Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

Lesson 3: The Roman Alphabet is our Alphabet


The Lesson


The Romans used the first version of the modern western alphabet.

The Romans used the first version of the modern western alphabet.

The Romans developed the alphabet we still use today. In this lesson we will introduce the Romans and ask how their alphabet got to us.

Guiding Questions

  • Who were the Romans and where did they live?
  • Who uses the alphabet they developed?
  • Can we recognize all the letters the Romans used?
  • What are some reasons the Romans were important?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson the students will be able to:

  • Show that the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans lived in the Mediterranean area.
  • Say that the Romans had a big empire in this area.
  • Give some reasons why the alphabet was important for the Romans.
  • Say that the Romans developed the alphabet they are learning in school.
  • Compare Roman letters to their own alphabet.


The Romans started out living in a city, just like the Greeks and Phoenicians. But instead of staying separated from other cities, they extended their citizenship to their neighbors and joined with them to make a league of cities in Italy. This league became very powerful, and after winning many wars the Romans acquired the large empire you see on the map. As you can see, both Greece and Phoenicia became parts of this empire.

But the Romans learned the Greek alphabet even before they acquired their empire. They inherited not only the alphabet, but also many other cultural habits and institutions from the Greeks, and in particular they adopted the Greek idea of writing lots of books. The Romans wrote poems, speeches, plays, histories, books of science, and books of thoughts about the world, all in Latin. From the Romans we possess many interesting letters, handbooks on building and farming, and descriptions of famous events, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The Romans needed the alphabet in order to administrate their large empire. They wrote many laws and decrees, and sent letters to every corner of Europe, Africa and the Near East. Since the Romans passed their language to the next generations, the laws and literature of the Middle Ages were also written in Latin. Latin was the language of government, learning, poetry, and science for nearly 2,000 years, and because of this it had a very strong influence on the languages that developed in modern times. Students can see this influence in your classroom when they look at their books, because when they do that they are seeing the letters the Romans invented.

Preparation Instructions

The Roman Alphabet

Download [or project] the Roman Empire map. Also download [or project] the Phoenician, Greek, and Roman Alphabet Page and the following illustration from Maecenas: Images of Ancient Greece and Rome (linked to the EDSITEment-reviewed Perseus Forum) The House of the tragic Poet: "Cave Canem Mosaic." To reach this illustration please use the following path. Once you have arrived at the website choose the General Contents page. Scroll down to “Italy—Except Rome and Sicily.” Choose Pompeii. Scroll through the illustrations and select Pompeii: House of the Tragic Poet "Cave Canem" Mosaic. The Maecenas site also includes many other useful illustrations for teaching about ancient Rome, some of which have been selected and listed in the fourth (capstone) lesson of this curriculum unit.

The alphabet the Romans developed is everywhere in your classroom. Be sure to refer to upper case letters when you show the connections between the previous alphabets and our alphabet. (Lower case forms are a later invention.)

Be sure to have a large map of the Roman Empire visible as you talk. This is exactly the same geographical area as you have been showing in your last two lessons, but now all of it in is the Roman Empire.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Roman Alphabet Activity
Roman Alphabet Activity:

Show the Phoenician, Greek, and Roman Alphabet page. Ask your students to look at the Roman alphabet on the Phoenician, Greek and Roman alphabet page. Then ask them to say the English alphabet out loud. What differences between the Roman alphabet and their alphabet can they notice?

Most students will be able to notice that some letters are missing. The main difference between the Roman alphabet and our alphabet is that in the old Roman alphabet C and G were not distinguished, and neither were I and J, and neither were U, V and W. So in other words, your students won't see G, J, U or W in this alphabet. For all practical purposes, the Roman alphabet is our alphabet, and it is about 2,500 years old.

Activity 2. Looking at Latin

Here is a Roman mosaic you can look at with your students, who will be able to see that they know all the letters in the words and can even learn to understand them.

  • Show them the Cave Canem Mosaic. Great! Ask your students if they think the Roman dog looks modern and realistic. Point out that the doggy is 2,000 years old! Tell them that the first word, the word cave (pronounced cahway), means "beware", or "be careful of". The second word, the word canem (pronounced cahnem) is a form of the word that means dog. Perhaps some of your students know the English adjective "canine" that comes from this same Latin word for dog. So "Cave Canem" means "Beware of the Dog". Congratulate your students on learning some Latin words. Point out that they know all the letters, and so could start learning Latin any time: they wouldn't need to learn a new alphabet, even though the words are so old.


At the conclusions of the lesson, ask your students to show you the Roman Empire on the map, and to show the areas of Greece and Phoenicia within it. They should be able to explain some of the ways in which the Romans used the alphabet. Ask them to tell you what language the Romans wrote with their alphabet (Latin). Ask them if there are important differences between the Roman alphabet and our alphabet. Perhaps they can remember some of the letters that were contributed somewhat later on (G, J, and W).

The Basics

Time Required

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)