Standard Lesson

Q is for Duck: Using Alphabet Books With Struggling Writers

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 40- to 60-minute sessions, plus time for students to create their own alphabet books
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Think alphabet books are just for kindergarten? Think again! In this lesson, students examine a variety of alphabet books, some with rather complex structures, specifically Mary Elting and Michael Folsom's Q Is for Duck: An Alphabet Guessing Game. Students begin the lesson with a read-aloud of the story in which they guess why the authors chose to represent each letter with a particular word and then summarize the pattern of the book. Using "patterned" or "structured" writing can be very effective with struggling writers, and it also allows advanced students to extend their writing capabilities. Students use the pattern of Q Is for Duck to create their own class alphabet book in which students make clever associations for each letter of the alphabet. This experience will assist even the most reluctant writer in becoming an author.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Because of their characteristics, alphabet books can be viewed as efficient and effective instructional books.

  • Most 8- to 11-year-old students have a well-developed schema for alphabetical order and can use what they know about this format in prediction activities.

  • Varying degrees of content complexity help make alphabet books usable with a wide range of age groups.

  • The unique structure of alphabet books makes them particularly appealing to the reluctant or at-risk reader who might be intimidated initially by the density of print in textbooks, magazine articles, or other types of trade books.
  • For many student writers, patterned writing can be their first successful writing experience.

  • Patterns help struggling writers generate text in depth and breadth in ways they never accomplished in the past.

  • Patterned writing is a mediated step between teacher dependence and independent choice of ideas and forms.

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.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Q Is for Duck: An Alphabet Guessing Game by Mary Elting and Michael Folsom (Clarion Books, 1980)

  • A selection of alphabet books with a variety of structures (see Alphabet Booklist)

  • Chart paper on an easel or chart stand

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Paper for bookmaking

  • Projector to display computer screen or overhead transparencies




1. For this particular lesson, the book Q is for Duck: An Alphabet Guessing Game by Mary Elting and Michael Folsom is used. However, any alphabet book with an interesting structure can be used and the lesson adapted accordingly (see Alphabet Booklist).

2. The steps of the writing process are loosely defined and assigned throughout the lesson. Remember that conferencing is a vital component of the writing process and takes place throughout; it should not be separated as a separate stage. At an appropriate time, explicitly point this out to students-that they will need to periodically discuss and conference with their peers and with you as they create their alphabet book pages.

3. Bookmark the online Alphabet Organizer on your school or classroom computers or download the Alphabet Organizer mobile app onto the tablet devices. This interactive tool will assist students in creating their alphabet books.  If you do not have access to technology, you can have students use the Alphabet Book Planning Sheet instead.

4. If you are unfamiliar with the process of patterned writing, you may wish to visit Pattern Writing: Combining Words Into Structured Ideas for a complete explanation with examples.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Examine and discern the writing structure of various alphabet books and improve their writing skills by creating an alphabet book using one of the structures examined

  • Collaborate with other students by contributing ideas for a whole-class writing project

  • Develop and improve their prewriting skills by using an alphabet organizer tool (or a graphic organizer) to brainstorm and organize their ideas

  • Use the stages of the writing process (i.e., prewriting, first draft, editing, revising, and publishing) when creating their alphabet book pages

  • Use technology to enhance and assist in their writing

  • Develop self- and peer-assessment skills by evaluating their writing using a rubric

Session 1

1. Begin with a read-aloud of the book Q is for Duck: An Alphabet Guessing Game. In this particular alphabet book, the reader is challenged to guess why each letter is represented by the chosen word. For example, "A is for zoo. Why?" (turn the page) "Because animals live in the zoo." As you continue to read, students will quickly catch on to the pattern. Allow them to guess "why" each time.

2. After you have finished reading, ask students how they think the authors came up with the idea for this book. Accept and record their responses on chart paper. Summarize with them the structure of this particular alphabet book. In this case, the authors brainstormed a word that begins with each alphabet letter (a is for animals), and then worked backwards to come up with an object, place, or action associated with that word (animals live in a zoo, so a is for zoo).

3. Explain to students that, when they are writing, they can make their own books by using the same structure that another author has already created and changing the words. Caution them that copying what an author has written is not the same thing; they can use the same structure, but must put the information in their own words.

4. Tell students that they are going to look at several different types of alphabet books, determine the structure that each author used, and select one of the structures to create their own alphabet books.

5. To prepare for this activity, begin by having students work together to create a class alphabet book. This shared writing experience will familiarize them with the process and the steps required.

6. Point out that students have already completed the first step for the book Q is for Duck. They have read and examined the book and determined its structure. This is part of the prewriting stage of the writing process.

7. The next step is to take that structure and make it your own. Brainstorm with students some words or objects for the letter A (or any letter you choose). Ideas might include apple, ant, or airplane. Write their responses on chart paper.

8. Choose one of the suggested words and challenge students to create a first draft for the letter page by thinking about an object, place, or action associated with that word. For example, for the word apple, students might recall that apples grow on trees. Guide them to complete the sentence using the same structure as in Q is for Duck. "A is for tree. Why? Because apples grow on trees."

9. Observe how well students are grasping the structure of the selected alphabet book and the process of writing a first draft using the same structure but their own words. Repeat steps 7 and 8 together with a few other letters until students seem comfortable with the activity and ready to work independently.

10. Let students know that they will need to repeat this process for each letter of the alphabet.

Session 2

1. Introduce the Alphabet Organizer by displaying the tool on a computer or projector so that all students can see it.

2. Choose Option 2, which prompts students for one word per letter and related notes. Using one of the letters completed together as a class in Session 1, model how to input the selected word and sentence for each letter. So, for example, for the letter A, you can input the word apple and then in the Notes field type the sentence, "A is for tree. Why? Because apples grow on trees."

3. Key in a few more of the letters that were completed together as a class in Session 1 to give students a clear understanding of the Alphabet Organizer tool and how it can be used to plan out their letter pages.

4. Make a few deliberate spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors as you are inputting the text so that you can model self-editing later in the lesson.

5. Remember to print the completed letters before closing the program, as they will not be saved online. You will use the printed pages during the editing stage of the lesson.

6. Assign one letter not already completed as a class to each student. Direct students to use either the interactive Alphabet Organizer or the Alphabet Book Planning Sheet to fill in a word for their assigned letter and a sentence using the same structure that was modeled. Remind students to print their letter pages before closing if using the online program.

Note: If you do not have access to the necessary equipment, you can display the Alphabet Book Planning Sheet on an overhead projector, model the process, and have students use this sheet instead of the interactive tool.

Session 3

1. Gather students together as a class and have them bring their alphabet pages with them, either printed out or completed as a handout.

2. Review the first draft examples you developed together as a whole class in Sessions 1 and 2, and model the editing and revision process. Challenge students to read the sentences and suggest additions or deletions. Ask them to also review the text for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Use appropriate editing codes while modeling for the class.

3. Have each student exchange his or alphabet page with a partner. Partners can peer edit the pages by first offering suggestions or other input, and then reviewing them for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.

4. Using the examples you created and edited together as a whole class, model for students how to create a finished page for the class alphabet book. Copy the first part of the sentence on a blank sheet of paper, "A is for tree. Why?" Flip the paper over and copy the answer part of the sentence, "Because apples grow on trees." Decide on the orientation of the page in advance, either "portrait" or "landscape," and make sure that students complete their pages in the same way. Also note how the author makes the alphabet letter as a capital and larger than the rest of the text.

5. Model how you can illustrate the front and back of the page. Similar to the book Q is for Duck, have students draw a picture of the word that the letter is representing on the front side and a picture illustrating the association on the back. So, for the example for the letter A, you might draw a tree on the front and a tree with lots of apples on it on the back.

6. Show students the Self- and Peer-Assessment Rubric, and discuss each category and descriptor together as a class. Decide together the "level" of work for the class-completed page or pages of the alphabet book. To do this, you will need to either enlarge the rubric so that the whole class can view it together or create a transparency to display on an overhead projector. Ask the class to evaluate how well they did in each category by selecting the corresponding descriptor and shading the box. For each choice, have students explain why they chose that level and record their responses on the back of the rubric sheet.

7. Let students know that they will be using this same rubric to self- and peer-assess their own alphabet pages.

Session 4

1. Invite students to create and illustrate their own pages for the class alphabet book. Remind students to use the same page orientation that you modeled in Session 3 so that you will be able to bind the pages together into a class book later.

2. Circulate among students while they are working to teacher-edit and conference with them before they copy their finished sentences and illustrate their pages.

3. Distribute copies of the Self- and Peer-Assessment Rubric. Have students carefully examine their work, decide on a "level" that best describes their work in each category, and explain their thinking on the back of the rubric. They can then pass the completed alphabet page and rubric to a partner, who will repeat the process. Partners will hand the rubrics, with the levels recorded, back in to you.

4. Gather the student-created pages together in proper order and read the class alphabet book aloud to your students. Put the book in your classroom or school library so that it can be enjoyed over and over again!

Follow-up sessions

1. Have students examine other alphabet books, such as the ones included on the Alphabet Booklist, to determine their structures.

2. Then ask each student to choose one structure and work independently to create an alphabet book using that same structure. You may wish to have students work in small groups or in pairs, as an intermediary step, before expecting them to create a book entirely on their own, especially for struggling writers.

3. Give students time to access the interactive Alphabet Organizer to plan out their alphabet book pages. If you choose to use the Alphabet Book Planning Sheet instead of the online tool, you will need to modify it according to the various structures of the alphabet books you have selected for students to use.

4. Students can complete most of their alphabet books as homework, with peer editing and teacher conferencing being scheduled periodically in class.

5. Make sure to allow students an opportunity to share their finished alphabet books with their classmates.


  • After creating a number of alphabet books, have students read their books to other classes or adults in the school as a way to celebrate their success as authors. Include a "Reflection Sheet" at the end of the book, so that listeners and other readers can provide students with feedback.

  • Ask students to search out and examine the structures of other interesting alphabet or counting books. Have each student then prepare a "book talk" about one of the books to present to the class. The presentation should include a description of the book's structure and why he or she found it interesting.

  • Allow students to access the Making Books With Children website to find information on making different kinds of picture books. Encourage them to create their own alphabet book structures and use information from this site to create their own unique books.

  • Use this same lesson approach to create alphabet books for a content area topic. For some teaching ideas, access and adapt the ReadWriteThink lesson "ABC Bookmaking Builds Vocabulary in the Content Areas."

  • Integrate technology by allowing students to publish their alphabet books using PowerPoint or on the Web. Students can scan in their illustrations or use an art program, like KidPix, to illustrate their pages.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Be sure to observe students as they progress through the writing process to assess their understanding of the different stages: prewriting, first draft, editing, revising, and publishing. Assessment can be made during conferences with students at each stage and by "kid-watching." For more information on assessment of the writing process, you can refer to one of the following professional books:

    • Calkins, L.M. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

    • Fletcher, R., & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

    • Harwayne, S. (2001). Writing through childhood: Rethinking process and product. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
  • Review the Alphabet Organizer printouts or the Alphabet Book Planning Sheet (whichever was used) to determine whether students were able to brainstorm and organize their ideas during the prewriting and first draft stages.

  • Assess the completed alphabet pages to evaluate whether students were able to recognize and follow the selected alphabet book structure using their own words.

  • Use the Self- and Peer-Assessment Rubric completed during Session 4 as indication of students' development of assessment skills. If your assessment differs significantly from the student's self-assessment, you may wish to conference with the individual student to assist him or her in more critically examining the work and comparing it with the rubric descriptors.

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