Vocabulary is all about words! According to EnglishClub, vocabulary can have three components:

  1. The words used in a single language
  2. The words used in context of specific to a subjects (math vocabulary, political vocabulary)
  3. The words a person knows and uses

The National Reading Panel says teachers need to teach new words as they appear in text or otherwise to increase reading ability.

The combination of art and words provides so many entries for learning. Montag, Jones and Smith published a study with Reading Rockets in which the findings show the texts of picture books contains more “unique” word types than the those words used by parents. If children learn many words from parents, then in order for them to learn new words they will need to expand their cultural experiences. Pictures and art are great ways to easily bridge to new worlds and words. When teaching readers young and old, keep in mind these activities for vocabulary development.

Activity One: Graphic Novel Word Sky


Graphic novels and comic books are a great way to engage readers, especially those in need of expanding their vocabulary. According to Maples, Cianca and Maloy, graphic novels are a great way to engage English Language Learners and further educate native English speakers. While picture books are amazing, they can sometimes leave adolescents and adults feeling a little kiddish. Use the graphic novel as a community literacy tool for all visual learners.

Materials: dry erase or cardstock cutouts of word bubbles, action panels, writing and drawing utensils, string, graphic novels.


Step 1: Select the graphic novel you want to read with your students. Be sure to pick something age appropriate. See the revisions below for age-based recommendations.

Step 2: Give each participant 5 word bubble cutouts and 5 action panels and writing  and drawing utensils.

Step 3: Infor participants that you will be reading a graphic novel together. While you are reading, they will be on a word hunt for new words.

For an added challenge assign participants a type of word to hunt for, such as adjectives, nouns, verbs, 3-syllable words, or words containing certain letter patterns. For advanced readers, offer definitions of words. As they read, they can search for words they think match the meaning. You can also add a prize for the first to complete their treasure hunt.

Step 4: As participants find their words, they should write the word on their word bubble. Have them stick the word bubble like a bookmark on the page where they found the word.

Step 5: Once participants have their 5 words, they should use their action panels to draw what they think the word means, or to write the definition of the word based on the context clues. Be sure to circle the room and help participants with using the pictures and other text to define the words. f6143a0d38b9e6ea3fb8e5f2a27dc8c7--story-structure-hot-mess

Step 6: Participants will use string to attach their word bubbles and action panels together. They will hang both from the ceiling so they and other can read and revisit the words.


For Elementary: El Deafo, by Cece Bell 41V58xL9-LL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

For Adolescents: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

For Adults: March (books I, II or III), by John Lewis


Activity 2: Visual Learning Strategies Word Web

Artwork is a great way to engage learners and provide opportunities for sharing vocabulary. Word webs are a great tool many teachers use. Take it to the next level and incorporate artwork. You can use visual interpretation to build vocabulary. For more training on VTS, you can sign up for a workshop at the Detroit Institute of Arts. After, you can design a field trip that will amaze your students and strengthen their literacy skills.

Materials: A work of art, a projection onto a whiteboard or a marker to write on an enlarged print or SmartBoard, writing utensils for participants, laser or wooden pointer.


Step 1: Display the picture. Tell all of the participants to just look at the art for a total of one minute. Set a timer to help excited sharers keep track of time. Tell them to look at the work from top to bottom, side to side, middle to outward. As they look, invite them to write words that come to mind to describe what they see or how it makes them feel.

For shy classrooms, wait longer than the minute if necessary. Have participants hold up their paper or personal whiteboard showing at least one word written down to contribute to the conversation. If a participant cannot think of a word, invite them to write a phrase for the other participants can help them find a word(s) to describe that phrase.

Step 2: Ask participants: What do you see? What is happening? What makes you say that?

As they offer answers, try to point to the area of the artwork the participant is referring to. When they offer a word or a word within their phrasing that may be new for participants, write in on the artwork in the area that best fits the word.

Invite other participants to offer a synonym or antonym for the written word.

Step 3: Practice saying the new words together and talking about their meanings.



Participants are able to use the graphics as context clues to find new words. Participants also exercise their fine motor skills when drawing a definition or clue about the words meaning. The visual aspect makes this an activity that can benefit all reading levels.


This activity is not friendly for blind or visually impaired participants.

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