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Out of This World #4: NASA Picture Dictionary

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students get to play with space words.  Using the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA’s Picture Dictionary, students will gather words and their meanings to write and illustrate an acrostic composition.  This lesson gives the children a chance to be creative and express themselves while still working within the Unit of Inquiry.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



To create an acrostic composition using NASA’s Picture Dictionary of space-themed words.  (AASL 4.1.8, “Use creative and artistic formats to express personal learning.”)

Suggested Time:

35-40 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will complete an illustrated acrostic composition.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Remind students that thus far they have completed a factfinding mission using nonfiction sources (first lesson), explored the science fiction genre (second lesson), and worked with a current events text about space exploration (third lesson).   Tell the students that today they will be working with NASA’s Picture Dictionary to learn new words about space and make a creative space-themed acrostic.

Teach the kids that an acrostic composition is one in which taking the first letter in each line spells a word.  Give an example of a simple acrostic poem.  Here is a link to Ken Nesbitt’s Poetry4Kids page on acrostics:  Poetry4Kids Acrostics.  Choose one of Mr. Nesbitt’s examples to share, but you may also need to use some of his guidance about teaching kids to write an acrostic.


Ask the children to choose a word that describes a characteristic of space.  Perhaps “Inspiring,“ “Immense,” “Exciting,” “Challenging,” “Difficult,” “Distant,” etc.  If you feel it suits the class better, have them work with their first names, or a verb linked to the Space Unit of Inquiry such as “Explore,” “Experiment,” “Discover,” “Train,” “Travel,” or “Blast Off.”

Show the children NASA’s Picture Dictionary, found here: NASA’s Picture Dictionary.  Be sure to click on “More Stories” to see the remaining letters of the alphabet.

Instruct the children to write the letters in their chosen word vertically down the left-hand side of their page.  Using those letters as first letters, the children should complete the acrostic with space words.  Here is an example I wrote using a space-themed verb:

B oosters

L ift

A stronauts towards the

S olar system.

T ogether, new

O rbits are flown. Our

F future in the stars will soon be

F ound.

Note that nothing needs to rhyme.  Lines are not limited to one word.  The composition does not need to be a poem.  Just let the kids write their thoughts using the first letters as a guide.

If some students finish early, they can illustrate their work.  If you still have early finishers and if a device or two is available, you can let the kids explore NASA’s Kids Club here:  NASA Kids’ Club.

3. Conclusion:

Ask the students to show their work to a friend.  Perhaps ask a few to share with the entire class.  Put the acrostics on display if you can.  If not, make sure that the acrostics find their way back to the homeroom teacher for inclusion in the literacy folder or writer’s workshop folder.

  1. Ken Nesbitt’s Poetry4Kids Acrostic Page, with examples: Poetry4Kids Acrostics
  2. Paper, pencils, and erasers
  3. Colored pencils
  4. Rulers
  5. Copies of the Block Letter Guide (attached), one or two for each table.
  6. Access to NASA’s Picture Dictionary, found here: NASA’s Picture Dictionary
  7. Acrostic poem templates, free, found here: Acrostic Poem Templates, Free (optional)

Although I have written this lesson plan for use with NASA’s Picture Dictionary, you can also have the kids simply use Unit of Inquiry books to find words with the letters they need.  With NASA’s site the kids are picking words off a list, but if you ask the children to use your Unit of Inquiry Materials, they will be forced to do a bit more searching and thinking.  Perhaps you could have a few iPad set up at a station for word look-up in case they get stuck, but have them do most of the word searching on their own.

Also, I’ve given a link to an acrostic template, but you really don’t need this.  Kids can write their own block letters or bubble letters on any size page you wish.  If you avoid using the template, then they may be free to illustrate the piece when they are finished with the words.  Choose the paper and format that works best for your students.  The most important element of the lesson, of course, is their thinking and the content of the acrostic, not the template.

Sometimes acrostics are overused, but I find them to be a great way to build in creativity and writing to some of my lessons.  Since some of the space words are quite challenging, it’s nice to give the kids a chance to work with the words in a playful, creative task.

Recommended books for this lesson:


Key Terms:

Space, Acrostic, NASA, Dictionaries

Block Letter Guide