Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vocabulary Cartoons, a TOS Crew Review

Homeschooling a child on the autism spectrum seems to always be a trip. She takes me to new places, that's for sure! Little Bit has a huge vocabulary, but I realize again and again that while she is competent using words and phrases in context, sometimes she knows what they mean but she is unable to define them, and sometimes she uses words and phrases in context without knowing their meanings.
The concept of using a word and KNOWING its meaning while being UNABLE to define or describe the word is one thing. She needs experience defining words and phrases that she uses and knows what they mean.

The concept of using a word WITHOUT understanding its meaning is another. She needs strategies to decode meaning of words and phrases.

And learning NEW vocabulary words is yet another.

I wasn't sure how I'd use Vocabulary Cartoons from New Monic Books, Inc., when the book arrived. Vocabulary Cartoons uses, obviously, cartoons and clever captions, to define, to give meaning, to vocabulary words. Each of 210 words is presented in black-and-white cartoon style with a definition alongside a very short “story” to further illustrate the definition. A pronunciation cue is given for every word using a rhyming word association. Each page has a simple, visually uncluttered layout, allowing students to absorb information quickly. “Story” illustration examples makes sense, bring context to new words, and are often fun and quirky, which add fun and engagement to learning new vocabulary words.

My child, like many on the autism spectrum, is very literal. Vocabulary Cartoons sometimes requires letting go of all things literal and jumping into stretching the imagination a little and using humor.

Parents and teachers rave about how much students love these. Some students are learning many new words in a short period of time (a word a minute, according to the book cover), because the mnemonic device used creates a brilliant word picture that is etched into the students' memories.

As usual, using the book and really learning from it has been a little different at my house. Little Bit doesn't learn words by memorizing them from vocabulary lists. The cartoons and word illustrations and definitions and rhyming words are a LOT to take in for a child with developmental delays and learning challenges.

I settled my sights on two words a week. That turned out to be "good enough". Actually, focusing on one word a week from the book is "good enough" with a child with language delays.

Instead of going through the book in order, from front to back, I chose to hand-pick new words. I chose words based upon what I thought would be my ability to use those words in context during the week. And sometimes, I chose words that my daughter already uses often - that turned out to be interesting - because I see again where she uses words appropriately but is unable to tell me what, exactly they mean. "Fetch" is one example. She'll ask me to fetch her some juice or fetch her a snack. I don't know where she gets that from! I don't think I use "fetch" much. Vocabulary Cartoons adds an alternate definition to this word, which, I think is confusing as I help her to define "fetch" as "bring me". (The alternate definition has to do with what price an item for sale might bring.)

I also hand-pick words based on pronunciation. "Futile", for example, is described in Vocabulary Cartoons as sounding like "flute", and I think that's a stretch for even a non-literal person.

Once, when I needed her to keep herself busy while I spoke with an autism professional during an appointment, I offered her the book and asked her to pick one word to learn. (I won't do that again.) She chose "outfox". That one's a challenge to work into conversation, in context, during the week. (Thank goodness Patrick tried to outfox Spongebob on a cartoon while we were watching! That gave me my best opportunity so far to use that vocabulary word!)

Does Vocabulary Cartoons work with students who are not "typical"? A definite "yes". Maybe not a word a minute. You may have to go more slowly than with a "typical" child; you may have to pick specific words instead of starting with the first word in the book and going to the end. I suggest beginning with words the child already uses. Make sure the child can define those words before you begin with new vocab.

There are fill-in-the-blank reviews/quizzes at the ends of sections.

My Vocabulary Cartoons request (f they're reading our reviews) is a VC-style book to define and describe emotions.

Vocabulary Cartoons is priced at $12.95. The complete word list is here. Ten cartoon samples are available here.

Read the Vocabulary Cartoons reviews of my Crewmates here.

As part of my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I received Vocabulary Cartoons at no cost to me so that I could review them here, on my blog. I received no money for this review and am not obligated to write a positive review.

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