Sometimes, All You Have to Do Is Ask

We are eight days into the new school year in my wild and wonderful West Virginia classroom. We’ve dealt with all the usual beginning-of-the-year issues…schedule changes, locker problems, lost freshmen. But, we’ve also tried to address problems unique to students in the reading and writing workshop…I’m not a good reader, I can’t find books that interest me, writing is too hard for me because I have nothing to say.

We’ve got a long way to go, but at this early stage, what I’ve discovered is that my most successful teaching strategy has been to just…ask.

IMG_5034When Willy was reluctant to start a book last week, I just asked him to try. “Just give it a go for seven minutes, Willy. If you hate it at the end of that you can put it down forever!” He gave it a try, and ended up loving it–The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum.

When I was driving past Barnes and Noble, daydreaming of books for my library, I decided it couldn’t hurt to just ask for some. “Hi, I’m a high school English teacher, and I was wondering…do you have any books slated for disposal that are damaged or unwanted?” As a matter of fact, they did, and they gave me two boxes of books on the spot–including 30 copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky.

IMG_5010When one of our principals approached me with concerns about a book one of my students had chosen, I just asked him to listen. “Everything I do is research-based, and it’s all very effective. I believe in the book Lamont is reading and I’d really like not to take it away from him.” The jury is still out on the brilliant and hilarious Broetry by Brian McGackin–famous in my classroom for converting non-readers into avid consumers of poetry–but the principal did listen. We started a conversation over Ralph Fletcher’s Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Peter Johnston’s Choice Words, and the possibility of our English department developing an official policy on certain kinds of language in reading and writing.

Abby believed she had nothing to say–no story to tell.  When we began our first writing activity, I just asked for six words. “Check out these six-word stories and read like a writer…who is that writer? What story is she trying to tell? What story can you tell in six words?”  Students mentored themselves to Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure from Smith Magazine. They drafted and conferred and rewrote. Now, their stories–including Abby’s–line our classroom, told on colorful paint strips–a veritable rainbow of their Truths.


I am so looking forward to this year. I believe in all of my students, and I believe that if I want them to truly be transformed into lifelong readers and writers…all I have to do is ask.


3 thoughts on “Sometimes, All You Have to Do Is Ask

  1. jackiecatcher September 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm Reply

    I cannot wait to ask my local Barnes & Nobles and do your paint strip activity–I have so many paint strips I’ve saved up, but I didn’t think to pair those with the six-word memoirs. Excellent idea!


  2. Karen Beavers August 30, 2014 at 7:45 am Reply

    I love the paint strips. Now a new reason to get more paint strips. I had never thought about asking at book stores will definitely do that this weekend.


  3. amyrasmussen August 27, 2014 at 6:22 pm Reply

    I love love love this! Many years ago I read the book The Aladdin Principle, and I learned this very thing: If you don’t ask, the answer is no. If you do ask, the answer might be YES! I love how you got FREE books. (I am sure your smile and charm had something to do with that one!) I also love the six word memoirs on paint strips. Clever lady, you.


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