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An A to Z Book of Homelessness

School: Capital City Public Charter School

City/State: Washington, DC

Grade(s): 3, 4

Format(s): Bilingual, Children's book: Alphabet

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Social Studies, Visual Arts

Project Overview

This ABC book about the lives of homeless people was created by 3rd and 4th grade students from the Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. The class took part in a Learning Expedition about homelessness in part because students walked by homeless individuals on their way to school, and it made them feel sad and powerless; they wanted to do something to help. Students noted that the “code of character” for their school compelled them to respect and care for everyone, but this didn’t seem to apply to the homeless. Some students in the school were homeless themselves.

As part of the Learning Expedition, research teams of four or five students, led by an adult, did fieldwork research in the community by visiting and interviewing organizations that supported the homeless, such as shelters and soup kitchens; they also interviewed homeless people.

One of the service elements of the expedition was this product: a book for young readers. Students chose the ABC book format because they wanted to help younger children understand and help the homeless, and see them as people. The class received a grant from a neighborhood commission to print and distribute the book to organizations that supported the homeless.

Each student chose a letter and wrote a page of the book, and did a watercolor painting to match his or her text. They tried to address an aspect of homelessness that would help others to understand the feelings of homeless people. To address the language needs of local students and the class’s study of Spanish, the text is bilingual.

Creating the product provided a framework for discussing, and dealing with, social and emotional issues in the classroom: problems of poverty, respect, loneliness and love were concerns that most students experienced themselves. The creation of the product was a crucial element in crystallizing and sharing the learning involved in this Learning Expedition.

Five years after creating this book, students were able to give a copy to President Barack Obama, who visited the school just after his inauguration. The fact that they remained proud of this project five years later is a testament to its power in their lives.

This project was featured in an exhibit at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2010 featuring exemplary student work, Books for Kids, by Kids.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Exemplifies writing for an authentic audience and on a topic that students cared deeply about.
  • Project topic and means for investigating it shows a remarkable commitment to an ethic of service and courage (by the teachers and the students).
  • A powerful topic that deeply touches the lives of students.
  • A powerful way to explore a topic that touches on difficult issues.
  • Shows an overall professional-looking production and layout, while celebrating the simple and thoughtful words of students and expressive hand in the watercolors.
  • Fine example of shepherding student work through critiques and revision without losing student voice.
  • Demonstrates careful and detailed watercolor paintings by 3rd and 4th graders. Notice the color and details displayed in the “C” painting.
  • Demonstrates the power of simple writing for a younger audience – the understanding and care displayed in the “L” entry exemplifies this: “L is for lonely. I am lonely because people don’t notice me.”
  • Exemplifies the power of fieldwork with elementary students.
  • Spanish translation is affirming of the local community.

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • With support from peers and adults, I can use the writing process to plan, revise and edit my writing.
  • I can conduct a research project to become knowledgeable about a topic.
  • With support from peers and adults, I can use the writing process to produce clear and coherent writing.
  • I can conduct a research project to become knowledgeable about a topic.
  • I can use conventions to send a clear message to my reader.
  • I can use conventions to send a clear message to my reader.
  • I can compare how people use language when they write versus when they talk.
  • I use formal English when appropriate.
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