There’s More of Gravy Than of Grave About You, Whatever You Are!

I can’t remember a Christmas that didn’t include listening to “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.  As a child I remember listening to it on the record player.  My brothers and sister and I knew the story so well we could quote it or improvise a reader’s theater performance by trading lines back and forth.  Then, of course, we also watched different movie versions of it.  For a long time, the 1951 version with Alastair Sim was my favorite, but since then there have been an amazing number of different takes on this classic story.  I have enjoyed some of the musical versions, and been “ho-hum” about others.  I’ve been to several live performances (even starred in one as a charwoman!) and have always looked forward to seeing how the ghosts would appear and what they would look like.  It’s a story that I never grow tired of hearing, seeing and reading.

On Monday I began reading it aloud to the class.  I paused and talked about things when I thought it would help them build a stronger connection to the story.  Once in a while I also paused to mention Dickens’ masterful use of personification, similes, and metaphors.  The students spent some time researching workhouses, and what life was like in London during Dickens’ time.  But the one thing we pause to appreciate on every single page is the vocabulary Charles Dickens used.

This morning we looked at the list of synonyms he used when referring to Jacob Marley’s ghost.  The list included:  ghost, phantom, apparition, shade, spirit, and spectre.  When asked which of these words felt the creepiest, students named phantom, apparition, shade, and spectre.  I especially liked what Hannah and Abby said about the word <spectre>.  They said it made them think of something always looking at them, but that they couldn’t look back.  Eric told of a neighbor dog named Phantom who often roamed the neighborhood, staying out of sight.  Ryan and Chris both thought apparition had a spooky feel to it.  Charles Dickens could easily have stuck with using only the word ghost, but he didn’t.  And because he didn’t, he helped create a ghost that we feel slightly different about each time he’s mentioned.

One word that the students did not know was <impoverished>.  I wondered if the students could look at this word and use what they know about affixes to get at the meaning of the word.  Sure enough … the first person recognized the suffixes <ed> and <ish>.  The next person recognized that <im> was a prefix.  That left us with <pover> as a base.  Immediately, Ryan raised his hand with enthusiasm and said, ” If you add <ty>, you’ll have the word <poverty> and that means being poor!  This is what I love about orthography!  As the students headed off to lunch, I looked up <impoverished> on Etymonline and found out that it was first used in the 15th century.  It was an Old French word whose base was <povre> meaning poor.  Ryan was spot on!

The following excerpt is of the part of the story we just finished.  We will begin Stave 2 and meet the first ghost tomorrow … when the bell tolls one.  🙂

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