or ask them to complete it using only the word bank. Here are my 2 cents on that: When they are assessed with any kind of reading passage in "real life," no one ever takes the passage away. Why not let them use it??

    Today, I'm sharing a close reading passage and it's cloze companion. Both activities come from my newest Social Studies Pop Up unit, The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens. What Can a Citizen Do? is the mentor text, and I cannot wait for you to read it!

    To grab your freebie, click above!

    Check out either of my Social Studies Pop-Ups by clicking on either of these images as well! 

    Don't forget to read through The Reading Crew's collection of diverse mentor texts. There are SO MANY of my favorites being share today - with freebies! 

    Books to Grow Leaders: Part Two


    If you've been waiting for this post, I apologize! Life has gotten a little nutty and I am clearly not winning that battle. 😂

    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means I get a small commission from the items you purchase through these links, at no extra cost to you.

    If you're looking for Habits 1-3 (and 5 essential paradigms, click on the image below!

    Habits 4-8 are known as the "external victory." These are the changes other people will see in you! Again, I've worked to ensure a variety of text types (picture books, chapter books, graphic novels) and diverse reads. I became painfully aware of the "holes" in my classroom library last year as I realized several of my students were not represented. This list is far from perfect, but it's a good starting point, so let's dive in!


    This set of texts includes several classic favorites. Each character is an "overcomer" and works to find a solution that requires working with a positive attitude, no matter what their circumstances are. I love "overcomer" stories and the connections my students make with them. These are no exception!

    Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

    Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

    Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

    The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller


    Each of these books teaches children to be willing to seek out others' thoughts and feelings before sharing their own. In each text, the main character(s) are either misunderstood due to the assumptions of others, or they almost miss out on the opportunity to form a friendship because they are busy guarding their hearts against others. Such rich discussions just waiting to happen! 

    El Deafo by Cece Bell

    Rules by Cynthia Lord

    The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah

    Stargirl by Herry Spinelli


    Working together is always better, and all of these books promote that idea. These books teach students to value the input and strengths of others, and learn from them. The characters learn to solve problems with others, a huge lesson for our students. 

    The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

    When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

    One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia


    This collection is pretty unique. The majority of these characters are in some pretty dire situations - but yet each of them finds a way to happiness. To do something that makes them happy in the face of adverisity. In an internment camp, a baseball league is set up. At a concentration camp, prisoners find solace in the music of a harmonica. Isn't that incredible? 

    Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

    The Harmonica by Tony Johnston

    Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

    The Courage Test by James Preller


    I mean, can you think of a character better than Auggie to teach children to find their voice? Find the things you love about yourself and use it to make the world a better place. Find the things you have right now at your disposal. Use them to create happiness for yourself and those around you - it's contagious! These messages are prevalent in each of these texts. 

    Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

    Wonderland by Barbara O'Connor

    Wonder by R.J. Palacio

    Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

    Again several of the texts I've mentioned today are FREE with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. I look at it as self-care and a pretty awesome teacher hack. 😉 If you have any questions about how Kindle Unlimited works, I'm happy to answer them! 

    Don't forget to download your FREE set of paradigm posters by signing up for my newsletter as well! 

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      Have a great week!

      Books to Grow Leaders: Part One


      Collecting texts to teach the Seven Habits of Happy Kids isn't always something that comes easy. 

      The Leader in Me school I was a part of had a "book of the month" for the whole school, and we usually connected it to the 7 Habits of Happy Kids. The challenge soon became finding a text that was engaging and appropriate for kindergarten through fifth grade. 

      As a third grade teacher at the time, I found myself in the "sweet spot" - we could make just about anything work for us. But I kept hearing from my upper grades co-workers that they needed something a little more on their level. And when I transferred to another school to teach fifth-grade last year, I found out exactly what they were talking about! 

      Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means I get a small commission from the items you purchase through these links. It keeps the blog on! :) 


      The first three habits are known as "the private victory" - the idea being that they change a person from the inside out. The Leader in Me principles teach that it's hard to practice the last four (five) habits effectively without the first three solidly in place. We spend a lot of time focusing on the first three habits, especially during the first half of the school year. 

      One of the ways I do this is through read-aloud. As I worked more in upper grades, I saw more opportunities to do this with class novels or in guided reading. Today, I'm sharing with you my favorite texts for promoting the first three habits (and paradigm shifts - but we'll get to that in a minute 😊). 

      For each habit, I'm including three novels and one picture book. I've poured through my own collection to ensure a good mix of diverse texts and genres. I would love any suggestions you have as well! I hope these are helpful! 


      Each of these titles features a character who has to learn that he (or she) is in charge of his (or her) own actions - no one else. They also become more aware of how their actions impact others. Or, in the case of Dream Big, they learn that they are in charge of their destiny. 

      Links to Habit 1 Texts: 

      Restart by Gordan Korman


      These books all focus on a character with a plan who is determined to see it through. There are often obstacles - socio-economic status, race, tragedy, etc. - but each character learns to persevere in his or her own way. 

      Links to Habit 2 Texts:

      Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue

      Ghost by Jason Reynolds (This is the first book in a 4-part series. SO INCREDIBLE.)

      The School Story by Andrew Clements

      Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm


      This is probably a teacher's favorite habit --- "Work first, then play." 😂 Luckily, there are more than a few books out there to help us teach our students about the reward of relaxing once our work is done, and done well. There is also huge value in our students learning to say no to things they know they should not do! 

      Links to Habit 3 Texts:

      Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

      Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (One of my annual FAVORITES)

      The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson 

      The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola

      Several of these texts (Dream Big, The Hero Two Doors Down) were FREE as part of my Kindle Unlimited subscription, so I plugged my iPad into my Smartboard "dongle" and projected the texts. We were able to close read several sections and "mark up" the text as well. It was a really great way to dig into the book!

      I also have two sets of leadership story sorts that I use to teach and review the habits throughout the year. The primary version is best suited for kindergarten through third grade, as it provides more visual support. The intermediate version uses more detailed stories for students to sort into examples and non-examples.


      A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in the way we think or behave. We have paradigm shifts because of events in our world (September 11th), in our lives (a new baby, the death of a loved one), and because of our relationships with others. These are often "internal transformations" so I'm including them in this group of texts to share today. 

      These books show characters who undergo their own paradigm shift for one reason or another - and they provide incredible opportunities for rich conversations with our students. 

      The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

      Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

      Smoky Night by Eve Bunting

      The Janitor's Boy by Andrew Clements 

      As a school, we adopted five paradigms for reaching and teaching our students. 

      1. Everyone can be a leader. 
      2. Everyone has genius. 
      3. Change starts with me. 
      4. Educators empower students to lead their own learning. 
      5. We develop the whole person.

      Find Part Two by clicking on the image below!

      On a final note, I turned those paradigms into a set of posters! If you'd like to use them, sign up for my email newsletter below and download them for free! You'll also get access to exclusive content, freebies, and more! 

      Join the Newsletter

      Subscribe to download a set of 5 Leadership Paradigm Posters for FREE!