Activity Overview

Starting a unit or lesson with the key vocabulary terms and allusions aids in overall comprehension and retention. In this activity, students will create a storyboard that defines and illustrates key vocabulary and allusions found in the book Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Students will create a spider map of 3-5 terms at the teacher's discretion. Each cell will contain a term or allusion, its definition or description, and an appropriate illustration.

Examples of Vocabulary from Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone: (b. Jan. 17, 1899, Brooklyn, NY — d. Jan. 25, 1947, Miami, Florida) was an American gangster who rose to prominence during the Prohibition era as the boss of the "Chicago Outfit" or Mafia which he led from 1925-1931 before being sent to prison at age 33 on tax evasion. During his reign he made millions from racketeering and selling alcohol illegally. He was known to be brutal, murdering any opposition. He was transferred to Alcatraz in 1934 and was released in 1939.

Alcatraz: Alcatraz Island (aka The Rock) is a 22 acre island located in San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco, CA. It was a federal maximum security prison from Aug. 11, 1934 - Mar. 21, 1963. When it was explored in 1775 by Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala, he named it Isla de los Alcatraces ("Isle of Pelicans"). In 1884 the first lighthouse in California was built there. From Nov. 1969-June 1971 indigenous activist group, Indians of All Tribes, occupied Alcatraz to protest the government’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples. Today, Alcatraz is a popular tourist destination.

autism: Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that affects how the person experiences the world. Autism can cause a broad spectrum of social, communication, and behavioral challenges that can range from mild to severe.

Bonnie and Clyde: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, were a couple that were also famous outlaws who went on a two-year spree of murder and bank robbery in the 1930s in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas before being killed in an ambush.

civilian: a person not in the armed services or the police force.

convict: A convict, or "con" as they are sometimes referred to in the novel, is a person found guilty of a crime who is imprisoned.

counterfeiters: Counterfeit means to make an imitation of something of value with the intent to deceive such as counterfeit money, jewels, or art. A counterfeiter is the person who makes the imitation and tries to pass it off as real.

David Copperfield: A famous book by Charles Dickens published in 1849 about David Copperfield and his adventurous life from birth to adulthood.

deficiencies: a lack or shortage; a failing or shortcoming.

diligent: characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort

earnest: resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.

Eleanor Roosevelt: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was an American political figure, diplomat, and activist. She served as the first lady of the United States from March 4, 1933, to April 12, 1945, during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt's four terms in office, making her the longest-serving first lady of the United States.

Golden Gate Bridge: The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the one-mile-wide strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The bridge is in the process of being built in the book and can be viewed from Alcatraz Island, which is in San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and at the time was the longest (at 4,200 feet) and the tallest (at 746 feet) suspension bridge in the world.

guard tower: A guard tower is a tall structure designed to be able to view the surrounding area very well. Typically used in prisons, they allow guards to see if a prisoner is attempting to escape.

heinous: (of a person or wrongful act, especially a crime) utterly odious or wicked.

humane: having or showing compassion or benevolence.

in unison: simultaneous performance of action or utterance of speech.

indignity: treatment or circumstances that cause one to feel shame or to lose one's dignity.

jeopardize: put (someone or something) into a situation in which there is a danger of loss, harm, or failure.

Machine Gun Kelly: George Kelly Barnes, better known by his pseudonym "Machine Gun Kelly", was an American gangster from Memphis, Tennessee during the prohibition era. His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun.

mockery: teasing and contemptuous language or behavior directed at a particular person or thing.

peculiar: strange or odd; unusual.

preposterous: contrary to reason or common sense; utterly absurd or ridiculous.

Roy Gardner: A train robber that was famous for escaping prisons many times which was why he was transferred to Alcatraz. He was held in Alcatraz from 1934-1938. During his criminal career, he stole over $350,000 in cash and securities.

sarcastic: Sarcasm is the use of words usually used to either mock or annoy someone, or for humorous purposes.

scoffing: contemptuously ridiculing or mocking someone or something.

tantrum: an uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration.

Valentine's Day Massacre: The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre was the 1929 murder of seven members and associates of Chicago's North Side Gang that occurred on Saint Valentine's Day. The men were gathered at a Lincoln Park garage on the morning of that feast day, February 14th.

ventriloquist: a person who can speak or utter sounds so that they seem to come from somewhere else, especially an entertainer who makes their voice appear to come from a dummy of a person or animal.

warden: a person responsible for the supervision of a particular place or thing or for ensuring that regulations associated with it are obeyed.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Due Date:

Objective: Create a spider map that defines and illustrates key vocabulary from Al Capone Does My Shirts.

Student Instructions:

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. In the title boxes, identify the vocabulary terms you have chosen.
  3. In the description boxes, write the definition or description of the term.
  4. Create an illustration for each term using appropriate scenes, characters, and items.
  5. Save often.

Requirements: Must have 3 vocabulary terms, correct definitions or descriptions, and appropriate illustrations for each that demonstrate your understanding of the words.

Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 6-8

Difficulty Level 2 (Reinforcing / Developing)

Type of Assignment Individual

Type of Activity: Visual Vocabulary Boards

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/6/4] Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/3] Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/4] Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9-10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/6] Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression
  • [ELA-Literacy/W/6/6] Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.


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