OER Administrator
English Language Arts, Reading Informational Text
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Jr.
  • Law
  • Love
  • Martin Luther King
  • W.h. Auden
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

    A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.


    In this lesson, students will take the second in a series of three Cold Write assessments in the narrative genre. The Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) is an unassisted and unrevised piece of writing with the purpose of providing a quick gauge of the student’s mastery of the characteristics of a given genre. Today’s Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) measures and provides a benchmark of students’ mastery of narrative writing. They’ll also continue reading, annotating, and discussing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Then they’ll focus on the charges made against Dr. King and how he refutes them.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Think of ways to help students recall what they already know about writing a narrative piece.
    • Familiarize yourself with the writing prompt and the scoring guide.
    • If you have students on an IEP or other accommodations, check to see whether they receive extended time or need an alternative test setting. Work with the professional supporting SWDs to make sure student needs are met.
    • Prepare activities for students who finish early.

    Narrative Writing

    • The purpose of this Benchmark Assessment (Cold Write) is to assess what students have learned about narrative writing since you last tested them.
    • Have a conversation with students about what they already know about writing a narrative piece. Tell them that a narrative is often called a story. If students have trouble identifying what they already know about writing a narrative piece, gauge their recall by asking what stories they read last year or what stories they wrote.
    • In the next task, students will take the assessment. Be prepared to do the following:
      • ✓ Answer any questions that are not of a substantive nature, providing no additional guidance about the prompt.
      • ✓ Do a quick check to ensure that students understand the prompt and are ready to begin writing. Remind students that they will have only 20 minutes to write.
      • ✓ Tell students to begin working. When the allotted time has elapsed, tell students to stop working.
      • ✓ If students finish before time is up, direct them to other activities.


    Since you began school, you have used your imagination to write many stories. These stories are called “narratives.” Today, you will write a narrative so that your teacher can see how much you have learned since the beginning of the year about writing a good story.

    Think about what you know about narrative writing.

    • What should good narrative writing include?

    Discuss your thinking with the class.

    Benchmark (Cold Write): Narrative

    • Direct students to take the assessment. They will be responding to the following prompt:
    • As we grow up, we increasingly come in contact with people whose beliefs or cultures are very different from our own. Imagine that your class is preparing a collection of writings about these experiences. Write a story about an experience you have had with someone whose belief or life is very different from your own. Be certain to give ample details so that the reader clearly understands the experience and how the experience increased your awareness of how people differ.

    • After class, assess each student’s narrative piece. Students will have opportunities to write narratives throughout the year during which they will have instruction on how to revise and edit their pieces. The information you gain from scoring this benchmark piece of writing will guide you in tailoring your writing instruction to individual student needs.

    • If students finish before time is up, direct them to other activities.

    Work Time

    Now you will write your narrative. Remember that a narrative is a story about events, both real and imaginary.

    You will have 20 minutes to write your narrative.

    • Write a brief narrative in response to the prompt.

    Dr. King's Quotation

    • Give students a couple of minutes to share their rewrite of Dr. King’s quotation.

    Work Time

    For homework you rewrote a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in your own words.

    • Share your rewrite with a partner.

    "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

    • Ask students to stop every four or five paragraphs to summarize what they read with a partner.
      • SWD: Students may require guided practice with the skills necessary to complete this task. It may be helpful to work with students in partnerships or small groups to provide scaffolds (prompts, modeling, direct instruction) that can be pulled back when appropriate to encourage independence.
    • Circulate during the reading to assist and encourage students. Remember that “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Think Aloud is provided.

    Work Time

    Finish reading and annotating “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

    • Continue to mark the charges made against Dr. King and his refutations of the charges.
    • Highlight any words you don’t know or places where you are confused.
    • Note where the basic pattern (citing charges made against him and answering those charges) of the letter changes.
    • Mark passages where you see particularly important or effective arguments.

    You Have a Choice
    You can choose whether to read and think about the text independently; read, discuss, and respond to the text with a partner; or confer with the teacher.

    "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" Discussion

    • Give students time to work with a partner to look through their notes to find items and ideas to share with the whole class, including the following:
      • ✓ Any additional words or names they don’t know
      • ✓ Strong arguments Dr. King makes to refute the charges made against him
    • Facilitate a class discussion on Dr. King’s letter, using their notes as starting points.

    Work Time

    Share your notes on Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” with a partner.

    • Together choose one or two items to discuss with the whole class.

    Then share your notes and ideas from reading the text with the class.

    Charges and Refutations

    • Form students into groups of 4 or 5 and divide the letter into sections so that each group can focus on a different section of the letter. (There are 40 paragraphs in the letter.)
    • Ask students to read their assigned section of the letter again, this time taking notes about how Dr. King uses the letter to respond to charges made by the clergymen.
    • Another annotation of the letter comments on important ideas in each of the paragraphs. See “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Important Ideas.

    Work Time

    Look at the charges made against Dr. King and how he refutes them.

    Reread and annotate your assigned section of the letter.

    • As you read, list the charges made against Dr. King by the clergymen.
    • After each charge, list Dr. King’s answers and refutations.
    • Write a brief summary of an important idea in each paragraph.

    Open Notebook


    • Give students time to write a reflection about their reading.
      • ELL: When writing the reflection, allow some additional time for students to discuss with a partner before writing, to help them organize their thoughts. Allow students to discuss in their native language if their partner speaks the same language.


    Write a reflection.

    • How has rereading and annotating “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” increased or changed your understanding from the initial reading?

    Open Notebook

    Independent Reading

    • Remind students to continue reading their Independent Reading Group Novel and to turn in journal entries.


    Continue your ongoing homework assignment.

    • Read your Independent Reading Group Novel.
    • Remember to submit two journal entries a week to your teacher and publish some of your journal entries so others can read your work.