Standard Lesson

ABC Bookmaking Builds Vocabulary in the Content Areas

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Six 50-minute sessions
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Students are engaged and motivated to build content area vocabulary through the creation of ABC books. A small-group activity introduces a variety of ABC books, including books for older readers that use the letters of the alphabet as a starting point to present information about a featured subject. Students then decide on a style and structure for their own alphabet books and choose a word for each letter from content area textbooks, encyclopedias, reference books, or suggested websites. A storyboard is constructed including each of the 26 words, the context in which it will appear, and a quick sketch of the proposed illustration. Students' final ABC books are created using either the interactive Alphabet Organizer or PowerPoint.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Knowledge of word meanings and the ability to access that knowledge efficiently are recognized as important factors in reading and listening comprehension.

  • Virtually every discussion of effective vocabulary instruction emphasizes the importance of providing students with multiple, meaningful encounters with word meanings.

  • Students need opportunities to use a set of isolated words in a variety of contexts and to receive feedback about their success doing so.
  • Teachers at every grade level have discovered that engaging students in bookmaking has the power to motivate even the most reluctant writers.

  • Bookmaking has been credited with helping to increase students' self-esteem, as well as their ability to organize their thoughts and to think critically.

  • Through bookmaking, students learn to express and extend their knowledge of concepts-either abstract concepts, such as friendship, or concrete concepts, such as the food chain.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access

  • A collection of nonfiction ABC books (See Suggested ABC Book Titles)

  • Art materials for book creation





1. Have ABC books available in the classroom. If you cannot find an adequate selection at your school's library, consult with public librarians or elementary school librarians within your district and borrow appropriate books from their libraries. A wide range of higher-level ABC books that appeal to older readers are available on today's publishing market (see Suggested ABC Book Titles).

2. Make several photocopies of the ABC Book Characteristics Sheet—one for each small group that will work together in evaluating an ABC book.

3. Make a photocopy of the ABC Book Checklist and the ABC Book Word List for each student in the class.

4. Make five photocopies of the ABC Storyboard for each student.

5. Place art materials in a central location in the classroom.

6. Review and bookmark Internet sites, including sites related to the content area topic and general reference sites, such as encyclopedias and dictionaries.

7. Select two sample ABC books for a read aloud. Choose one with only one or two words per page, something that would appeal to very young readers. Choose another that has ample text on each page, perhaps with facts, figures, and background about each featured word.

For example, simpler texts include Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing Book! and Museum ABC: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; more contextualized are Betsy Bowen's Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year and Alma Flor Ada's Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Take an active role in their learning by identifying the content area vocabulary they want to research

  • Develop their research skills as they seek to define their chosen vocabulary through the use of content area material, reference books, and the Internet

  • Demonstrate their new vocabulary knowledge through appropriate use of the words in context and with accompanying illustrations in an ABC book

Session 1

Opening activity

Before you read the two sample ABC books aloud, ask students to be aware of differences in the structure of the texts, including:

  • Word choice

  • Context

  • Illustrations

Read the two books aloud and discuss with students the differences they noticed. Are they surprised by the variations in the two styles? Can they see how they and even adults can learn something new from ABC books, depending on what information is presented and how?

Tell the students that different ABC books have different purposes. For example, ABC books for younger readers are trying to teach the alphabet, what each letter sounds like, and what words begin with that letter; however, books for older readers use the letters of the alphabet as a starting point to teach their readers something new about a featured subject.

Small-group activity

Place students in small groups of three to four students each. Give them time to explore other ABC books as examples.

Have each group discuss among themselves the characteristics of the texts and complete the ABC Book Characteristics Sheet for one specific book.

Whole-class discussion

Have each group report back to the class its findings for one of the six items from the ABC Book Characteristics Sheet. As each group reports back, write the answers on the chalkboard or chart paper for future reference. Proceed likewise through the other items on the list.

Session 2


Explain to the students that they will be making their own ABC books, choosing vocabulary words related to the unit being studied in class. They will then put each word into context and illustrate the concept within the pages of their ABC books.

Students should decide what style of writing they will use as well as the overall structure of their text. Will they write in verse? Will they use graphs, lists of facts, or some other visual aid? For their books, they can choose from among the many style options they have seen in the sample ABC books and which are now posted on the chalkboard (or chart paper).

Distribute and go over the ABC Book Checklist, ABC Book Word List, ABC Book Rubric, and ABC Storyboard handouts so that students know exactly what they will be expected to demonstrate in their final products. Assign due dates for each component of the project as outlined on the checklist.

Independent work

Have students select words, key terms, or phrases that are relevant to the unit of study. The words can be found in content area textbooks, encyclopedias, reference books, or on the Internet.

Point students to websites on the Internet that deal with the content area being studied and that you have prescreened and bookmarked. When students find new words that are unfamiliar to them and whose meaning they can't decipher from context, they can also visit or other general reference sites you have bookmarked.

If students are having a difficult time finding words for particular letters of the alphabet, encourage them to think creatively. For example, they could use a word beginning with the prefix ex- for the letter x.

Check the words that students have selected and give approval before they begin the next phase of the project.

Session 3


Once students have chosen and defined 26 words, they can begin their storyboards. Students should write the word for each page, the context it will appear in, and a quick sketch of an illustration idea. Some students may get caught up in the illustrations and spend too much time on the planning stage; encourage them instead to use stick figures or descriptions of what they will draw.

Once storyboards are complete, students should check in with you for approval before moving to the next stage.

ABC book pages

After completing their storyboards, students can begin creating the pages for their ABC books using the interactive Alphabet Organizer. Students should choose Option 3, and begin typing in the words and related notes for each letter of the alphabet. Space for notes is limited so students may need to decide to include only the definitions in this space, with additional handwritten information to appear on the printouts. Illustrations will also need to be drawn by hand. When all letters are completed, students can print their letter pages, review the printouts, and make any corrections before exiting. If students realize an error later, they can always print a new letter page by starting again and filling in only the letter they need. The tool will print only those letters completed.

Allow students freedom of creativity. They should have a large assortment of paper to select from in various colors. Encourage students to begin with pencil when designing each page of their books and to go over it with a fine-tip black marker once their sketches are complete. Offer help and suggestions, but remember that this stage should allow them creative expression.

Remind students that, in addition to the 26 alphabet pages, they will need to create a cover page and an about the author page (criteria are listed on the ABC Book Checklist).

Session 4

Progress check-in

As students continue to work independently on their ABC book pages, spend a few minutes with each student and be sure that they are on track.

Session 5


When students have completed their pages, they can bind their books using the hole punches and ribbon or string. Students may come up with other ideas for binding; again, allow them to be creative.

Note: This session may also be used to scan the ABC book pages for a class website, as discussed in the Extensions below. If you opt for this activity, scan before binding.

Session 6


Have students share their books in the classroom. This can be done in either small groups or as a read-aloud activity for the whole class. Also, books might be left at each student’s desk, with students free to roam from desk to desk and browse their classmates’ creations.


Depending on the unit of study or time constraints, this activity may work better in small collaborative groups instead of each student creating his or her own ABC book. In addition, if you do not have access to multiple computers or the Internet, student can design their alphabet pages by hand, instead of using the interactive Alphabet Organizer.


  • For further technology integration, have students scan their book pages and post the images online to create an electronic ABC book. Alternatively, students can create their ABC books using PowerPoint. The notes feature will allow for students to expand on their knowledge of the word and the content area without detracting from the artistry of the book pages.

  • Have students share their ABC books with students from a younger grade level. This can be done by pairing older and younger students together during a class visit or by sending the books to the younger students' classroom. (Feedback forms can let your students know how the books were received.) Also, if you borrowed ABC books from an elementary school library, perhaps the librarian will agree to display your students' ABC books for a time.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Use the ABC Book Rubric to evaluate the completed project. Students should also have the opportunity to rate their work.


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