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Ancient Civilizations, Societies Then and Now #4: Gutenberg and Bookmaking

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students learn about Johannes Gutenberg and the first books printed with movable type. They also have the chance to make a book using upcycled or recycled materials. In the next lesson, they will learn the ancient technique of making illuminated letters and begin to fill their books with unit vocabulary.

Lesson Plan:


1. To understand that Johannes Gutenberg was the first person to make a book using movable type.
2. To learn to make a simple book using recycled materials (Can also be an Eco Week Project.)

Suggested Grades:


Suggested Time:

40-45 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will make a book from recycled materials.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask students how many parts of a book they can name. They should be able to identify: front cover, back cover, spine, and pages. Point out the binding with thread or glue, and mention ink for words and images.

Introduce the idea that books have changed over time. Hundreds of years ago, books were all made by hand. In modern times, we have eBooks! Today we will make a book with our hands using recycled materials. Next week we will decorate the cover using an historical technique with illuminated letters.

2. Main:

Teach From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World, by James Rumford. The text will be quite difficult for second or third graders, so you will need to paraphrase and summarize key points. The way the book is written is essentially a guessing game. Simplify the language and let the children guess the major parts of a book including the paper, ink, glue, leather covers, movable type, and gold leaf. You may need to show pictures of gold leaf as many children have never seen or heard of it before. Sometimes I do not finish the book because it ends with the importance of movable type and, for this lesson, you’re really focusing on the idea of a handmade book.

After you finish teaching the text, explain to the children that they will have a chance to make their own books. They won’t be making paper, but they will be using scrap paper and materials on hand to make their own books. Next week they will work on filling the books with their own stories or information.

Demonstrate how to make a handmade book. Prepare by watching and using the technique in Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s video here:

Help the kids make the books. I usually use terminology like this:

  • “Fold each sheet of paper in half so that it is long and skinny, a ‘hot dog fold.'”
  • “Make sure that any marks on the scrap paper are on the inside of the fold.”
  • “Fold the long skinny pieces in half, ‘sandwich folds.'”
  • “‘Nest’ the folded pages inside each other. Be sure that all folded edges are UP and all loose edges are DOWN.”
  • “Match corners and then punch two holes in the left-hand side. The holes should be about 6 cm apart.”
  • “Push the rubber band through the holes and loop it around the stick/pencil/crayon on both ends to complete the binding.”

The rubber band is the hardest part for kids to manage on their own. It will take about one adult for every eight kids to ensure that the books are put together correctly.

Ask the children to write their name on the back of the book once the book itself is complete.

3. Conclusion:

Make sure that every child has a completed book and that the child’s name and class are on the back cover.

  1. Two sheets of scrap paper per child. If the books need to be a bit longer, use three sheets of scrap paper per child.
  2. One stick, old pencil, or crayon approximately 8-10 cm in length per student (If you can’t find enough old pencils, you can use a craft stick).
  3. One rubber band per student.
  4. Hole punch.

Kids REALLY enjoy this activity. Be prepared for them to want to make more than one book, or to make their books longer or larger. I usually let them make one to work on at school and one to take home for fun as long as the materials hold out.

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord is an expert on bookmaking with children. She has published a book herself that contains bookmaking techniques from around the world. I have purchased her book and found it to be a valuable resource. If you would like to have a look at it, you can find it either on Amazon or Etsy.

recommended books for this lesson:
  1. From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World, by James Rumford
  2. Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet, by Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Key Terms:

Bookmaking, Upcycling, Handmade Books, Crafts, Publishing, Johannes Gutenberg, Gutenberg Press