Promoting Cultural Values Through Alphabet Books

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Ten 20- to 30-minute sessions over three weeks
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Diversity is celebrated in this lesson in which students embark on a cultural research project by first reading a variety of alphabet books about world cultures, including D is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture. They then select a culture to study and work in groups to conduct research into the history and symbols of their selected culture. The lesson includes tools for conducting primary interviews and other research techniques. The project culminates with each group writing and illustrating a cultural alphabet book based on their research. Groups share their work with the class and invited guests during a Diversity Celebration.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The authors assert that exposure to international literature helps promote a general goal of international understanding; that through international literature students are introduced to new terms from different languages or dialects used in meaningful contexts that promote children's language, literacy, and literary development; and that international literature has been credited to help students meet new narrative structures, themes, and patterns. Further, exposure to international literature supports students' social, emotional, and moral development by broadening their perspectives, increasing their empathy for others, and dispelling stereotypes.

Students can use what they have learned in shared and guided writing and then choose to write, taking responsibility of the writing process and thereby becoming independent writers. Among other genres, the author suggests alphabet books to use in writing activities.

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).
  • 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.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 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.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

Materials and Technology

  • D is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture by Maywan Shen Krach (Shen's Books, 2000)

  • Paper and art supplies

  • Binding machine (or other items for binding pages)

  • Computers with Internet access and printer

  • Cultural Alphabet Booklist



1. Read D Is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture or any book of your choice from the Cultural Alphabet Booklist. (If you choose a different book, simply modify the discussion of Chinese culture in the Tapping Prior Knowledge sessions to a discussion of your chosen culture.) D is for Doufu introduces readers to Chinese culture, beliefs, and legends by exploring the meanings of 23 Chinese words and phrases while providing an interesting historical and cultural background. Each phrase is introduced by a written image, an explanation of the spoken Mandarin language, and a picture representing the concept.

2. Obtain a few alphabet books from the suggested Cultural Alphabet Booklist. Choose books that represent your students' heritages as well as other cultures that students have expressed interest in.

3. Review the Cultural Alphabet Book Assignment Sheet and Interview Worksheet and customize as necessary for your class. Make copies of these handouts for each student. When planning the unit, remember that many of the steps can be done simultaneously. For example, one small group of students can be using reference books or the computer to find images while another group is working on illustrating their books.

4. Choose a medium for the final product. All groups will create an alphabet book about their selected culture, but it is up to you (or them if you'd like to give students that freedom) to choose whether it will be a traditional print book, a website, a multimedia presentation, a poem, a play-the possibilities are endless! Make arrangements in the computer lab or art room and obtain materials as necessary. For the purposes of this lesson, the final project is to be a traditionally bound print book.

5. Reserve time in the library for research. Coordinate with the librarian who can suggest good cultural resources and multicultural books that students may find helpful.

6. Decide what elements should be included in the final Diversity Celebration. It may be a simple class party or could include families and community members in your school's gym or cafeteria, complete with cultural food, decorations, and traditional dances. Prepare a letter to parents accordingly, soliciting any needed volunteers. Print enough copies for each member of your class and send it home a few weeks in advance. Make celebration arrangements as needed.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Analyze their own culture by comparing and contrasting it with other cultures

  • Learn the characteristics of the alphabet book genre

  • Develop collaborative skills by engaging in whole-class discussions and working in small groups to write their own alphabet books about a specific culture

  • Demonstrate effective research techniques by conducting primary interviews and surveying new information for answers to questions they have developed

  • Engage in an authentic purpose for writing as they share their finished alphabet books with an audience

Tapping Into Prior Knowledge (Two 30-minute sessions)

1. Illicit a definition of the word culture and record responses on the chalkboard. Share this definition from Merriam-Webster's Word Central: "the beliefs, social practices, and characteristics of a racial, religious, or social group; the characteristic features of everyday life shared by people in a particular place or time."

2. Conduct a minilesson about symbolism. Keep a running list of symbols on the board as you progress through the discussion.

  • Tell students that a symbol is something that reminds a person of an abstract concept or something that cannot easily be depicted. For example, a puppy could be a symbol for playfulness. You might explore common similes and metaphors to identify some other symbols (e.g., "busy as a bee," "wise as an owl," and "sly as a fox").

  • Explain that symbols can also represent concepts important to a specific country or culture. Flags are a good symbol to explore, since a great deal of thought and care goes into choosing just the right symbols for the flag to represent a country's ideals.

  • Segue into a discussion about how the everyday objects, or artifacts, used by a culture can come to symbolize that culture as well. Merriam-Webster's Word Central defines an artifact as "a usually simple object (such as a tool or ornament) that shows human work and represents a culture or a stage in the development of a culture." Explain to students that every culture has artifacts that have cultural, religious, social, or medicinal significance, and we can learn a lot about others' cultures and our own culture by becoming cultural anthropologists.

  • Complete the minilesson by eliciting a class definition of the word symbol and writing it on the blackboard. You can compare your definition with the one on Merriam-Webster's Word Central.
3. Distribute the K-W-L Chart and ask students to write down what they already know and would like to know about China. Encourage students to share their knowledge about China and the questions they have with a partner.

4. Lead a class discussion about what students know and would like to know about Chinese culture. As in all multicultural discussions, talk about the Chinese people in a manner that you would like used to depict your own culture and racial or ethnic origin.

5. Tell students that you will read an alphabet book about China, during which they should listen for answers to their questions. Also, if they hear information that makes them think of a new question, they are to write the new question down in the Want to Know column of their K-W-L Charts.

6. Read aloud D is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture. Pause a few times during the read-aloud to give students time to write information on their K-W-L Charts, but let them know they can write while you are reading as well. Stop at various points to check predictions and make new ones. At several key stopping points, ask students to share unfamiliar vocabulary words. Reread the sentences containing the unfamiliar words.

7. After reading the book, have a few students share the information they learned and complete the third column on the K-W-L Chart that details what they have learned about Chinese culture. Ask questions to help students discuss and evaluate the images included in the text. The following questions can help guide your discussion:

  • What are some of the most important symbols of Chinese culture? What is the significance of each of these symbols to the Chinese people?

  • What does this illustration/artifact suggest about Chinese culture?

  • What do other illustrations/artifacts suggest about Chinese religion, class, age, and so forth?

  • What are some Chinese contributions to American culture (e.g., customs, holidays, beliefs, foods, music, and clothing)?
8. Tell students that just as the Chinese people have objects and symbols that are specific to their culture, so do all other cultures. In the coming weeks, students will build their own alphabet books about different cultural groups.

Research (Approximately three 30-minute sessions plus independent study)

1. Lead the class in a brainstorming session about which culture they might like to research. Start by eliciting the names of countries from which your students or their relatives have come. Other suggestions may be countries that students or their relatives have visited, or countries that are in the news or are of particular interest to your students (for example, a student who studies karate may be interested in learning about Japanese culture). Write the full list on the blackboard.

2. Ask the class to form groups based on the countries that they would like to learn about. It will take a few minutes for students to negotiate which countries to research and form their groups. Each group should have no more than four students. Groups should not duplicate work - each group should choose a unique culture that is not being studied by others in the class. Although collaborative work is encouraged, students can choose to work alone.

3. Distribute a few cultural alphabet books to each group (see Preparation, Step 2 and the Cultural Alphabet Booklist). Have students peruse the books, examining how the authors and illustrators employ unique concepts and illustrations that present distinct beliefs and customs for each culture.

4. Tell students that they will be creating alphabet books about the cultures they have selected. Distribute the Cultural Alphabet Book Assignment Sheet to each student and explain your expectations for the project. Tell students that this is a big project, and much of the work will need to be done in the library and at home. Point out that they have already completed Step 1!

5. Discuss as a class how best to work as a team. Groups will need to figure out how to divide the project. One option is to assign each group member specific alphabet letters for which he or she is responsible for finding illustrations and phrases. Another option is to assign each student a specific task for him or her to perform for all letters in the book, such as writing sentences, illustrating pictures, and so on. Tell students that they will be evaluating each other's contributions at the end of the project, so it is in everyone's best interest to work fairly.

6. Students should research their selected culture for two weeks. Use library time and class time to help students find reliable sources and hone in on the products, landmarks, dress, and traditions of their selected cultures. Your school librarian will be an invaluable source of information during this phase. ReadWriteThink's Research Building Blocks unit can help guide you and your students through selecting print resources, examining electronic sources, searching for information, note-taking, and organizing information.

  • Have groups brainstorm the kinds of texts that they can use for this project, such as newspapers, books, websites, and diaries. You might suggest possible focal points such as resources on famous people or important scientific contributions. Explain how students will access texts for this project. Class sessions devoted to library time are ideal, but if a library visit is not possible, be sure that students understand when and where to find the resources that they will need.

  • Using the list of possible artifacts in the Cultural Alphabet Book Assignment Sheet and the sources that they have gathered, have groups brainstorm items and customs unique to their assigned culture. Help them determine where they might acquire any of these items for possible inclusion in their final presentations.

  • Distribute the Interview Worksheet and explain that personal interviews are an excellent way to gather information about cultural traditions. Students can interview their family members and neighbors if they belong to the cultures being studied.
7. To keep students focused and organized throughout the research phase, schedule regular "check-in" appointments with each group. A draft Alphabet Book Project Checkpoints has been provided for this purpose. The project will seem more manageable if broken into small, concrete steps. Tell students exactly when they should have completed each phase of the research process-finding books and websites, conducting interviews, drafting pages of the alphabet book, and choosing items for all alphabet letter pages.

Compiling the Alphabet Book (Two or three 30-minute sessions)

1. Discuss as a class what the groups have found. If students still have difficulty coming up with words, lead a class discussion soliciting suggestions about how they could find more information.

2. Spend some time examining and drafting letters of the alphabet and effectively laying out pages. Encourage creativity such as in The Butterfly Alphabet by Kjell B. Sandved (Scholastic, 1999), which shows each letter appearing naturally on the wing design of a butterfly or moth. Encourage students to think about the art and lettering of their cultures and how it might be expressed in their books. If you are not artistically inclined, enlist the help of the art teacher to help students capture likenesses of cultural artifacts.

3. If you have determined that students should use computers to create their final alphabet books, solicit help from your school's computer lab director or media specialist in guiding students through beginning keyboard skills, scanning photographs, developing webpages for each letter, and so on. One option is to use the Alphabet Organizer (select Option 2) to input the word and sentence for each letter. 

4. Have groups create a final version including illustrations, write an acknowledgement page, and create a cover page with a title and their names. Help students bind their books.

Culminating Activity

1. If parents or community members are invited to the Diversity Celebration, send reminder notes out in advance that include the time, place, and instructions for any materials they are bringing.

2. Host a Diversity Celebration and proudly display students' completed projects in a place for all to see. Create a special section in your school's library or website for the alphabet books.

3. Have each group present their book to the audience. Depending on time, you may ask groups to read their entire books aloud or read only excerpts from their books.

4. Following the Diversity Celebration, send thank you notes to any parents who spoke with your class, led an activity, or helped with setting or cleaning up.


  • Give students the opportunity to learn firsthand about other cultures using pen pals. Check out ePals to learn more about using pen pals within your classroom.

  • Explore entertainment and games from other cultures and countries. Take a look at The Multicultural Game Book (Grades 1-6) by Louise Orlando (Scholastic, 1993). Play some of the games from other cultures. Are they similar to any games that students are familiar with or are they completely different?

  • Explore the holidays and traditions celebrated by different countries and cultures. How are they different from those in the United States? When are they celebrated? Are students familiar with any of the holidays? Some resources that may be helpful to you are Celebrations of Light: A Year of Holidays Around the World by Nancy Luenn (Simon & Schuster, 1998) and Kids Around the World Celebrate! The Best Feasts and Festivals from Many Lands by Lynda Jones (John Wiley & Sons, 2000).

  • Read picture books about different cultures and compare the cultures with your own. Students can write or discuss similarities and differences. The Multicultural Picture Booklist contains books that might be useful. The Scholastic article "How to Choose the Best Multicultural Books" may aid your book selection.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Use the chart on page 3 of the Cultural Alphabet Book Assignment Sheet to assess students’ work.

  • Have students complete the Peer Evaluation Sheet.

  • Ask students to answer the following reflection questions:

    • As you examined alphabet books and resources for this project, what did you learn that you did not know before about a particular culture?

    • What have you learned from the process of choosing cultural items and concepts for your own alphabet book?

    • What did you learn from other students as they presented alphabet books about their culture?

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