How to Teach Children Illuminated Letters


Melding fine art and literature, illuminated letters are the oversized, ornate letters that begin the first paragraph of a book or chapter. In the Middle Ages, illuminated letters were prevalent in religious manuscripts and famous texts such as "The Book of Kells." Named for the gold leaf in some of the artwork that appeared to "light up" the text, these letters may be simply decorative, or depict characters or story elements. Introduce children to this literary tradition through historical examples and experimentation as they create their own illuminated letters.

Things You'll Need

  • Historical information presentation
  • Examples of illuminated letters
  • Gold colored foil
  • Markers
  • Drawing Paper (7"x7")
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Crayons
  • Tracing forms (if desired)
  • Glue
  • Ruler
  • Colored Pencils
  • Create learning objectives for your unit or lesson on illuminated letters. If you plan to teach children to create illuminated letters, one of the objectives might be, "Students will design and create illuminated letters for a specific manuscript." Make sure your objectives include action statements such as, "create," "observe," or "record." The objectives will serve as a way for you and the students to measure whether individuals have met their learning goals.

  • Provide historical information so that students understand the long history and process of creating illuminated letters. Historical information may come in the form of a documentary that students watch and take notes on, a slide show with information for students research and share, or a guest speaker with actual examples of illuminated manuscripts. If possible, take a trip to a museum to see illuminated manuscripts with actual gold leaf.

  • Give students the opportunity to reflect on the characteristics of an illuminated manuscript. Students may brainstorm what features they would like to add to their own illuminated letters. They may also begin with a tracing template and then play with animals, shapes, flowers or other features. Give students choices of elements they can add to their own illuminated letters that will add to its originality and encourage creative expression.

  • Provide work space and materials for students to create illuminated letters. You may choose to provide them with a manuscript and have them illuminate the first letter, or have them write their own manuscripts. Instruct the students to use paper, markers, crayons, pen and pencils to conceptualize their illuminated letters. Younger students may illuminate the first letter of their name. Then instruct them on how to apply gold or aluminum foil to illuminate the paper.

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