Friday, September 17, 2010

Vocabulary Cartoons

My first exposure to mnemonics was in elementary school learning the (at that time) nine planets of the solar system in order from the sun, with a phrase using the first letter of each planet: Many Very Early Men Ate [asteroid belt] Juicy Steaks Using No Plates. Pretty effective if that memory aid is still working 30+ years later!

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a mnemonic refers to something "assisting or intended to assist memory." Mnemonics have been applied to every educational discipline but New Monic Books, Inc. has taken this technique to a new level with their line of Vocabulary Cartoons books for grades 3-12.

While spelling has been a mainstay of our homeschool diet, I admit that the study of vocabulary has not. With a high school student soon approaching the taking of college entrance exams, the importance of vocabulary is undeniable. So when I was given the opportunity to review Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power, it was a very timely addition to our school. We reviewed the first of two SAT Word Power books, each retailing for $12.95.

New Monic Books also offers a Vocabulary Cartoons, Elementary Edition for grades 3-6 which also retails for $12.95. For even younger audiences, Melissa Forney's Picture Speller for Young Writers offers an alternative to a picture dictionary by organizing the book thematically. For example, students writing a story about the beach, can look at the beach page and see pictures with correct spelling of various beach words. This book retails for $19.95.

Vocabulary Cartoons are not just appropriate for the homeschool family, many schools are using these materials and seeing great improvements in student vocabulary. Read testimonials from satisfied students and teachers here. Materials that can be purchased for a whole school include Blackline Masters for both Elementary and Middle/High School levels of Vocabulary Cartoons as well as overhead transparencies of the material or PDF formatted disks (enabling teachers to make copies as well as present the cartoons on PowerPoint). For complete pricing of these products, visit the New Monic Books website.

For smaller schools or for a homeschool co-op wanting each student to have their own copy, New Monic Books offers volume discounts. For 10-19 books, price is $11.65 each, 20-59 books are $11.00 and 60+ books are $10.35 each.

Book Format

The Vocabulary Cartoon books are organized alphabetically. After every 10 words, there was a Review that included matching words with their definitions as well as fill-in-the-blank exercises for using the new words in a sentence (with answers included in the back).

Each page has the following elements:
  • Main Word with pronunciation, part of speech and definition
  • Link Word that rhymes or sounds similar to the main word
  • Caption shows a sentence that connects the Main and Link Words
  • Cartoon illustrating a visual mnemonic for the Main and Link Word association
  • Sample sentences using the word in context

The book closes off with a master Word List of words in order (with page numbers for quick reference) as well as the page number for reviewing that particular group of words.

Our Experience
I think that I was perhaps a little more excited about the book than my 10th grade son. He breezed through the first 30 words and 3 reviews with no problems and then lost some interest because many of the words were already familiar to him. In spite of his less than enthusiastic response, I feel as though the book has great merit. For those who struggle with vocabulary, this is a very painless (and quite humorous) way to approach building word power. My 10 year old daughter, although below the targeted age of this book, really liked it.
Using the cartoons as inspiration, I think it could be a fun activity to use the words for a game of charades. List the words on slips of paper and each family member selects a word (looking up the cartoon for help in acting out its definition). Or use the words for a game of Pictionary to help further cement the associations in students' minds.

All of the cartoons are in black and white; for a student who really enjoys coloring (this can include high schoolers), they can color in the picture and add another dimension to the visual association for each word.

I was slightly disappointed with some of the drawings. The illustrations are your typical "cartoony" style, which unfortunately means the occasional inclusion of busty women with cleavage. There is also some "cartoony violence." Other than that, the cartoons do offer a clever way of learning words.
One suggestion I would make is to offer pronunciations of the various forms of a word when used in a sentence. For example, one main word was "couture." In one of the sample sentences, the word, "couturier" was used but the way to pronounce that form of the main word was not given. This doesn't pose a problem in the comprehension of the word and its various forms, but rather in its application of the word in speaking. If this were done in a classroom setting, the teacher would have the opportunity to provide the auditory model of its pronunciation.

Who Should Purchase
  • Students preparing for PSAT, SAT, ACT, GRE
  • Students learning English as a Second Language
  • Adult Learners wanting to refresh their vocabulary
  • Learners with Attention Deficit Disorders
Ordering Information

Visit the website to view sample pages from both the elementary and middle/high school books. For additional reviews on this product by other homeschool users, visit the TOS Homeschool blog. Your order can be placed by phone (800) 741-1295 or online at the Vocabulary Cartoons website. This product gets a thumbs-up from me!



Disclaimer: New Monic Books, Inc. provided me with a copy of Vocabulary Cartoons: SAT Word Power for the purpose of reviewing and blogging about my experience. The opinions expressed are my own and no other compensation was received.

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