Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
2 hours
Author: Valerie Schwartz, 1st Grade Teacher, Clover Avenue Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District


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Lesson Overview

Letter S / Seo

Students create a class alphabet book or "ABCDarium," a book that uses images of animals or objects to illustrate each letter of the alphabet. The book is in the style of a medieval illuminated manuscript and incorporates both art and writing. Students decorate large uppercase letters of the alphabet and draw an original picture to illustrate each letter.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• use shape, texture, and color to decorate an uppercase letter.
• use line and color to draw an animal or object whose name begins with a given letter of the alphabet.
• use descriptive words and good penmanship to create a sentence describing the animal or object they have illustrated for their assigned letter.


Plant and Animal Alphabet Coloring Book by Leslie Tillett, Dover Publications, Inc., NY.
A Medieval Alphabet to Illuminate, Bellerophon Books, Santa Barbara, CA.
• Uppercase letters of the alphabet drawn in outline form on 8 1/2 x 11 in. paper
• Small torn pieces of the following types of paper, both solids and patterns: tin foil, gold tissue paper, and vellum paper
• 8 1/2 x 11 in. pieces of paper with sentence starters printed on them—one for each letter of the alphabet
• 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. pieces of paper for each student
• Glue, newspaper, pencils, crayons, or colored pencils

Lesson Steps

1. Using the Plant and Animal Alphabet Coloring Book, photocopy one or two letters or a complete alphabet for each student using the black and white pages as a blackline master.

2. Use the colored page of the book to show students examples of decorated letters. Have the students color their photocopied letters, focusing on primary colors (red, blue, and yellow).

3. Introduce the following vocabulary: illuminate, manuscript, handmade, hue, reflective, texture, design, collage, author, and illustrator.

4. Show images from the Getty Museum of decorated letters from the illuminated manuscripts collection. Using the new vocabulary, have a discussion with the students about what they see. Ask students the following questions: What colors do you see? Do you see shiny areas? What materials do you think the artists used to make those areas shiny and reflective? Do you see different hues in the same color family, such as light green and dark green? Is it difficult or easy to see the alphabet letter when a design is part of the letter? How do art, writing, and reading all come together in these books? Do you think this is this more like a painting or more like a book? Why? What does an author do? What does an illustrator do? How do you know? Can the author and an illustrator of a book be the same person? What makes you say this? What is your evidence? Encourage students to speak in complete, coherent sentences.

5. Place newspaper on the desks and give each student an 8 1/2 x 11 in. piece of paper with the outline of an uppercase letter of the alphabet drawn on the paper. In order to complete all 26 uppercase letters, some students may need to do more than one letter.

6. Pass out different types of paper. Explain to students that they will tear the paper by hand into a variety of shapes to create a collage design in the letter. Students will lay out their collages before they glue the pieces down. Encourage them to experiment with overlapping the papers to create different textures, contrasts, and hues. Once students' designs are finalized, pass out the glue and instruct students to glue down one piece of paper at a time, starting with the bottom layers and working to the top layer. After all the letters are completed, place them around the room to allow the glue to dry completely.

7. Pass out one sheet of 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. paper to each student. Ask students to draw a picture of an object or animal that begins with the letter that they decorated in step 6. For example, students who decorated the letter S could draw a snail, a snake, or a stegosaurus. Students should draw on the paper horizontally.

8. Give each student an 8 1/2 x 11 in. piece of paper with a preprinted sentence starter centered in the top 1/3 of the paper that goes with the letter that the student collaged and illustrated. For example, "S is for ____________." Each student will write a sentence starting with his or her assigned letter that describes the image he or she illustrated in step 7. The sentence should include adjectives to describe the illustration. For example, a student might write, "S is for a spotted salamander hiding under a leaf." Glue the illustration made in step 7 to the bottom half of the sentence page.

9. Make a class book consisting of a title page, each student's illuminated letter and sentence/illustration page that goes with the illuminated letter. Place the book in a special area of the room for all students and guests to enjoy. You may also wish to display the book at the school's open house or at other campus events.

Inhabited Initial H / Unknown
Inhabited Initial H, French, 1170–1180

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades K–2

K.1 Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and text with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
K.4 Describe familiar people places, things, and events, with prompting and support, provide additional detail.
1.4 Describe familiar people places, things, and events, with relative details expressing ideas and feelings more clearly.
1.6 Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 1 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
2.4 Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking audible in coherent sentences.
2.6 Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification. (See grade 2 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)

Foundational Skills
K.1 Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
K.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words both in isolation and in text.
1.2 Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).
2.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words both in isolation and in text.

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 1

Artistic Perception
1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, in the environment, and in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, and texture.

Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Recognize and discuss the design of everyday objects from various time periods and cultures.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 1

Writing Strategies
1.2 Use descriptive words when writing.
1.3 Print legibly and space letters, words, and sentences appropriately.

Sentence Structure
1.1 Write and speak in complete, coherent sentences.

"Students took great pride in designing their illuminated manuscript letter. They worked carefully and were extremely excited about the end product. They have enjoyed sharing their published work. I found that placing two desks together allows four students to sit together in a group and share materials. The students were also exposed to the punctuation rule: Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives preceding a noun. They were not held to it, however, as this is a higher-level rule (standard) than first grade."
—Valerie Schwartz