Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Getting Hooked-

Teachers always hear about the importance of a good “hook” to interest students about a particular lesson. People say this because well, it’s true.  The first year I taught A Wrinkle in Time my students haaaated it. I taught it again this past year and the overall opinion was dramatically different. Now, I can’t place all the success on my beginning hook (there may have been an over-reliance on the audio book narrated by the author herself- speech impediment and all….whoopsies!), but it was a fun way to start the unit on science fiction and get everyone excited about the book before cracking it open.

Even if you aren’t reading A Wrinkle in Time, this hook can still work because it is directed at science fiction writing as a genre.

First, tell students to bring with them to class an account of a strange event–a UFO sighting, an example of psychic powers, or anything which could not be explained by our current technology. I gave them extra credit for bringing articles. My pre-AP kiddos eat up extra credit opportunities.

As prior preparation, you should put up the background paper and title for a bulletin board with some eye catching science fiction phrase. Leave space for students to post their pictures, but go ahead and get the ball rolling by posting some articles and pictures on the mind blowing topic of science, technology, space, etc. Leave the zany stuff for the students to bring, because that is what they will likely gravitate toward. I titled my bulletin board “A WRINKLE IN TIME: A LINK TO OTHER WORLDS?”

A Wrinkle in Time

The next class period when students have their articles and pictures in hand we get to have a brief class show and tell and I get to fill them in on the exciting genre of science fiction (yah! Ender’s Game! Isaac Asimov! Cory Doctorow!) annnnd what cool time and space travel adventures will be in store for them while reading A Wrinkle in Time. 

Science Article

Science Article



Weird Questions…Cause You Have Teacher Answers

One thing I never expected as a teacher was the weird questions. So many weird questions. As a teacher, it is easy for your students to see you as a “know it all,” and if they do- that’s GREAT! They think you are smart, that you are an authority on information, and a place they can go with their questions…their weird questions.

Be prepared to get some questions that come out of left field or questions that shock you as simple things you expected everyone to know. For example, an 11th grade boy once asked me, “What is communism?” I explained the highlights, shocked a 17 year old didn’t know about communism, when he threw me for another loop with, “Did the US ever have that?”

Just a few days ago a couple of my 7th grade girls stopped me in the hallway to ask me a question, “What is a Jew?” Being randomly approached mid-stride made me think at first that they were joking, starting in on some off-color joke. Then I realized, “These are just inquisitive 12 year olds who don’t know it all!”


I sometimes forget that I did not always “know it all,” hard as that might seem to believe! Building up that big storehouse of knowledge in our head takes a while, in fact, our whole lives. Sometimes the pieces of knowledge you think everyone already knows haven’t clicked into place yet. Be patient, explain the Mickey Mouse questions in a way that isn’t condescending or impatient. Be proud that you get to be that educator who helps them seek out answers.

There are plenty of other weird questions you can expect to answer, especially ones concerning who you are (I’d like to think it’s ’cause they care) like,  “Do you have kids that go to this school?” (even if you are 24 and you teach junior high) “Do you have a boyfriend?” (nonya!) or  “Where do you live?” (creeeepy) These are often funny and if too personal- don’t feel obligated to answer them! I like to turn the question around on them, because teens are more likely to want to talk about themselves than you.

No Opt Out

No Opt Out is a technique focused on making sure any student who is unable to answer a question or does not attempt to answer a question still ends up participating.

Visualize your classroom. Things are going reasonably well. Then you ask Hannah what a noun is. She looks at you confused. Her expression seems to convey “Who me?” She looks away passively and says, “I dunno.” You probably waffle between two actions here- force the question again, give it a try! Or you move on to another student and ask the same question again. This is a key moment– students will realize that saying “I dunno.” is the get out of jail free card for classroom discussion. The teacher cannot make you participate. No teacher likes to be Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and that is where No Opt Out comes into play.

Ben Stein

bored student

In a No Opt Out Situation…

Teacher- Hannah, what is a noun?

Hannah- I dunno.

Teacher- (turning to another student) Roger, what is a noun?

Roger- a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea.

Teacher- Right. Hannah, what is a noun?

Hannah- a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea.

Notice that the question comes back to Hannah in the end. This is good for students who don’t know the answer, but are trying, perhaps just giving the wrong answer. The teacher is able to get the student to participate, but without the guesswork of, “Is she being defiant? Does she really not know? Am I embarrassing her if I press the question?”

Let’s talk worst case scenarios. Say Roger is no help. He doesn’t answer your question either. Don’t waste a second. Ask the class for a classroom chorale answer or answer it yourself. Then turn back to Hannah or Roger, ask them again. You have just given them the answer so there is very little gray room to sit silently.

As you can see with my fictional models, Hannah and Roger, No Opt Out is simple and empowering. The student ultimately participates, the class learns that no one is off the hook, and the end result always is a student answering a question correctly (which can be a confidence booster!).


No Opt Out is a technique which can be found in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. For more formats of this technique, read his book! He is the man with the plan, I am simply a follower.

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