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One word summaries of a year in humanities.

We have recently (Thursday) concluded the year and student led conferences (three weeks before this). Our middle school students create electronic portfolios to share their years’ work with parents. Rather than a reflection at the end of each trimester, I prefer my humanities students to consider our ‘journey’ at the end of the year. Many chose to sum up the year in one word- a technique we have used frequently when reading texts (fiction or non fiction) as it leads to rich discussion, uncovers a theme or key idea and inevitably a word to investigate further. Others wrote directly about word study. Below are samples from student portfolios of the students’ thoughts about the year. I usually feel there are so many ways that I could have done more for the class, improved lessons, given more time, better feedback. So it’s with a sense of trepidation that I ask for reflections on the ways they have grown this year as a humanities student and a member of the class. What thrills me the most is that all see word inquiry not as a separate piece or an allocated portion of the humanities class but as an integral part of reading, writing and talking. It’s simply part of the fabric, the underlay of what we do daily that helps us to analyze, write, discuss, compare and evaluate.

‘Throughout the year, we had one giant unit, that would inch it’s way into every gap we had. This unit was all about words, where they came from, when they came into English, what was their original meaning. It was, in my opinion, incredibly interesting. I thought it was interesting because I have a personal liking for idioms, expressions, words, writing. I hope to be an author when I grow up, so this unit was enjoyable. In this unit, we didn’t just learn about the originality of words, we also learned about words to describe heroes and perpetrators. The point of doing this, was to make us think through our decisions, and explain why it is that we chose these words to describe certain people. It really caused us to think deeply about the words, where they came from, and what they mean now and what they meant when they originally started wherever it was that they started’. (Maddie)
‘Throughout this year I have learnt more about the history of words and how to learn about them and pull them apart to discover new things. I learnt how to use the Online Etymology Dictionary to find the roots of words .The roots help us in understanding the meaning of the word and other words like it. Recently we had a group project were we had 4 words and we had to find the root and then find related words using the online etymology and word searcher we found so many new bases that all came from one root! At the start of the year I found it really hard to divide a word into morphemes but now since I have learnt how to identify suffixes and prefixes, I find it easier and I can do it a lot faster now. All in all I have learnt more about word study this year than I have any other year I have been here. I enjoy learning about words and I find them really interesting’. (India)

In humanities we looked deeper into words, by breaking them into morphemes, tracking their roots by etymology online, and then writing our own definition. We looked at words mainly that came from a Latin or Greek root. We learnt that Latin words often end in ‘are, ire, ere’ and Greek with ‘os’ suffix. Our word inquiries have helped me to understand confusions that I had about words, and the mystery of the mysterious final <e>. Words can be a powerful thing as they can stir up things in peoples minds, not always good as in the holocaust. Hitler used words to bring hatred towards Jews in people’s minds’. (Manan)

‘Word study has played a very important part in this year’s class because for almost all the topics we have studied in humanities, we have used word study to help with our understanding of each subject. The general process that we use for word study is first having a word to study, then coming up with the denotation, then digging deep to finding it’s base or root and revisiting the denotation. After that we would evaluate the morphemes for the word and double check if each morpheme is appropriate. Word study has helped by loads in many of the topics we have studied by allowing me to identify words I don’t know so that I can recognise them in the future. Even though my humanities class has gone crazy about word study this year, I am thankful that we did.’ (Nick)

Below from the students, six words that capture the year:

<ad+vent+ure> from Latin venire , ventus: come which leads to twin base elements :< vene> and <vent>

‘If I had to summarise this year in one word, I would say adventure. People who go through adventures change, even by a little, and have both ups and downs. I’ve learnt so much from our adventure. I’ve learnt to question what I read as authors are usually very clever and often put in hints and subtle meanings within their pieces. I’ve learnt to analyse words carefully and sort out the morphemes as it’s actually much harder than just sounding out the words. I’ve found the thrill of discussions and how we question so many things and how many things are most definitely not perfect. I’ve learnt to find my place in the class. At the beginning I didn’t know or talk to much people in my class, only one or two people who I knew well. Now it’s like we’re brothers and sisters. We’ve bonded over the struggles of school and are making our way to the end of this adventure and are now much closer than we were at the start of the year. We’ve been trying to find ourselves in the mayhem of work and society and have put our research on a few pieces like the identity chart, our word inquiries and Desert Island Discs. We studied other people’s choices, both fictional and real, and learnt from their experiences, both good and bad. However, despite how far we’ve come, we still have many flaws. I have trouble making my writing flow while having a good structure. However, my biggest problem is procrastinating and this completely sets off my grades in all my classes. I should really focus on doing all my work and stop procrastinating, just after I watch a few more episodes of this series…!’ ( Shania)


When I think of one word to sum up the year in humanities, I think of history. The root of the word ‘history’ is from a Greek root historia, which came from an older PIE root, 5,000 years ago, meaning ‘to know’. When I think about this, it is applicable to our class. It is the story of my past, present, and future. I’ve seen how history has a connection to humanity, how the people’s decisions to stand up or be quiet impacts everybody. This is a clear example of Robert F. Kennedy’s words: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts, to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against an injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” This proves that every move, big or small, that someone in a community makes, affects everyone else in the community. This also demonstrates how each class is like a different family. The combination of all of our different ideas is what makes us work. If one of us makes a change, it will cause a ripple, affecting us all (Hannah)


‘A word that sums up my year would be belonging,<be+long+ing> from Old English langian meaning to pertain, to go along with, which to me means to be part of a community. This year our class has gotten closer to become a good community. We all have strengths and weaknesses and places where we have shown growth as a learner. One of my strengths is reading. I used to only enjoy reading fiction, but as the year went on, we got introduced to different types of books. I now enjoy reading historical fiction, and non fiction articles. While reading non fiction, we also had to annotate. We did this by highlighting the key words in each paragraph and then summarising the paragraph at the side. A weakness I have is speaking up in class discussions. This is because I was deep in thought, still unsure of my opinion. It takes me a while to think of my final answer, both in class and at home. Still, when I have an answer I often don’t volunteer to share it, in fear that others may disagree. I know that this is a silly thing but I don’t like being wrong, I like being right. As I got to know my classmates better, the easier it was to share my ideas with them. This year I also have improved my writing. Now I know that a good piece of writing needs claims, facts, and evidence… Throughout the year, I have gotten closer to many people. Belonging is something that requires time to achieve, and this year I have found my place in 7th grade.(Jemma)


In humanities, we researched different words. We discovered their morphemes, their roots, the definitions, and related words. I remember the first root I learned; L.salire ‘to leap, to bound’. There are some other words with that root, such as: consilience, with the morphemes: con+sil(e)+i+ence, or resilience, with the word sum <re+sile+i+ence>. Those words both have the suffix <-ence>. We can use that suffix in words such as: persistence, which has the root sistere ‘continuing firmly’. In addition to study roots and morphemes, we focused on how words relates to characters we have learned about. In class, we all agreed that Odysseus was determined, courageous, tough, impulsive, resilient, persistent and proud. During our class time, as Ms. Whiting talked about word study, I thought about which words I could use to describe myself. Communicative, humorous, and active. And then I summed up the whole humanities journey in one word; Humanity (humus “earth; ground”).(Mari)

‘We have learned this year what is to be humane and human and this has changed my personal identity” (Takumi)


When I think of one word to sum up the year, I think of empathy. Empathy means being able to understand and share the feelings of others from Greek pathos, pathein to feel. Throughout the year, I’ve gone through a long, complicated process of personal change and growth. In almost every unit we’ve gone through, the question about what we value, how we choose and how differences matter has been applied in how I reflect. In the course of this journey, I have not only learned about compassion and putting yourself in others’ shoes, but also much about my self and how events of the past has affected our generation today. I’ve learnt what I value most in life, which include family, friendship, equality and freedom. In particular, freedom of speech. This year, my level of understanding of events in the past has expanded so much, especially because we’ve had to discuss topics that take a lot of maturity to perceive. I now know how to stand up for my beliefs, and not to be afraid to speak your opinions. I learned this through books we’ve read as well as historical studies; that having the courage to express ones principles can affect the perspective of a society. The Holocaust unit was a real eye-opener for me, as it proved how much each individual human being is worth. If people had voiced up and were accepted as who they were, the discrimination against Jews would have never occurred. Not everyone acquires the same values, but everyone was given a voice to speak their mind. Though some may be harder to find, hidden behind fear of rejection, our voice is the only way we, as independent human beings, can assist one another. If people use this potential, humanity as a whole will be capable of making a difference towards the betterment of this world. (Temira)

Change ( from Old French changier which was from Latin cambire of Celtic origin!)

‘Journey, history, impact, humanity, identity, curiosity, exploration, difference, belonging… all of these just barely describe my year in humanities. There are millions of words that can describe my year but one that stands out to me is change. All throughout the year we each changed. Change in personality, appearance, values, goals. A change in the way we speak, the way we think and more. We’ve all changed as a class and individually. Throughout this year, we learned about how our past impacts our present and about how our present impacts our future. We’ve learned, read and have been inspired about the choices, thoughts and values of different fictional and non-fictional characters. Throughout the year, I went through massive changes in, not only my appearance, but my personality, my goals, dreams, thoughts and values. Before this year, I never thought about the importance of freedom and equality. Before this year, I was not educated about the diversity in the world and how different we all are and what makes us different. Before this year, I never thought about how important the past is and how important our future is as well. I never used to think deeply about things and I never thought about how important change is and how the smallest things can impact our future. My journey throughout this year had many difficulties and obstacles, but it also had a lot of success and positivity. My journey throughout humanities changed me greatly, for the better. And this has been through words.

Throughout the entire year, we studied words. We studied morphemes, bases, roots, prefixes and suffixes. We looked at how some words are connected and how the definition of the root connects to its definition now. We looked at different words that can describe Odysseus, we looked at the history of some words. We made concept ladders to see the different synonyms, antonyms and different words with the same bases. We’ve looked at words that are involved with religion and mythology. We’ve looked at words and have researched words that we like. I like words such as sempiternal, mellifluent, sarcasm, metaphor, celestial, stellar, downpour, drizzle and more. Through learning about words, we’ve understood our topics and units more deeply and through learning about words we’ve learned more about connection and how things connect.’ (Kathleen)

‘We felt special …’

‘None of the Student Wide Learning Results (communicate effectively,collaborate constructively, learn enthusiastically,think creatively, reason critically and live ethically) can express this year’s humanities extravaganza. There is just no way to describe my experience. If this was any other normal class, I would have probably picked “Communicate Effectively” or “Collaborate Constructively” but I don’t think seventh grade Humanities deserves such tedious labels. Every other year in this school has been literally based on these five phrases. I don’t know why, honestly, but I have the uttermost feeling that this year wasn’t. We went beyond the school curriculum this year, especially during the Historical Journey. Everything from The Battle of Hastings to a righteous upstander, all the way to how Hitler rose to power and life in the Middle Ages was studied in detail. Anything we didn’t understand was explained with clarity by our teachers. Word study played a major role this year. Half of what I learned this year was through the Etymology Dictionary. The Etymology Dictionary made all of us feel like CIA state agents in a office trying to uncover a murder mystery. We all wanted to be the first one on the site so we could blurt out the root or any other specification. But in the midst of such beautiful chaos we worked as system. We felt special as a system. Our class was the perfect place for that’. (Amir)

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When I signed the students’ year books I reminded them to continue to wonder about words, to keep searching the Online Etymology Dictionary, the OED, and John Ayto. However, I can give no better life advice than the slightly adjusted wisdom from Norman Juster’s King Azaz, the monarch of ‘Dictionopolis’  :

In these sites and book named above ‘… are all the words I know.Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is use them well and in the right places.” 

Thank-you to this years’ grade 7 humanities class of 2013-2014 for all you have taught me.