What’s the best vocabulary curriculum?
What’s the best vocabulary curriculum — one with Greek and Latin, right? Although I’m a big proponent of teaching word roots, I’d argue that for elementary-aged kids, the most effective vocabulary curriculum might actually be the one that’s the most fun. (Fun is often profoundly effective.)
Words are thrilling. They’re flexible yet bold, evocative yet concise, and powerful yet ephemeral. They can be translated and transcribed, sung and spoken, spun into cantatas, carved and chanted, whispered and written. Twenty-six letters can be woven into sonnets and mysteries, songs and orders, death and life.
In spite of the absolute magic of words, we somehow often manage to turn vocabulary study into a chore, transforming words into tasks. When vocabulary study becomes drudgery, when words are wrenched from their context and vocabulary becomes copywork — and nothing more — even the most voracious of bookworms begin to resent vocabulary. This is a travesty! A vocabulary study in which kids don’t retain the material isn’t much of vocabulary study at all.
But what if vocabulary study was creative?
What if we let kids draw?
What if we even allowed doodling?
[Disclosure of Material Connections: I received a complimentary copy of 101 Doodle Definitions from Timberdoodle in exchange for writing and publishing this review. All opinions — and photographs! ;) — are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.]
Doodling and drawing has been scientifically proven to increase retention.
Allowing creativity in the study of words isn’t counterintuitive; it’s a natural extension of language. Words are deeply creative. A fascinating study recently showed “students who drew information remembered nearly twice as much as students who wrote it.” 
Nearly twice as much! That’s a significant difference.
Drawing has a powerful impact on the human brain, and on memory and retention.
101 Doodle Definitions leverages the link between drawing and memory to increase students’ retention of vocabulary words.
In this unique book, students are provided with
- a new vocabulary word,
- a definition,
- a sample sentence showing the word in context,
- an illustration or sketch which defines the word visually, and
- a step-by-step doodle tutorial,
and are then guided through the process of creating a doodle definition.
Drawing a definition takes kids deeper than copywork does.
Even if a student already knows the definition of a word, the challenge of illustrating the definition offers the chance to look at the word in new light. Kids can’t passively copy a definition — copywork doesn’t guarantee comprehension, anyway — and drawing means students are invited to actively participate in defining the word, exploring the nuances and details of connotation and meaning.
101 Doodle Definitions takes kids deeper into a word than copywork does. I love this!
And did you notice? The spine of each drawing always corresponds with the first letter of the vocabulary word. To draw Reticent Rosa, students start by writing a capital R. Jocular Jack‘s portrait begins with five letter j‘s, and even the lexicon illustration is sketched with an uppercase L. This is such a great way to embed the word even deeper into the student’s memory — and it’s fun.
101 Doodle Definitions uses words likely to appear standardized tests.
The dozens of words in this book weren’t picked at random; the author has chosen the 101 words from vocabulary commonly found on standardized tests. The terms vary widely from the lesser known ratiocinate and isochronous to the more common paradox and symmetry.
Is my child the right age for 101 Doodle Definitions?
Aveline says —
“This is a fun book for anyone who loves to draw, or anyone who loves words. The doodles are very fun to draw, and are super colorful. Also, they will make most people laugh! I recommend this to kids, and also to adults.” -Aveline, age 10
Timberdoodle included this consumable book in last year’s 5th Grade Curriculum Kit, and I agree that’s about the right age threshold. Sketching definitions of words which aren’t simply nouns requires a certain capacity for abstract thinking. I would say by about fourth grade and up, kids would really enjoy these activities.
Is this book consumable? Yes, but 101 Doodle Definitions teaches study skills which will last long after the book is completed.
Timberdoodle explains, “Once your child has completed 101 Doodles, he will know how to make his own unique doodle for any other unfamiliar word he encounters.”
As the books winds down, students are urged to begin creating their own illustrative doodles from scratch. There are no drawing tutorials for the last eight words, but blank space is provided for the student to sketch out his or her own. This transition provides them with the skills necessary to continue to use this powerful method for future vocabulary study as well.
Drawing cements the meaning into the memory nearly twice as effectively as writing does, so kids who utilize this method will be left with vocabulary they understand, and remember.
As Aveline continues to work through 101 Doodle Definitions, I’m excited to see how she adapts this method to her own independent vocabulary study!
Add 101 Doodle Definitions to your 2021-2022 curriculum plan!
At just 3 doodles a week — perhaps while listening to read alouds or audiobooks — your child will easily finish this book over the course of a 36-week school year.
Even if your student is ambivalent about vocabulary, after she eclectically embellishes myriad words, definitions will no longer be nebulous; rather, her lexicon will wax larger!
(P.S. Have you signed up for Timberoodle’s catalog? The 2021 edition will be out soon — don’t miss it.)
 Fernandes, Wammes, and Melissa; 2018, as summarized by K. Barbo. Fernandes, Myra & Wammes, Jeffrey & Meade, Melissa. (2018). “The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory.” Current Directions in Psychological Science. Quotation above is a summary from Kathy Barbo of Art Projects for Kids.