Vocab activities for your classroom

Transform a Minivan Ad into a Word Lesson

Word lessons are everywhere--even on minivan billboards. The new ad campaign for the Honda Odyssey prominently features the neologism "Vanquility":

If your students "don't get it," then this is what we educators like to consider a teachable moment. Take advantage of the Visual Thesaurus wildcard searching feature to lead students to discover for themselves what Honda is trying to say about their latest line of minivans.

Obviously, we know where the "van" in "vanquility" comes from, but your students might have trouble figuring out the origin of "quility." This is where VT wildcard searching comes into play. Simply type an asterisk (*) into the Visual Thesaurus search box before "quility" to see what words in the VT database end with "quility":

Bingo! This ad must have something to do with tranquility. Have students explore the word map for tranquility and try to infer what message Honda wants to deliver to potential minivan buyers about the Odyssey. Then, help students analyze Honda's advertising strategy. Who usually buys a minivan? Why might they be attracted to a van that promises a "state of peace and quiet" 'free of disturbances or stress'? How could the right minivan bring drivers tranquility? What types of images or sounds would they expect a Honda Odyssey "vanquility" commercial to include?

After discussing their expectations, have students watch this "vanquility" commercial and identify all the images and effects that were used to communicate a feeling of tranquility (rainbows, butterflies, peaceful animals, New Age music, etc.)

Honda is not the only company that has blended word parts in inventive ways to promote their products. In 2009, the Mars Company showcased ads for Snickers candy bars using words from "Snacklish"—a "language" made up of words formed by combining words associated with Snickers (e.g., nougat, nut, chew, etc.) with other word endings. Can students guess the origins of these blended Snacklish words by using wildcard searching on the Visual Thesaurus?

nutopia (search for *topia); snaxi (search for *axi); nutvana (search for *vana)

[Answers: nutopia (nut + utopia); snaxi (Snickers + taxi); nutvana (nut + nirvana)]

As a follow-up assignment to analyzing these ad campaigns that use wordplay to capture their viewers' attention, ask students to create an advertisement for a different product that uses an apt neologism of their own creation. Once they identify a product and a feeling or word they would want buyers to associate with that product, students should experiment with fusing different word parts to create the perfect neologism—one that has a catchy sound and communicates a clever or compelling message. After students finish creating their ad campaigns, have them swap them with their classmates to see if their peers can decipher their word origins with the aid of VT wildcard searching.

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Georgia Scurletis is Director of Curriculum for the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. Before coming to Thinkmap, she spent 18 years as a curriculum writer and classroom teacher. Georgia has written curriculum materials for a variety of Web sites (WGBH, The New York Times Learning Network, Edsitement) and various school districts. While teaching high school English in Brooklyn, she was a recipient of the New York State English Council's Educators of Excellence Award, the Brooklyn High Schools' Recognition Award, and The New York Times' Teachers Who Make a Difference Award. Click here to read more articles by Georgia Scurletis.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday November 9th 2010, 3:21 PM
Comment by: Katherine S. (Brooklyn, NY)
I love this lesson idea: "Ask students to create an advertisement for a different product that uses an apt neologism of their own creation." I also like the idea of making kids aware of how advertising works, but from a vocab point of view. Thanks VT!
Tuesday November 16th 2010, 12:03 PM
Comment by: christiane P. (paris Afghanistan)
15 years ago I drived a "HONDA". I found it very nervous but very pleasant to drive. I love this lesson about this car, it is a LUXURY & LECHERY car.

Thank you for he different points of view.
Monday April 18th 2011, 1:05 PM
Comment by: christiane P. (paris Afghanistan)
About 20 years ago I drove a "Honda"; I found it nervous and very pleasant too. I love this lesson, I LOVE, I LOVE
Concerning the date , I am sorry I do not exactly remember the date., But I found it was agreable to drive.
Ask to students to kids to be aware of works is realy is a judicious idea.


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