Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

Lesson 4: The Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, and Us

Created May 9, 2007


The Lesson


The history of the development of the Western world's alphabets is long and  colorful.

The history of the development of the Western world's alphabets is long and colorful.

Guiding Questions

  • How did our alphabet develop?
  • Where did the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans live? 
  • How did the alphabet pass from one to the other, and how did it change in the process? 
  • What letters of the alphabet have been preserved through all the changes of peoples and places? 
  • How did the alphabet get to us, who are so far away from the Mediterranean?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Show on a map that the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans lived in the Mediterranean area.
  • Tell about the development of the alphabet and that we are still using the Roman alphabet.
  • Tell some other things we inherited from the peoples of this region.
  • Prepare a booklet on the development of a particular letter and write a short paragraph on the future of the alphabet.


Preparation Instructions

Download the Phoenician, Greek, and Roman Alphabet Pages, the Mediterranean Area Maps. Follow the instructions below for accessing the illustrations on Maecenas: Images of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Historical Overview

Use this lesson to review the history of the alphabet with your students and to talk with the students about how this old alphabet came to us.

Show the map of the Mediterranean again, and begin by reminding them about the Phoenicians, who first developed the alphabet so that they could write home from far away. Remind them that the Phoenicians were great traders and city builders. Show them the Phoenician alphabet page again. Now that they have seen the evolution of the alphabet, they will be able to appreciate how the alphabet has changed over the years.

Then remind them again about the Greeks, who learned the alphabet from the Phoenicians and wrote so many books. Remind them that the Greeks were very inventive. Besides writing so many books, they invented and first practiced democracy. Show the Phoencian-Greek Alphabet page and remind them about the letters they can recognize.

Now show the Roman Map again. Remind your students that the Greeks handed on the alphabet to the Romans, who eventually ruled the whole Mediterranean area they can see on the map, and Europe as well. Also remind them that Latin was an important language for a very long time throughout the whole area they see on the map. Because of this English, Spanish, Italian, French and several other languages are based on Latin, and all of these languages use the alphabet the Romans invented.

  • You can show your students some pictures of ancient Roman architecture, if it seems appropriate. Return to Maecenas and select the General Contents page.
  • Scroll down to Rome. Choose the Colosseum and select Colosseum 1. Return to Rome. Choose The Arch of Constantine and select The Arch of Constantine 1. The first photo shows the Roman arena called the Colosseum and the second shows the Arch of Constantine in front of that same arena. In general, this is an excellent photo collection, of which many pictures will be useful. Look, if you have time, at the Tiber and its bridges, or the pictures of the Cloaca Maxima (the great sewer). The latter, in particular, will give your students some idea of the size of ancient Rome, which at its height had a population of over a million people.

Finally, show the Development of the Alphabet Page. Look at a few particular letters and ask your students how they changed over time. If you choose A you will see some changes over time; if you choose T, for instance, you will see hardly any changes in over 3,000 years. Although we have discussed the three main parties in this lesson, you might point out to your students that other peoples worked on the alphabet as well.

Activity 2. Beautiful Letters

Show the Development of the Alphabet Page. Ask the children to design a booklet showing the historical development of a particular letter.

Give each student a small booklet with 6 to 8 pages of blank paper. The students should choose a letter and decorate the cover of their booklets with whatever form or forms of the letter they like. Have them draw historical letters on each inside page. If a student chooses the letter "A", for instance, s/he could put a large Phoenician A on the first inside page, a Greek Alpha on the second page, a Roman A on the third page, and his or her own A on the last page. (Maybe they would also like to include a decorated A from a medieval manuscript, or a fancy A from somewhere else. The fonts supplied on your computer provide many fancy letters!)

Second, ask the students to write a sentence or two on the bottom of each page, mentioning who used this letter first, and then next, and so on down through history, right up to themselves.

Finally, the students could decorate the pages with something characteristic of each culture. Perhaps they would like to put photos of themselves on the last page. In this way, even if there is not much change in the letter itself, the changing times will be represented on the pages.

Activity 3. Future of the Alphabet

Ask your students to think about the fact that they are using such old letters to write English. Ask them to write a few sentences about what they think will happen in the future. Will people continue to use this old alphabet or will the alphabet eventually change? If the students could change the alphabet themselves, how would they change it?


Ask your students to trace the path of the alphabet from the Phoenicians to themselves. Ask them if they can say a few things about the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans. Ask them to show you the Roman Empire on the map. Can your students tell you approximately how old the Roman alphabet is? How did the Roman alphabet make its way to us?

The Basics

Time Required

2-3 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
  • 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
  • Edith Foster, Kenyon College (Gambier, OH)


Student Resources

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