Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three to five class periods
Author: Janis Bucknor, Teacher, 52nd Street Elementary, Los Angeles Unified School District


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Lesson Overview

Letter J / Vera

Students practice writing letters of the alphabet and explore how decorated letters can be used to convey stories or symbolic ideas. They create an "illuminated" alphabet in which each letter conveys concepts of home and family.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• write letters of the alphabet.
• "illuminate" or decorate their letters to convey concepts about home and family.
• share their concepts about home and family orally through stories.


• Art supplies: paper, drawing pencils, crayons or paint (including metallic colors).
Marguerite Makes a Book, by Bruce Robertson. Available at the Getty bookstore online.
• (optional) Prints of illuminated letters are available at the Getty Museum Bookstore at the Getty Center. A book about illuminated letters, An Abecedarium: Illuminated Alphabets from the Court of Emperor Rudolf II, is also available at the bookstore at the Getty Center and online.

Lesson Steps

1. Display and discuss examples of illuminated letters from the Getty Museum's collection. You can find more images on the Getty Web site by searching for the terms "decorated," "initial," and "inhabited."

2. Introduce students to art vocabulary (elements of art and principles of design such as line, color, shape, pattern, etc.).

3. Ask students questions that guide them to look at visual elements in the images of illuminated letters.**

• Look at the colors in this work of art. Which one did you see first? Was color the first thing that you noticed? What else caught your eye?
• Take turns describing the lines and shapes that you see in this work of art. (For example, "I see a thin curving line.")
• Do you see movement in this work of art or does it seem still? Do the colors, lines, and shapes make it seem that way? How?
• Is there a story in this work of art? How do the colors help to tell this story?
• If you see a story, who or what do you think is the most important figure, shape, or object? What makes you think so?
• Does anything you see happening in this work of art remind you of your life story, or of another story you know?

4. Show students some of the more stylized decorated letters in which the letter is hard to distinguish from the decoration around it. Students can try to find and name the alphabetic letters in the pictures as an "I Spy" activity.

5. Read Marguerite Makes a Book to explain the process of bookmaking during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

6. Students tell personal stories to the class and draw pictures illustrating these stories.

7. Students identify the most important part of their story and select a letter of the alphabet to represent that part.

8. Students draw their decorated letter in pencil, then illustrate or "illuminate" it with crayons or paint, using images and motifs related to that part of their story.

9. Students write or dictate two to three short sentences about the part of the story they illustrated with their letter.

**These questions are taken from Jessica Davis's, The Muse Book (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education, President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1996).

Guide for Letter E / Hoefnagel
Guide for Constructing the
Letter E,
Joris Hoefnagel

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Aesthetic Valuing
4.0 Students analyze, assess, and derive meaning from works of art, including their own, according to the elements of art, the principles of design, and aesthetic qualities.

Creative Expression
2.4 Paint pictures expressing their ideas about family and neighborhood.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Listening and Speaking
1.2 Share information and ideas, speaking audibly in complete, coherent sentences.
2.3 Relate an experience or creative story in a logical sequence.

1.6 Recognize and name all uppercase and lowercase letters of the alphabet.

"The unit worked incredibly well for my English Language Learners by providing opportunities for vocabulary development as they discussed what they saw in the illuminated letters. The connections students were allowed to make with home and family were an invaluable springboard for making artwork relevant to their experiences and validating the diversity of my classroom." —Janis Bucknor