February 11, 2014

Vocabulary Cartoons

Most of you wouldn't know that my younger brother was home schooled for 4.5 years. He had some learning difficulties and my mom didn't feel the school was as supportive as necessary, so she decided she could do better herself (while working two jobs, I might add). She always says that if she could do it over again, she would have home-schooled all of us. To this I say... um.... no! It's a good thing I was born first!

That being said, mom's home-schooling days DID benefit me when I became a teacher. She had years and years of resources saved up in the basement, and I was allowed to basically help myself. One of my favorite finds, was this vocabulary book:

During my first year teaching, I had foolishly left my planning book at home on a Thursday when we ended up having a snow day on Friday. This was a problem because it was January, meaning I had to expect a pop-in evaluation at any time. I felt lost without my planning materials... and this book saved me because my evaluation happened first period on Monday morning!!!!

After spending some time flipping through this book and learning about the philosophy behind vocabulary cartoons, I knew I could turn this into an activity for my students. The idea is that students create both audial and visual mnemonic devices to help them remember the words and definitions. The examples in the book were hilarious, and I briefly debated using this book for a Word of the Day activity... which, for the record, I still think would be an amazing idea.

I was teaching the gifted classes that year, though, so I wanted to use the components of this book to stretch my students' thinking. and we had just received our new vocabulary list for the national Word Masters Challenge, and I decided that each of my students would create a vocabulary cartoon for one word and teach it to the class. I immediately began working on a directions sheet and found an example from the book online to throw in as a guide (available at my TPT store for only $1):
My students were completely engaged in the creation of their cartoons (which made for a fantastic observation). It allowed them to be creative and challenged them to think outside the box. I asked them to create a rough draft, complete with a sketch for me to approve before they moved on to their final drafts. When they were all complete, I shrank them down on the copier to make packets for each student to study, and the posters were displayed on a bulletin board in the classroom for daily reference.  

I'm proud to report that my 7th graders ranked in the nation on that Word Master challenge, and I truly think the cartoons were a big part of that success. I've done them with my classes ever since. 

Please don't think this activity is only for gifted students. I've done this with SPED and ESL populations with success as well. The one piece of advice I will give for working with these groups, though, is to have them think of their linking word (a word that sounds similar but doesn't have to rhyme) BEFORE they look up the definition. Otherwise, they get to hung up on trying to make their cartoon and sentence make sense. The whole point is that it's supposed to be fun!

My favorite student-created cartoon was for the word ravage. The sentence read: The savage cabbage ravaged the baggage. If my materials weren't packed away in storage, I would scan the image of a crazy cabbage ripping apart a bunch of bags. We all got a good laugh out of that one!!!


  1. Oooooooohhhh...my kiddies would dig this for sure!!! They like big words, cartoons, and being challenged. XO
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  2. Have you ever tried making vocabutoons with your students? My students have enjoyed creating cartoon type pictures that go along with new words we've learned.