You just never know when you&8217;re learning

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Aug. 24, 2005

It was really a cruel trick Mrs. Bell played on her students Thursday afternoon.

After the fourth-graders completed their worksheets on synonyms they were free to get a game, sit quietly in the back of the room and play with friends until dismissal time.

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The kids saw it as a reward for finishing their assignment, but in this day and age of education, no good teacher is going to let a minute of instructional time slip by.

So instead of playing checkers or Candy Land, the kids spent their &8220;free&8221; time matching the word on a puzzle piece with its synonym or antonym.

They were having fun, but they were learning, and they never knew it.

Some of the words were easy, smile and grin, close and near, but others meant learning a new word altogether.

The whole concept of synonyms points out a pesky issue with our English language that often seems to have 20 different ways to say the same thing. For the majority of us who aren&8217;t language scholars and who don&8217;t walk around speaking like the days of yore, there are simply a lot of words we never use.

Since adults don&8217;t say them, kids don&8217;t know them.

So when Breanna Williams started looking for a match to the word stop, halt never entered her mind. And fat didn&8217;t mean stout in Jesse Dorsey&8217;s mind.

Though I&8217;m no vocabulary wiz, I was all over these two words. And once the kids fit the pieces with their matching synonym, their vocabulary list had grown by two.

For Breanna, her word was sealed into her memory with an action.

Like when you stop traffic, she said as she reached her hand out palm open and toward the crowd, you say, &8220;halt.&8221;

Jesse and I decided he could describe someone as stout, but never to the person&8217;s face.

There&8217;s something exciting and rewarding about seeing a child learn and feeling partly responsible, especially when the experience for them is nothing but fun.

Hands-on learning is the way Mrs. Bell likes to do it, she said, even if getting them out of the desk and onto the floor seems like a trick.

If I were one for philosophical analogies, I&8217;d say those puzzle pieces the kids had strewn everywhere were very representative of their minds.

The pieces were full of information, I&8217;d explain, but they sure didn&8217;t put themselves together.

But since I&8217;ve always hated silly analogies, I&8217;ll just say, kids are smart, but they need help along the way.

This particular group has a hands-on teacher already who&8217;ll have part of the puzzle solved by the end of the year. But the rest of the puzzle belongs to moms and dads, brothers and sisters, bus drivers and neighbors and you and me.

I&8217;ve always liked puzzles.

Special to the class: Here are five vocabulary words that appear on the fourth-grade practice test of the MCT: refuse, enlarge, stagger, progress and perish.

If you write down the definition to each of these words and turn it in to Mrs. Tuccio, I&8217;ll bring you a special treat. You can use a dictionary, but don&8217;t do it while Mrs. Tuccio or Mrs. Bell is teaching. You can do it in class if you finish your work early and the teacher says it&8217;s OK, or you can do it at home.

Julie Finley is the education reporter for The Natchez Democrat. She writes a weekly column based on experiences with Marty Tuccio&8217;s homeroom class at McLaurin Elementary. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or