Home » Blog » Ancient Civilizations, Societies Then and Now #5: Illuminated Letters

Ancient Civilizations, Societies Then and Now #5: Illuminated Letters

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students learn how to make illuminated letters just as scribes and artists did in ancient times.  Using handmade books from the last lesson, students will create an illuminated letter decorative cover and fill the book with unit vocabulary or a story based on their new understanding of ancient civilizations.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:


  1. To learn to make illuminated letters.
  2. To begin to fill the handmade books with unit words, each of which will begin with an illuminated letter. (Fill the book in whichever way makes most sense for your class.)
Suggested Time:

45-50 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will decorate their book cover with an illuminated letter.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Remind the students about Mr. Gutenberg’s books.  Ask what the thin, gold material was called.  (Answer:  Gold Leaf.)  Remind the students that gold was used to decorate books to make them look beautiful!

Using Google Images, show the children a few illuminated letters.

Ask what the children notice about the letters.  They might come up with the ideas that the illuminated letters are:

  • A bright, gold color.
  • Larger than other letters on the same page.
  • Decorated

2. Main:

Explain to the kids that there are five steps in making an illuminated letter.  Have these steps written on a screen, board, or flipchart paper at the front of the class.

How to make an illuminated letter:

  1. Choose a letter.
  2. Write a block letter (practice first on a piece of scrap paper!).
  3. Sketch in a design, usually with a pattern or motif from nature.
  4. Add color.
  5. Add “illumination” – an outline, highlight, or bit of gold or silver to make the letter beautiful!

Keep these steps visible during the lesson.

Demonstrate how to make an illuminated letter by making a simple one on the board or screen at the front of the class.

Then, show this short video, “How to Draw Illuminated Letters,” by “Made by Marzipan.”  Cue the video so that the children do not have to watch the advertising at the beginning.  Stop the video after the kids get the idea of what to do.

Insist that children practice before working directly in their handmade books.  You don’t want a lot of erasing in the books.  The most difficult part for them seems to be getting the sizing of the letters to fit the book cover.

Give the children time to complete an illuminated letter cover on the handmade books. The letter should connect with the unit.  For example, the students could do:

A:  for Ancient or Aztec

C:  for Civilization

E:  for Egypt

R:  for Roman

C:  for Chinese

I:  for Indus River Valley or Inca

Some children want to use their first name initial, and that is fine as well.

No one will fill the entire book during this lesson, but they can work on their books when they have free time or during indoor recess.

3. Conclusion:

Ask the children to show one another their illuminated letters.  Share with elbow partners.

Emphasize that making illuminated letters wan an ancient technique that they now know how to do!  Encourage the children to finish their books and to keep them as some of the evidence of learning for this unit.

  1. Handmade books from the last lesson
  2. Scrap paper for practicing
  3. Colored pencils, pens, and markers
  4. Rulers
  5. Device to show the video, “How to Make Illuminated Letters” by “Made by Marzipan”
  6. Access to the YouTube Video, “Made by Marzipan,”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMi5g3OPO-Q
  7. Handout copies, samples of block letters. (Attached)
  8. Handout copies, samples of illuminated letters. (Attached)

Kids REALLY enjoy this activity.  Be prepared for a lot of questions, but let them use their own creativity.  I’ve had kids make lovely rock, wave, feather, and vine patterns.  Students are also good at geometric patterns.  If anyone gets stuck for ideas, just show a few illuminated letters from Google Images to jump-start their imagination.

Key Terms:

Bookmaking, Upcycling, Handmade Books, Crafts, Publishing, Weather

Block Letters

Illuminated Letters