Tag Archives: mnemonic

missing lyric found!

On the last day of my practicum, I gave my grade 10 History students copies of the song I wrote as a mnemonic device when I was in high school. I wrote a post about this song  last week and I know you’re all waiting to hear what the missing lyric is.

I am truly proud of this class – I started out dreading teaching them – all 33 of them. My Associate Teacher warned me about them before I even met the kids.  She pretty much told me her goal is just to get through every period. (To her credit, she had a very good relationship with individual students, but I think she felt they were out of control and so she resorted to compromises like giving them 7 minute breaks to socialize during class if they would agree to pay attention once the breaks ended).  Many of the things she told me about the students were true, but after the first few classes, I found myself really looking forward to this period. By the end of the month I felt that the kids knew I was on their side.

I gave the students the song as my parting gift – I told them it might help them study for their exam. I had thought I might get off easy, but of course they insisted that I sing it. I told them, “OK, we’ll sing it together. Who knows the song ‘We didn’t Start the Fire’?” Blank stares. No Uptown Girls or Piano Men in this classroom. I was on my own. I squeaked out a passable rendition of the song, my face turning as red as my hair. Lecturing in front of a class is one thing; singing is quite another!

They loved it. I went over each line and quizzed them – and to my amazement, they recognized some of the events and were able to elaborate on some of the causes of WWII. One of them even remembered that “Mein Kampf” meant ‘my struggle.’ As for the missing lyric, after a few suggestions were thrown out (“Lots of blood and gore” “The Holocaust left a sore” etc.) the class decided on…

World War II is hard core!


we didn’t start the war (the song)

I didn’t have the typical high school experience. When I skipped class, it was to finish an assignment. When I got drunk with my friends, we sang Hebrew songs. And when I pulled an all-nighter, it was to study.  My friend Michelle and I used to study for all our tests together. The night before a test was the only night when our parents made an exception to the no sleepovers on school nights rule. In our sweatpants with floppy buns on our head and a huge bowl of something sweet or salty close by, we’d quiz each other on history or quote Talmudic scholars, taking breaks to gossip about boys or visit the kitchen.

At some point, colour-coding notes and creating mnemonic devices gave way to bouts of hysterical giggling. Around 2 in the morning, the Persons Case became positively hilarious and the periodic table started to look like a haiku.  These breakdowns came with increasing frequency, telling us we weren’t going to retain any more useful information. With our parents long asleep, we’d finally turn in for the night, vocabulary words dancing ’round our heads.

On one of these study all-nighters, Michelle and I studied for a grade 9 History test. The subject: the lead-up to World War II. We decided, as usual, to write a song to help us remember the names and dates. The song worked – we both got 9o-something on the test, and I still remember most of it 15 years later. Now I’m teaching WWII to my Grade 10s, and I want to pass the song on to them. The only problem…I forget the last line! Any suggestions?

Here it is, to the tune of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Versailles Treaty starts it all

Bavarian beer-hall

Reparation costs were huge

Hitler blamed things on the Jews

Nazi Party ’19

Mein Kampf ’23

Hitler’s Chancellor ’32

In ’34 he’s Fuhrer too


We didn’t start the war

Neville Chamberlain appeased him

But Sudetenland didn’t please him

We didn’t start the war

Anschluss was unification

Czechoslovakia was taken

Munich in ’38

To decide the Czechs’ fate

Nazi-Stalin ’39

Hitler Says “Poland’s mine”

Germany declares war

Peace in Europe was no more

(Here’s the line that I forget)

This is what we’re fighting for!

And here’s the video, just for fun…

Have any musical mnemonics to share? Please post them in the comments!