Teaching first-graders about American symbols can not only help them learn more about patriotic principles, but it can also help them understand how to better identify and interpret symbols in their everyday lives. After introducing students to the idea of what a symbol is, teachers can move on to discussing specific symbols, such as the American flag or the bald eagle, and overseeing many activities to reinforce these concepts.

Stars and Stripes

American flag
American flag

Begin a lesson on the American flag by talking about what each of its components represent, including the 50 stars for the 50 states and the 13 stripes for the original colonies. As a class, read books like "Our Flag" by Joanne Randolph or “The American Flag (First Facts)” by Debbie L. Yanuc. Talk about earlier versions of the flag and how the symbolism in them changed as more states were formed. Listen to "The Star-Spangled Banner" and talk about the pledge of allegiance. Students can create American flags using construction paper or invent a flag of their own for a pretend country, and then explain the flag's symbolism.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

Lady Liberty holds a book of law, shines the light of justice and wears a crown of seven spikes to represent the seven continents, reinforcing the idea of universal justice. Read "The Statue of Liberty" by Elena Martin to talk about the history and symbolism of the statue. Since the statue was the first thing that many new immigrants saw when arriving in America, it is also important to talk about immigration. Ask students to get information from their parents about their family lineage and share it with the class.

Liberty Bell

The cracked Liberty Bell.
The cracked Liberty Bell.

While most people may know about the Liberty Bell's famous crack, they may not know that it cracked the first time it was rung, which was to call people to hear the first reading of the Declaration of Independence. Talk to students about the history of the bell and about the rights granted in the Declaration of Independence. Create a review game that asks questions about the bell and declaration. Keep it simple by making the questions true or false. Use vocabulary sheets or fill-in-the-blank worksheets to reinforce concepts from your discussion.

Bald Eagle

Bald eagle in front of an American flag.
Bald eagle in front of an American flag.

The bald eagle is America's national bird, and it is used in the official seal. Show students the official seal and talk about the symbolism of the scroll in the eagle's beak, the olive branch in one claw and the 13 arrows in the other claw. These symbols represent unity, peace and the power to make war, respectively. Ask students where they have seen the seal, such as in the White House or on the back of paper money. Lead a discussion about the bald eagle and whether it is a good symbol for freedom; ask students what other symbols they might choose instead.