Alphabet activities

Could the 26 letters of the alphabet be presented in another way? The alphabet is usually presented as a line of 26 letters in a standard order. Could you arrange it into a different shape and structure? Would you follow the usual order?

Imagine you are the curator of a museum of the alphabet . Where would you display the different letters? Which letter would you put in the most prominent space in the in the museum? Which letters would be exhibited in a room of their own? Which would be tucked around a corner?

Are some letters more important to you than others? Are some more useful than others? Rewrite the alphabet using scale and decoration to indicate the different value you place on each letter.

Chose a letter or typeface and research its history. Try to find out about origins. Did it always look the same or did it evolve over time? Did it have particular meaning for an individual, group or culture?

What does typeface communicate? Find examples of typefaces that appear political, romantic, comic, childish, scientific etc.

Think about the surfaces that letters can appear on. Find examples of letters stitched onto fabric, tattooed onto skin, shaved into hair, carved into a tree, written on a bus window, printed on a poster, glowing in a neon sign. What does each different material do to the letter's form and associations?

Choose objects beginning with a particular letter. Using images of the objects, or the objects themselves, illustrate the shape of that letter. What would an alphabet of objects look like? Use different families of objects (musical instruments, cities, fruit, faces etc.) to construct an alphabet.

In medieval manuscripts letters were emphasised in various ways - through scale, decoration, colour and position. Find your own sources for patterns, from either natural or man-made forms, and use them to decorate a letter of the alphabet. Think about how you can relate the pattern to the letter.

Different styles of writing have different associations. What would an anxious alphabet look like? What about an excited alphabet? Consider the effect of your mood on the lines, shapes and colours of your script.

Sum up the mood of a particular letter in three words. Is the mood of a letter influenced by its connection with a particular word? Does L make you think about Love or Loss? How could you make the letter reflect these associations?

Make a newspaper headline for your chosen letter. Consider the power of alliteration.

How would you illustrate these lines from a poem by Seamus Heaney :

The letters of the alphabet were trees,
The capitals were orchards in full bloom.
The lines of script like briars coiled in ditches

What would an alphabet based on organic forms look like? Could you make an outdoor alphabet, using only materials from your surroundings?

What would the alphabet of the future look like? What tools would it be written with? What surface or material would it be written on?

Image of the chinese character 'middle'

Many letters were once pictures. Chinese characters began as animals, landscapes, even facial expressions. Here is the symbol for 'middle'. How does it illustrate its meaning? Invent a symbol for the following words:


Make your own pictogram (a character or symbol based on a picture). Find an object or image and draw it, simplifying the picture in stages to create a mark that suggests the original picture, but is simple enough to work as a symbol or letter.

Not all alphabets have the same number of letters (J and V arrived late). Invent a new letter to add to the alphabet and make up a word that includes it.

What would we do without N? What wouldn't we be able to say? Find a piece of text from a newspaper, advert, webpage or book and remove a particular letter. Which letter could you not do without? Which would you hardly miss?

Make up a joke about a letter. Design or find a comedy typeface to write it in.

Do you remember when you first learned to read and write? Did you practice your letters, writing each one over and over again? Close your eyes: how does it feel to make the shape?

Make a comic strip story for a particular letter. Would it be a hero or a villain?

Create an anagram by playing around with the order of the letters in a word. Find words whose meaning completely changes when you take away a single letter.