Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

Lesson 1: The Phoenicians and the Beginnings of the Alphabet

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

"Aleph," the first letter in the Phoenician alphabet

"Aleph" is the first letter in the Phoenician alphabet, and corresponds to our "A".Phoenician type font courtesy of S. George Khalaf, A Bequest Unearthed, Phoenicia

Credit: Courtesy of the Internet Public Library.

This first lesson of the curriculum unit, The Alphabet is Historic, will be about the Phoenicians, who invented the alphabet inherited by the Greeks, Romans, and eventually, us.

Guiding Questions

  • Who were the Phoenicians and where did they live?
  • When and why did they invent the alphabet? 
  • What did their alphabet look like? 
  • Can we see some early forms of our own letters in this very old alphabet?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the Phoenicians as a trading people who lived long ago on the shores of the Mediterranean.
  • Understand that the Phoenicians invented the first form of our alphabet.
  • Say why the alphabet was important for the Phoenicians.
  • Compare some of the Phoenician letters to our letters.
  • Write a short paragraph (with the teacher or alone) on a topic related to learning or using the Phoenician alphabet.

Background

The Phoenicians were a trading people who came from the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Their two main cities were Sidon and Tyre. They had very wonderful ships, built with timber from Lebanon, and they traded in all sorts of good things: metals, cloth, purple dye, fine jewelry and craft work, salt, wine and olives, grain, and many other things. The Phoenicians were sailors and city dwellers, and as they grew more and more prosperous and populous they did not spread out into the land as other people might. Rather, they founded many new cities, or colonies, all around the Mediterranean Sea. Be sure to show your students that some of these colonies were as distant from Phoenicia as the southern coast of Spain. You could also point out Carthage, in North Africa. Carthage was the most famous of the Phoenician colonies. It became a very powerful city, and later on in time it became Rome's adversary in a battle for dominance over the western Mediterranean.

Preparation Instructions

The Phoenician Alphabet

A short narrative description of the Phoenicians is included below. You could use it, together with the maps and illustrations provided, to introduce your students to the Phoenicians. In order to do the activities outlined here you will need to download or project the The Phoenician World and the The Phoenician Alphabet The EDSITEment Phoenician Alphabet Page.

 

Other useful maps may be found at A Bequest Unearthed, Phoenicia. Click on “The Phoenician World with Cities “ and "Phoenician Land and Sea Voyages". Images of Phoenician ships can be also be viewed at this link from the Internet Public Library. Photos of a reconstructed Phoenician ship can be found at the Phoenician Experience, also through the Internet Public Library.

Project or Show the map of the Mediterranean as you introduce the Phoenicians.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Phoenician Alphabet Activity
  • Speak about the Phoenicians' extensive trading all around the Mediterranean and show your students some pictures of the Phoenician ships.
  • Now use your map to show the students Tyre and Athens, Greece. (We'll be using Athens again in the Greek part of the unit.) Ask the children to pretend that they are Phoenician merchants trading purple cloth from Tyre for olive oil from Athens. They are stationed at Athens, and they must stay there to continue with their business. But they must also report back to Tyre about how much they've sold and what new supplies they will need. How will they send the message? (Answer: They will have to send a letter, probably with the next ship.)

Then ask the students if the Phoenician traders could write a letter if they didn't have an alphabet. Using the EDSITEment Phoenician Alphabet page

the teacher could show the students the Phoenician alphabet. S/he could say something like: "Three thousand years ago, when the ancient Phoenicians wrote letters, this is the alphabet they used." Do the children recognize any of the old Phoenician letters? Several are easy to recognize once you see that the form is slightly different from what we are used to.

  • Point out that A and S, for instance, are nearly the same as they are now, except that they are lying sideways ["S" is the second to last letter of this alphabet].
  • Again, the teacher could show the students that O looks just the same now as it did three thousand years ago, and so does T.

Encourage your students to draw further comparisons. (Ask about the letters in the “D” and “E” position, for instance. Do they look somewhat familiar?)

Congratulate the children on being able to identify letters that are about 3,000 years old and come from a different language! Let the children count the letters and copy some of the strange ones. They'll see that this first alphabet has fewer letters than ours, and they will notice many other differences.

You could talk with the class about how things change form and appearance as they develop. For instance, you could ask the children if they think that they will look the same when they are 12, or when they're grown up, as they do now. Just like people, the alphabet changes its appearance over time.

Possible assignments:
  • Ask the children to write (or write with them) a short story or descriptive paragraph about a Phoenician child who is learning the alphabet.
  • Alternatively, write with them, or ask them to write, the letter the Phoenicians traders wrote back to Tyre. They could tell about their success at Athens and request more things to sell.

Assessment

Conclude the lesson by asking the children to identify Phoenicia and the Mediterranean Sea on the map.

Can the children trace the route from Tyre to Athens? Can they show the Phoenician colonies? Ask the children what sorts of things the Phoenicians loaded onto their boats to trade.

Finally, ask the children who invented the alphabet that would someday become our alphabet. Why would a trading people need an alphabet? Can they remember some of the letters the Phoenicians invented that we still use?

Extending The Lesson

If any of your students suggested that it might be just as easy to write with pictures, there are two wonderful Just So stories by Rudyard Kipling—through the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library—that show in a very amusing way why it is so important to have letters. They are called "How the First Letter was Written" and "How the First Alphabet was Made". They would also be available in any collection of Kipling's stories for children.

The Basics

Time Required

3-4 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Foreign Language > Ancient > Ancient Greek
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Ancient World
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Archaeology
  • Foreign Language > Ancient > Latin
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Ancient World (3500 BCE-500 CE)
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Middle East
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Visual analysis
Authors
  • Edith Foster, Kenyon College (Gambier, OH)

Resources

Student Resources
Media