Phantom Tollbooth activity: Word trees

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In chapter 4 of The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo and Tock enter Dictionopolis on market day. This isn’t any market, however it is a word market. In this fantasy land, words are grown on trees and sold at the market, much like crops. They even have flavours which are specific to letters and / or words. Consequently, this chapter opens up the door for many activities which allow students to explore the world of words.

One activity that I decided to do with Chris was creating word trees. I found this idea in a list on Christy’s Houseful of Chaos, and decided to try it out. Chris and I started off by discussing how words growing on trees would be organized, and which method made the most sense.

  • We talked about using word length, but that didn’t make much sense to us at all because we would need some really big trees to fit ALL the words with a given number of letters.
  • Next, Chris thought about organizing them by meaning. So we made synonym trees, but we found that for some categories, there we not many words to put in the tree. We made 3 trees with 5 words each, just to try it out anyway. Our categories were greetings, goodbyes, and synonyms of pretty.
  • Then, we decided that it might be better to divide them by parts of speech. We created one tree for each part of speech, and noticed that the “pretty” tree already contained only adjectives. This discovery got us thinking that one of the best ways to categorize the words would be by using two criteria rather then just one: parts of speech AND meaning. To make sure this method was effective, we made 5 trees with 5 words each.
  • When we finished brainstorming about the parts of speech, Chris added that creating prefix, suffix and roots trees would also probably be a good idea (we studies them this week, so it was still fresh in his mind). We made 3 trees, and decided that this method was equally effective. Chris could not make up his mind as to which tree categories were better, until I pointed out that not every word was made by combining roots with prefixes or suffixes, so this method would not account for every word that existed.

We settled on the parts of speech / definition organization. We assigned each tree a name, and created our forest on the wall of our school room.

“The moving synoverb”: Verbs relating to movement.
Speed, crawl, walk, move, run.

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“The Pretty Tree” : Adjectives expressing beauty.
Exquisite, pretty, beautiful, handsome, good looking.

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“The Family Tree”: Nouns describing family members.
Mother, son, grandmother, grandfather, aunt.

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“The Placer”: Prepositions of location.
Above, against, below, beside, on.

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“The Way of Moving”: Adverbs relating to speed of movement.
Slowly, quickly, rapidly, sluggishly, lazily. 

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How would you categorize words onto trees?

Related posts:

Reading Unit: The Phantom Tollbooth Chapters 1-5
Reading Unit: The Phantom Tollbooth Chapters 6-10
Reading Unit: The Phantom Tollbooth Chapters 11-15
Reading Unit: The Phantom Tollbooth Chapters 16-20
Phantom Tollbooth activity: make your own words station


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