Vocabulary‎ > ‎

Cartoons and Word Images

Strategies for teaching students to explore words using images and symbols
Standards: RL4, RIT4, SL1, L1, L2, L3, L4, L5

Vocabulary Cartoons and Illustrated Dictionaries

Adapted by Mary Ellen Dakin from Vocabulary Cartoons by Sam and Bryan Burchers

Students work in small groups to construct an illustrated dictionary that demonstrates their understanding of the vocabulary words they are studying. Each dictionary entry must include these five elements:

1)    Print the word, spelling it correctly.

2)    Write a short, accurate definition for the meaning(s) of the word.

3)    Create an illustration that shows the meaning of the word.

4)    Write a clever caption for the illustration.

5)    Write 2-3 sentences that use the word correctly and provide a context clue.

This page from an illustrated dictionary was produced by grade ten RHS students who were reading William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and studying a list of character vocabulary words to enrich their understanding of complex literary characters.


“Cunning” illustration, caption, and sentences by Mona, Ariel, and Victor  


Developed by RHS English teacher Sara Rice


  • Students fold a sheet of plain paper in four, the immediately unfold it to create four squares.
  • On one side, students write four vocabulary words (their choice).
  • On the other side, students draw a simple visual to represent each of the four words.

With a partner:

  • Students show their drawings to a partner and the partner tries to guess which vocabulary word their drawing represents.
Student image for "defiled"

Adapted to vocabulary acquisition by RHS English teacher Sara Rice

Long before it was a reading strategy, the living picture, or tableau vivant, was a form of entertainment in which people posed themselves into striking compositions and held the pose without moving or speaking. 

In this activity, students come up with a silent "snapshot" or film "frame" that represents the meaning and essence of a chosen or assigned vocabulary term. Students pose themselves in a formation. Students with artistic ability could draw the snapshot, or model it using pipe cleaners or any 3D craft supplies. This is a quick activity: student teams prepare their freeze-frame then show the class and have the class guess the vocabulary word.