Wednesday, September 29, 2010

TOS Review: Vocabulary Cartoons

From New Monic publishing comes a new way to teach and learn vocabulary: Vocabulary Cartoons

We received the elementary edition a few weeks ago to use in our homeschool.  Vocabulary Cartoons work much differently from other forms of vocabulary teaching.  Most curriculum I've found will introduce a word by giving the word, the pronunciation and it's meaning(s), followed by using the word in a sentence or two.  Then the child spends the rest of the week putting that word to use in sentences, crosswords puzzles, drawing lines between synonyms and other similar activities.  Vocabulary Cartoons uses rhyming, visual mnemonics in cartoon form to help the child immediately acquire a vivid mental picture of the word and it's definition.  But here, this can probably explain better than I can:

There are other samples of the book here.  You can also find a full list of the words in this book here.
The Elementary Edition of Vocabulary Cartoons retails for $12.95, and is geared for kids from 3rd-6th grade.

What we thought:  When the book first arrived, I left it lying out on a table for about a week, to see if anyone would pick it up and start looking through it without my suggesting it.  What I didn't account for was two children's birthday parties and round two of moving the school room "stuff" around to get better organized, and despite my best efforts, the book ended up at the bottom of a pile more than once.

I gave up on that idea, and instead, one night tossed it to my oldest son (who, at 13, is admittedly slightly above the recommended age for this book).  "Take a look at this," I told him, "and let me know what you think."  The book promptly disappeared for a total of 7 hours.  Did I mention he's a fast reader?  It was back on my desk the very next morning without a mention from him about what he thought.  This is a kid who is pretty crazy about comics and cartoons - he even draws his own - so I was surprised.  I'd flipped through when I first got the book, and though I didn't find anything wildly hilarious, I did think that there were some amusing ideas.

Okay, so my turn.  I picked up the book with the intent of figuring out how I would teach this to my one child who was at the appropriate level for it.  The introduction was pretty simple - just a short explanation of what a mnemonic was (shouldn't that have been the first word to learn in the book?) and how the rhyme and cartoon helped to cement the memory of each word's definition.  I flipped through a couple of pages, thinking maybe we could do this book "Suzuki-style": Learn one word, review that word and add one more, review both words and add one, etc.  The only problem was, as I went further into the book, I kept running into things that made me not so eager to use the book at all.

Con #1, part a:  Despite the fact that this is billed as teaching vocabulary through rhyming and visual mnemonics, only some of the cartoons actually have a RHYME.  For instance "Fleet" uses the word feet as the sounds like word, but doesn't actually make the caption for the cartoon rhyme.  Instead, we get "The Postal Service's new Feet Fleet" where the rhyming words are next to each other (under the cartoon of a "fleet" of Postal trucks with feet instead of tires).  In the introduction, "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean BLUE" is used to demonstrate what a rhyming mnemonic is.  So shouldn't the caption read "The Postal Service switched to FEET to replace the tires on their old FLEET" or something similar?
Con #1, part b:  Some of the "rhyming" mnemonics don't even rhyme at all.  The so-called rhyme for "Horizontal" is horizon, which doesn't rhyme at all.  Same with "Culprit" and paw prints.

Con #2:  You need a brave kid to enjoy these, and a mom who isn't too protective or demanding about the material her children study (for the record, I am NOT the aforementioned mom).  Quite a few of the cartoons show what I consider to be inappropriate ideas or behavior.  For instance, my 5th grader was afraid of being in his dark room until he was about 9 years old.  So why would the cartoon that teaches the word "Dread" (to said 9 year old) show a picture of a terrified kid in bed with a scary tree grinning wickedly through the window, a tentacle coming out from the end of his bed, a monster crawling up the side of the bed and a skeleton reaching over the top of the bed?
Sure, "Dread" rhymes with bed, but it also rhymes with head.  As in: "Because of my mother's DREAD she makes me wear a helmet to protect my HEAD".  Look at that!  A rhyming mnemonic AND a safety lesson PLUS you don't have to deal with a kid who won't go to sleep because his vocabulary book scared the bejeebers out of him!  Same thing with quite a few other cartoons: We have Jason in the hockey mask (yes, that Jason) scaring the kids in the cafeteria, a giant hairy hand grabbing a kid (again, in bed!), ghosts, more skeletons, Frankenstein's monster, vampires, and a few random acts of unnecessary violence, including a guy who gets pummeled by a baseball bat because he has the nerve to wear a sheet and shout "BOO" at his friend (see "Hoax").

Con #3:  The introduction states that "In this book you will find that every word you wish to learn is rhymed with a word you probably already know."  Try this on for size:  If a child is learning the word "Crevice", do they really already probably know crevasse?  I don't think I knew that one until high school, and even then I didn't learn it because it was taught in school, but because it was in a book I was reading for fun - a biography about a mountain climber (for some reason they don't assign those in school).

I did get around to asking my oldest what he thought of the book and here were his notes.
1. "It was okay, but some of the cartoons didn't make sense because the words they used didn't actually rhyme with the vocabulary words."
2.  "It might work if we did it like Suzuki lessons or something"  (Mom's note:  Great minds think alike!)
3.  "I bet I could make up some better cartoons.  Do you think they'd hire me?"

Overall, I like the concept of Vocabulary Cartoons.  I just wasn't very impressed by the execution of the concept.  I've always been good with rhyming, so maybe that's why I found myself automatically making up [what I considered to be] better, more accurate and fun rhymes to go with the suggested words.  I suppose I could get together with my son and we could do the same thing for our own vocabulary lists.  Hmmm - maybe  New Monic would hire both of us?

Want to find out what others thought about Vocabulary Cartoons?  Check out a bunch of other reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of New Monic's Vocabulary Cartoons in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

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