Cartoons from Mad Magazine illustrating action sounds in wordsI’m not a big fan of the ‘science of reading’ mainly because phonics or phonemic awareness as it is sometime called, is usually presented in a very boring way using flash cards (sh + ah + puh) or combining phonemes on computer screens in the context of a ”fun” cartoonish game.

But when I was a kid, I loved reading Mad Magazine (primarily for its irreverent additude toward society), and I was especially taken by cartoon panels like the above where new words were created to express extreme action.  The repeated word ”bukidda bukidda bukidda budkidda,” for example, expresses a boxer using his partner as a punching bag.  A faucet dripping is expressed with words like ”glit” ‘glort” ”gleeble” and ”durp.”  Of course these aren’t real words, but they are neologisms with onomatopoeic features.  Let me that in English.  They’re new words whose sounds echo the things they are meant to represent.

But what’s particularly fascinating and relevant to me about these words is that they contain within them physicality, kinetic motion, and emotion.  These are three powerful elements of learning that are usually missing from your child’s standard phonics lessons and workbooks.  But the brain is more likely to engage with and remember words that are action-packed, because they are processed by the emotional brain, the part of our brain that evolved to remember and respond to actions in our environment out in the wild that were potential threats to our safety.

For our purposes, what’s great about these action-packed words is that they provide an exciting way to practice combining phonemic sounds, or what reading teachers call ”sound blending” which is a really important skill that you need in order to decode words while reading.

Look at a word like ”Skroinch!” To break it down into its components, we’ve got the ”sk” sound, the ”roin” dipthong, and the ‘ch” sound.  Ordinarily, if presented in a class workbook, this might be difficult for some kids to get.  But presented in the context of a bully that’s pulling a guy’s face like a rubber band, it’s exciting, it’s emotional, and it’s evocative (in terms of evoking a visceral reaction from the viewer).

Instead of working in phonics workbooks, homeschooling parents or teachers should search for these types of images on the Internet (look for Mad Magazine on Google Images), print them out, and have your kids take turns practicing them, not in a neutral ”classroom” voice, but with strong emotion and with the body movements that express the words’ sounds.

Kids who love to draw cartoons might be motivated to create their own  pictures that they can then illustrate with action-packed neologisms (new words) that they make up on their own. The point is that they’re going to be doing phonics, but without the boring part. These words have intrinsic excitement attached to them, so your kids will be motivated to want to learn how to say the different parts of each word – even breaking them down into individual phonemes.  And these lessons may be particularly useful for kids diagnosed with dyslexia, since research suggests that they have trouble with sound differences between phonemes, and that exaggerating the sounds may make it easier for them to learn.  If you want to give this whole process a name, you might want to call it ”Crazy Phonics” or even ”Decoding Lessons that Shblattck the Brain!”

For more ideas on bringing more physicality and emotion into learning how to read and write, see my book The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive.

This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and

Follow me on Twitter:  @Dr_Armstrong

Subscribe to my blog feed

Share This:
About the author

I’m the author of 20 books including my latest, a novel called Childless, which you can order from Amazon.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Article Archives