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Letters with character.

The first day of elementary school can be intimidating for students and teachers alike. How can you make that first day a real learning experience--give your students "ownership" of their new classroom--while learning their names and creating artwork for the bulletin boards at the same time?

Try teaching them about letterforms. Throw out those letter patterns and have students cut letters directly from construction paper. Demonstrate by cutting strips the height you choose for your letters. Then cut a piece the width of the letter you plan to make--"M" and "W" will be wider. Visualize the letter as just fitting in the box and cut away the outer edge. Then decide on the thickness you want and finish the cutting.

Give your new class strips of construction paper. When your students have tried one letter, ask them to cut out the letters of their first name, giving the letters "character"--tall, thin, strong, funny, pretty. Have students arrange and glue their letters on sheets of 12" x 18" (30 cm x 46 cm) construction paper. Then ask them to decorate the letters with repeat lines, or surround them with pictures of things they like--a pet, bicycle, game, etc.

For kindergarten and first grade, you might ask students to write their names large on the paper (or do it yourself for some children.) Then ask them to complete the design. Some alternatives for airy grade are:

* Use crayons and ask students to design their names to tell something about themselves.

* Cut names on the fold for a symmetrical design.

* Create a classroom alphabet with cut and decorated letters.

Present letterforms to your students as abstract designs. Letter design reaches into history. Roman letters were derived from the Phoenician alphabet and took their geometric elements of straight lines and curves from the many Roman monuments inscribed all across Europe. Straight edges and compasses gave us the shapes of our letterforms.

Ask students to find and cut out interesting letter shapes from packaging and magazine ads and collect them on a bulletin board. Or create a Scrabble bulletin board--keep many letters in an envelope at the bottom of the board; invite individual students to find a word and staple it on the board. Another student can build on that word, as in a Scrabble game. The advantage over the board game is if you need a letter, you can cut it out.

Connect letterforms to language arts. Plan an "adjective" bulletin board. Ask students to cut out the letters of an adjective to look like the meaning of the word--i.e., skinny, wiggly, huge, tiny, etc. In fifteen minutes, each student should have one adjective cut. You can go on to other lessons and let them staple their words to the board as they have an opportunity. Then leave the board with the invitation to add new adjectives whenever they get an idea.

When the board is full--perhaps after a few weeks--start a story on a roll of mural paper. Ask your top achievers to look at the adjectives and create a story from them. Have them start lettering the story with markers on the mural paper. As each adjective is used, take it from the board and glue it on the story paper. This, too, could take a few weeks. Try participles, verbs, nouns and adverbs. Ask fourth graders and older students to do adjective self-portraits, describing themselves.

Once your class brows how to cut letters, let them design all of your bulletin boards with their letters. If their own work is on that board, it will get much more attention than your own after school efforts. And your room will have the flavor of involved learning.

Jean Mormon Unsworth is Art Consultant for the Chicago Archdiocesan schools. She is author of Connecting, an interdisciplinary art program for elementary grades.
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Author:Unsworth, Jean Morman
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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