Pre-Reading Activities for Teaching "The Phantom Tollbooth"
26 SEP 2017
A story set in Dictionopolis and Digitopolis in the Kingdom of Wisdom probably needs pre-reading activities so your students will get the most benefit from reading it; Norton Juster's young adult novel "The Phantom Tollbooth" has numerous opportunities to connect students to their own world and introduce them to the new, remarkably word-rich world Juster creates.
1 Visual Prediction
Visual learners benefit greatly from looking at both title and book cover and guessing at content. Have them identify the terms "phantom" and "tollbooth" and combine the meanings: What would a ghost-like place that allows access be like? Where might it take you? Most editions of the book feature the Jules Feiffer illustrations. The dog with a clock in its stomach is a good predictor as well: what kind of imaginary dog might this be? What's the reason for the clock? To carry this further, take the title and have students draw their own "cover" ideas.
2 Aural Cognitive Discussion
For aural and cognitive learners, discussion questions are useful. You can begin previewing the emotional state of Milo, the book's protagonist: When are you most bored? How do you avoid it? What if you were bored all the time? Discussion questions about language follow: What do the words a person uses say about him or her? Finally, you can guide the discussion to the genre of fantasy literature: What elements -- heroes, obstacles, imaginary creatures -- are found in fantasy quests? What are some fantasy quests you've read or enjoyed in movies, TV or video games?
3 Homophones and Word Play
Homophones are rampant throughout the book. An excellent pre-reading idea is to have vocabulary lessons in sound-alike wordings such as "The King Who Rained." A further list of word plays for the Juster novel should include: rhyme and reason, eat your words, jumping to conclusions, census taker, lethargic, killing time, expectations, doldrums, din. A word list of characters adds further pre-reading fun: Demon of Insincerity, Chroma, Gelatinous Giant, Dodecahedron, Everpresent Wordsnatcher and Faintly Macabre. Define, draw or write about these characters, before reading the book, to enhance visual, aural and cognitive learning.
4 Kinesthetic Tableau
A tableau is a re-creation of a story scene; you can modify this idea to create a pre-reading kinesthetic activity using your classroom setting. Erect a sign -- "Phantom Tollbooth, Toll: One Answer" -- at your classroom entrance. As students come to class, their entry fee is a single idea: If you could go anywhere, where would it be? This gets them through the tollbooth and straight into the questing spirit of Juster's novel.