Category Archives: learning

Enriching Vocabularies—and Hearts

Nothing sticks in the mind like music. Even today, I can sing the simple little songs I learned from Mrs. Janice Giles when I was in second and third grade in Delphos, Kansas—about 150 years ago.

Mrs. Giles came into our classroom several times a week, accompanied only by a little round black-and-silver pitch pipe and her voice; but with those two instruments, she worked magic with songs such as “White Coral Bells” and “In and Out the Window” and “The Needle’s Eye.” For some reason, I especially liked to sing:

The needle’s eye,
It doth supply
The thread that runs so true;
There’s many a beau
That I’ve let go
Because I wanted you.

Nothing sticks in the mind—and heart—like music, and that’s why I’ve been playing the fool and singing to my students.

No, I’m not teaching them “The Needle’s Eye” (although it has a catchy tune that I might use for some verses that I’ve written). Rather, I’m helping them to learn new vocabulary words from the novel Hatchet by setting poems I write to music.

“You can pulverize a peanut,” begins a song that reinforces the meaning of pulverize by including the synonyms grind, pound and crush.

The chorus of another of my compositions goes like this:

Diminish, diminish,
It means to make smaller
Diminish it means to make less.

“If I have a twinge of pain” is the opening line of a song I wrote to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”—familiar music that’s easy to sing, and a great way to learn what a twinge is.

I wasn’t surprised when the seventh-graders readily sang along with me, because I had them for sixth grade last year and I have a good rapport with them. What I didn’t expect was that the eighth-graders—all boys, and almost all of them resistant to learning of any kind—would also join in the fun. But because “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is so familiar to them (they know it as “A-B-C-D-E-F-G”), they didn’t hesitate to sing along.

Now that I know that my (gasp!) middle-schoolers are willing to sing, I’ll be composing many more songs to help them learn new words. By the time this year is over, not only will their vocabularies be enriched, but so also will their minds and their hearts.

When your heart is full, the overflow has to go somewhere. My guess is that my students will someday be singing about pulverize and diminish and twinge to their children and grandchildren.

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