Using Picture Books to Teach Social Justice in Middle School - EB Academics

Using Picture Books to Teach Social Justice in Middle School

One of the things we love about working at a small school is partnering up with different grades and doing projects and mini units together. Our students enjoy this too (although they always ask if they’re being partnered with their sibling!) We absolutely LOVE the unit we have planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Jessica and a fellow teacher actually started the pre unit background information this past week. In 3rd grade, we spent three days learning about Martin luther King Jr. (Did you know that he was not actually born “Martin,” but that his family later changed his name?) through picture books and small group discussions. My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart (written by his niece, Angela Farris Watkins) was a favorite of the kids! We also used this resource (a foldable) to help anchor what we had learned from our discussions.

Meanwhile, the Middle School kids delved deeply into MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. They previewed key vocabulary, deciphered King’s use of figurative language (those metaphors!!), created dream illustrations for the world today, analyzed persuasion (ethos, pathos, logos, and charged words), participated in a Socratic Seminar, and wrote an argumentative essay! This is the resource we used for these lessons.

Additionally, we spent some prep time gathering picture books centered around different social justice issues and/or historical figures who fought for social justice.

Here’s what we’re doing over three 75-minute periods this week:

We’re partnering up our third and seventh graders and assigning them a story to read with their partner. Here’s some of the books we used:
  • Malala: A Brave Girl From Pakistan 
  • The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist
  • A Picture Book of Cesar Chavez
  • Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers
  • Ticktock Banner’s Clock
  • Only Passing Through
  • Rosa
  • The Story of Ruby Bridges
  • Through My Eyes
  • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hammer
  • Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
  • Steamboat School
Just some of the books we’re using this week!

After reading their book, the students will work together to complete this graphic organizer and a blueprint of the one-pager they want to create.


Students will continue working on their one-pager which includes the main idea and/or purpose of the book they read, what social justice issues the book grapples with, the obstacles people have overcome in the book, a thematic statement (yes, third graders will do this part too!), significant quotes, a visual representation, an “I am” poem from the perspective of the central figure in the book, and a personal statement.


Students will create a Flipgrid video showcasing their one-pager. We’re planning on having them only explain certain parts of their creation (eg. the thematic statement, explaining their visual representation, their poem, and their personal statement). This way we can share the final products with all the students’ families. We’re also going to create a gallery wall at school of the completed one-pagers.

We’re seriously so excited for this project. We know the students are going to be exposed to people and issues they have never encountered before, sparking authentic discussions. The seventh graders will be great role models in analyzing literature and using some fun technology!

We sincerely hope you’re able to use this great lesson with your students, too! Enjoy 🙂
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One Comment

  • This is a great unit. I would suggest not limiting it to MLKjr. day. Kids need access to diverse literature and instruction in social justice all year long.


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Then, pick the date you’re going to teach it in your classroom, and sit back while you watch as your students show up to your classroom pumped about what the day holds…and gush about your class to their parents on the car ride home!

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