Teacher Sign Up
Sign In
Monday Morning Ready01.05.2018
Jumpstart Your Week!

Henry David Thoreau was born 200 years ago. A few decades after he was born at age 32, he wrote an essay. It strongly influenced twentieth-century protest. “Civil Disobedience,” was first titled “Resistance to Civil Government.”... < read more >
Grade 3-4

When you think something is unfair, how do you typically react? Does your behavior usually work? If so, why do you think it's effective? If not, what do you think might work better?

Grade 5-6

According to the article, Henry David Thoreau was very angry when he was released from jail. Do you think this was because the woman paid his taxes or because the jailer waited until morning to release him? Why?

Grade 7-8

A famous line in Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" is, "That government is best which governs least." Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

Grade 9-10

Why do you think so many people, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, were so influenced by Thoreau's ideas about non-violent protest? In what way, if any, have Thoreau's ideas inspired you?

Identify What Inspires Us


  1. As a class, discuss what it means to be inspired. Encourage students to identify what inspires them. Guide students to recognize that inspiration comes from many different sources. Often, people are inspired by their families and friends. Or, they find inspiration in nature and their surroundings. And sometimes, someone comes along with a new idea so powerful that it can influence the way huge parts of society think. 
  2. Point out that many people today are inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. But he, too, was inspired by others. According to the article, one of his greatest inspirations was "Civil Disobedience," an essay written by Henry David Thoreau nearly 200 years ago. 
  3. Instruct students to conduct research to find a famous speech or text that inspires them. If you wish, encourage students to begin their search with the speeches of MLK. 
  4. Once students have selected a speech or text, instruct them to write a brief review of it. Challenge them to identify what they think the person was trying to say and how and why that message inspires them.


Invite students to share their reviews with the class. Compare and contrast the types of things that inspire students and how students are influenced to react.   


Grades 3-4:
Prior to conducting this activity, select four age-appropriate speeches or short texts for students to review. Read aloud each item to the class. Instruct students to select the speech or text that most inspires them. Have students who chose the same item work together as a group. Encourage groups to identify what they think the author was trying to say and what it means to them. Challenge groups to each write a thoughtful review of their selection.
Grades 5-6:
Prior to conducting this activity, compile a selection of famous speeches and short texts. Divide the class into small groups. Instruct each group to select the speech or text that most inspires them. As they write their reviews, challenge groups to identify specific lines in the selection that helped them understand what the author was saying and why it meant so much to them.
Grades 7-8: 
Assign each student a partner. Instruct partners to identify a famous speech or short text that inspires them both. As partners analyze the author's message, challenge them to identify specific words or phrases the author may have used with the intent to inspire others to take action. Encourage students to explain how and why the author's message inspires them.
Grades 9-10:
Give students time to identify a famous speech or short text that inspires them. Once they have made a selection, instruct students to summarize the author's message. Encourage them to identify examples from the text that they found to be the most meaningful. Challenge students to incorporate those examples into their review as they explain how and why the author's message inspires them.
One Life: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., nonviolent protest became the defining feature of the modern civil rights movement in America. Explore this National Portrait Gallery exhibition to trace the trajectory of King’s career.

Civil Issues and Design
In this teacher-created lesson from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, students use the design process to identify civil issues at their school (rights, responsibilities) and to propose solutions to those problems.

Comic Book Hero
In this lesson from the National Museum of American History, students look at pages from a 1960’s comic book about the civil rights movement and make a list of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of nonviolence in a handy “pocket card.”

Fighting for a New Nation
Use this lesson from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum to guide students as they use the design process to develop a plan for civil solutions that might have averted the Revolutionary War.

Civil Disobedience
Use this collection from the Smithsonian Learning Lab to guide students as they explore the theme of civil disobedience. Items include texts from Sophocles, Shelley and Thoreau along with a variety of images.

Martin Luther King
Use the items in this collection of resources from the Smithsonian Learning Lab highlights to teach students about the key events in the life and work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.