PDFThe Alphabet Atlas Teacher Guide.pdf
Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

About the Guide

This Winslow Press Teacher Guide has been designed to be of use to the classroom teacher by offering enrichment activities and discussion materials to complement The Alphabet Atlas. These activities can help students to better understand and enjoy the story as well as assist teachers in implementing strategies and experiences that support their district's learning standards for language arts.

The Guide presents a story synopsis and outlines pre-reading activities. It also presents some concepts related to the story and includes: a brief discussion of related curriculum areas; a list of vocabulary words; class discussion questions; and independent study ideas related to The Alphabet Atlas. The activities are designed to cover a range of language arts skills development that meets the needs of multiple learning styles. The final part of the Guide lists additional resources (books, museums, reference materials, related Internet Web sites) for both teachers and students.

The interdisciplinary activities were developed to support the New York State Learning Standards for English Language Arts. The Standards can be downloaded from the New York State Education Department's Web site at If you have questions about specific standards applied to these activities, please call Winslow Press at 800-617-3947.

We hope this Teacher Guide will be a useful and positive part of your teaching experience!

Diane F. Kessenich
Chief Executive Officer and Publisher

Related Concepts

Quilts and quilting can serve as a tool for exploration of topics in the curriculum and in children's daily lives. Family, history, the visual arts, studies of symbolism, and even geometry are just some of the areas that can be approached through this intimate medium.

The quilts by Adrienne Yorinks, which illustrate The Alphabet Atlas, provide a forum for talking about representation and symbolism. This is because Yorinks uses fabrics from a country, combined with fabrics that may depict an animal or plant or color associated with that place, to create a rendering of the country's map.

A quilt can be not only an illustration, but a story in itself. Our personal and collective histories may be reflected in a quilt-many cultures have quilting traditions, and quilts can be viewed as a medium for transmitting messages about family, beliefs, and history from one generation to another. Family quilts are uniquely intimate in that they usually contain fabrics from clothing belonging to family members, and may also have been made in order to commemorate an event, such as a wedding or a birth. To pass along a quilt is, literally, to hand down history. Children appreciate this tangible, material link to an invisible past.

Quilting patterns, apart from being decorative, have grown out of different personal or societal experiences. For example, during the Civil War era, quilters would incorporate particular patterns indicating which side they supported; the "Log Cabin" pattern is believed to have been named in honor of President Lincoln. Some northern quilters made quilts with abolitionist themes and patterns, like "Birds in the Air" and "Jacob's Ladder." These symbolized slaves' fight for freedom. Quilts with patterns like "The North Star" are said to have been used as a special code by people involved in the Underground Railroad—a certain quilt hung a certain way on the porch might indicate that that house was a refuge, for instance.

African-American quilting tradition often incorporates story quilts (biblical/historical events) and with patterns and colors associated with African weaving (strips of cloth, rather than blocks); contemporary quilters in this tradition often use African fabrics, such as kente cloth, in their designs. Artist Faith Ringgold's story quilts, exhibited all over the world, take on topics from African-American history to nineteenth-century French painting.

Quilts can incorporate embroidery, appliqué, and even (as in the case of some "signature" quilts) pen-and-ink writing or drawing. Like the rest of us, very young children, will respond to the familiarity and immediacy of a quilt made from clothing scraps, as well as to its tactile appeal. The bold colors and puzzle-like pieces of many quilts make them visually exciting; identifying shapes, colors, and patterns is one way of looking, with children, at these creations.

Quilts are puzzles, stories, scrapbooks, and signals. They cover us when we dream, and they connect us to our past. As works of art, and as utilitarian objects, they are a rich source of inspiration and metaphor, and a valuable tool for learning.

For Discussion

  • A quilt and a map each have borders. What is a border? What does it show us?

  • A quilt is made from different pieces of fabric, all fitted together to make a design or even tell a story. Have you ever made any artwork (collage) where you put different kinds of materials (paper, fabric, glue, beads, etc.) together to tell a story? How did you pick out the materials you used?

  • Do you have any quilts at home? If so, what do you know about where they came from?

thirty thousand
Mount Fuji
human beings
New Zealand

outer space
South Africa

United States of America
United Kingdom
Xianggang (Hong Kong)

Vocabulary Games

1. The following crossword puzzle contains some of the place, climate, product, and other words you will find in The Alphabet Atlas.

2. The Alphabet Atlas will tell you a lot about the geography of the world. Students will enjoy searching the word hunt puzzle below for words that you might find on a map.


The following questions can be used by the teacher in discussing each of Atlas's countries with students.

  • Why do you think the artist chose the colors she did for this country?

  • What kind of fabric did she use? Why do you think she chose these fabrics?

  • What does the quilt tell you about the country's climate? Geography? People? Animals?

  • What products do you think are produced here?

Independent Learning

To help facilitate independent study, we have provided a starting list of ideas as well as Special Project Planning Sheets to help children get started. Some areas of interest may include the following:


animals around the world




countries of the world


family heritage




pen pals




Interdisciplinary Activities

1. Shapes and Patterns

As a class, look at quilts, or pictures of quilts, paying special attention to the kinds of patterns that you see in them. There are many traditional or standard patterns for quilts. Do students know what a pattern is? Can they look at the quilts and guess how they might have gotten their names? Ask children to identify shapes within the quilts/ patterns. Using cutouts of different shapes, create and name your own patterns. IRA/NCTE Standards: 3, 7, 12

2. Atlas/Alphabet

a.) Your Own Atlas Have students work their way through the alphabet, seeing how many countries they can name that begin with each letter. Locate those countries on a globe. As a class, create your own alphabet atlas, with each student illustrating one of the chosen countries with a "quilt," or collage, and writing two or three sentences to accompany it. IRA/NCTE Standards: 3, 4, 6, 8, 12

b.) A Classroom Alphabet As a class, make an alphabet book of your own, choosing a topic or area from which to choose a word for each letter. You may wish to show children examples of different fonts, calligraphy, or hand-lettering and encourage them to "design" the letters that will go into the alphabet book—these might even serve as illustrations. ELA Standards: 3, 4, 6, 8, 12

3. Heritage Quilts

Ask each student to bring in two or three pieces of fabric that mean something to him (check with parents first!) and use those pieces to make a special quilt square that represents him or his family. As a class, discuss such questions as: What you would want these squares to tell your descendants? What is it that you would like to pass on about yourself and your life? Would you include your favorite pets, people, or food in this square somehow? IRA/NCTE Standards: 4, 11, 12

Pieces can be stitched or glued together (depends on age, experience, and skills of children). Paper (giftwrap, construction paper, newspaper, magazines, etc.) may be used instead of, or in addition to, fabric. Fabric may be connected to family heritage-it can be fabric from the family's country of origin, or from an item of clothing belonging to a relative.

4. Creative Writing

Have each student pick a country in The Alphabet Atlas that piques his or her interest. Using the quilt for that country as a prompt, have students write or dictate a paragraph or two on how they imagine it might feel to be in that country. IRA/NCTE Standards: 7, 9, 12

5. Where Does It Come From?
Students can look in their closets at home and "inventory" the origins of their clothes. On their own, or with the help of an adult or sibling, they can check labels and make a list of the countries where their clothes were made. The same can be done with different toys or other household items. As a class, compare lists and make a big chart showing where the class's clothes and belongings come from. How many countries are "represented" on your chart?

A variation on the above activity involves going to a local grocery store (or into the family kitchen) and finding out how many countries are "represented" on its shelves. IRA/NCTE Standards: 4, 7, 6

6. A Local Quilt

As a class, design collage quilt squares to represent your state, town, or school. In planning the quilt, ask students to think about and discuss the following: What makes this place important to you? What do you like most about it? What is the environment like? (i.e., what grows here, what kind of buildings, plants, animals, and people surround you?); Is there something you think of as a symbol of this place?; What would you want to put into the quilt square so that it represents this place?

Each student's collage (quilt square) may be made of fabric or paper (or other materials such as leaves, sticks, pebbles, etc.), and stitched or glued together. These squares can then be joined together to form a large quilt for display in the classroom or hall. IRA/NCTE Standards: 4, 6, 7

7. Villages

Divide students into groups or "tribes"-each tribe uses a pan (dishpan or a tray) and, using available materials, creates a different climate or landscape (desert, plain, rain forest, etc.) within it. Have students label and identify their climates. Students should identify materials (bark/wood, stone/rock, etc.) used to build homes in these various climates and can even build miniature towns or villages of appropriate materials (or a close approximation). Depending on age and skill levels, students may then map their villages, using a compass rose and making a map key. IRA/NCTE Standards: 4, 7

8. Plant and Animal Chart

Create a chart of countries featured in Atlas, listing their climates, some native plants, animals, or products, and comparing some of the differences between the countries. Use an atlas, encyclopedia, and/or Web site to gather more information on these topics (see Extended Learning Opportunities for some possibilities). What patterns emerge as you examine your findings and add them to the chart? That is: What kinds of plants are likely to grow in what kinds of climates? How about animals? How do these things affect the kinds of foods people eat in those countries? IRA/NCTE Standards: 3, 5, 7, 8

9. Word Games

Use vocabulary word cards (those in Atlas and/or those of your own) related to geography topics, and have students work as a group to sort them-they may sort by patterns, chunks, letters, alphabetical order, or topic (climate words, land forms, vegetation, animals, food, etc.).

You can also initiate a game called "Guess My Rule," in which word cards are sorted (by you or by groups of students) into various categories, and students must guess the reasoning behind it-thereby guessing the category of words they are looking at (animals, map words, foods, plants). IRA/NCTE Standards: 3, 4, 6, 7

Extended Learning Opportunities
(Note: We strongly recommend that teachers preview materials before sharing them with students)

Bial, Raymond. With Needle and Thread: A Book About Quilts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Illustrated book about quilts as ways of passing down inheritance/tradition. Resource for adults/advanced readers.

Grubbs, Daisy. The Art and Craft of Quilting: A Beginner's Guide to Patchwork Design, Color, and Expression. Watson-Guptill, 1995. Useful for parents and teachers who may want to explore quiltmaking with children. Well-illustrated.

Hallock, Anita. Fast Patch Kids' Quilts. Chilton Press, 1996. The author offers adults a "quick" technique for constructing childrens' quilts. The book also contains some kids' quiltmaking projects.

Mazloomi, Carolyn. Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African-American Quilts. Preface by Faith Ringgold. Clarkson-Potter, 1998. This gorgeous book shows the evolution of the African-American quilting tradition into a remarkable and passionate contemporary art form. Excellent for classroom use.

Morris, Ann. Bread, Bread, Bread. Photographs by Ken Heyman. Around the World Series. Mulberry Books, 1993. A look at the bread we eat, all over the world.

Morris, Ann. Hats, Hats, Hats. Photographs by Ken Heyman. Around the World Series. Mulberry Books, 1993. This picture book takes us around the world for a look at the different hats people wear in different countries!

Morris, Ann. Houses And Homes. Photographs by Ken Heyman. Around the World Series. Mulberry Books, 1995. This photoessay (including a map and detailedinformation in the back) shows young readers a variety of different kinds of homes around the world.

Polacco, Patricia. The Keeping Quilt. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. A picture book for children in the early grades. This revised edition now includes the author/illustrator's own children in the story of her great-great-grandmother's quilt, brought from Russia and made from the clothes of family members.

Ringgold, Faith. Faith Ringgold's French Collection and Other Story Quilts. Edited by Dan Cameron. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998. Beautifully illustrated with color plates, this book was put together to accompany an exhibition of Ringgold's work. (Known for her story quilts, Ringgold has also published a number of books for young readers, some illustrated with her paintings.)

Sweeney, Joan. Me On The Map. Illustrated by Annette Cable. New York: Crown, 1996. This picture book for readers in the early grades introduces the concept of maps, as a little girl makes a map of her room, then of her house, her street, and up the scale until we see her pointing to her location on a globe. A wonderful introduction to both maps and perspective.

Web Sites

This site contains feature stories on history, daily life, and specific locations around the world, as well as "Destinations" —links to igpages on countries in Africa, Asia, latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. These pages offer basic information on a country's location, geography, history, climate, and people, with options for further exploration. Some of Geographia's pages feature sounds and movies. A good choice for teachers and parents seeking information on countries covered by The Alphabet Atlas.

Map Machine
This National Geographic site offers a variety of "map resources," as well as information on how maps are made, and a "Map Machine Atlas" with downloadable maps (including flags and other information) for each of the world's countries.

Greatest Places Online This fun (and intelligent) site, aimed at kids, focuses on seven "dynamic" locations around the world: Greenland, Amazon, Iduazu, Madagascar, Namib, Okavango, and Tibet. It also features articles on particular topics (such as "mirages"), travel journals, other writings of interest, lots of photographs, and some movies. Kids can also send postcards from the site, try to answer a "question of the week," and submit their own "greatest places."

United Nations School Resources

The UN resource site for schools offers a database with statistics on 185 countries, as well as a flag database and a picture gallery. Cool stuff for kids doing a report on a specific country.

Web Cameras Around the World
This is a listing of Web cameras set up all over the world. Following the links can lead visitors to great pictures to accompany a research report on a country or region.

CIA World Factbook This database on many countries of the world, has useful information for students and teachers doing research.

The Worldwide Quilting Page Tis site offers "How-To's," quilting supply information, pages on quilters and their work, fabrics, and many other topics. The "Quilt History" page on this site is particularly useful, offering information on quilting in different cultures, a gallery of quilting patterns, and links to quilt pictures from the Smithsonian Institution, as well as links to other quilting pages.

Quilters Online Resource This is a comprehensive site for people interested in quilting, with many resources and links to other pages. You can look at a gallery of quilts and investigate different quilting styles. Check out the "Beginner's Corner." Browse and download free patterns, get information on quilting software, and exchange messages with other quilters.

The Names Project
This giant quilt, composed of tens of thousands of individual panels, is an example of how quilts can be used to preserve memories and symbolize experiences. The purpose of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is to preserve the memories of tens of thousands of individuals who have died of the disease; each panel (made by friends and/or family) represents something about the person in whose memory it was made. Resources, links, and image files of over 41,000 different panels.