Yes, Definitely!

8_ball_faceDo you remember the Magic Eight Ball toy? I think those are still around. You ask the ball a question and then shake it–shake, shake, shake. An answer appears in a tiny triangular window. I remember asking the Eight Ball if it was going to snow when I was twelve years old; I had a big math test and a snow day would have been more than serendipitous. I shook it over and over and got a variety of answers:


My reply is no.

The outlook is not good.


No Chance

But I kept shaking and I shook it until I got the answer I wanted:

Yes, definitely

It did NOT snow and I was not spared the humiliation of a test I was not ready for.

Although I learned then not to rely on a Magic Eight Ball for information, I sometimes think I sound like one in the classroom. In Writers Workshop, children raise their hands knowing that I will have a word or a strategy to get them started… something just for them. It might be a quick phrase that sums up what we’ve learned in a lesson together. By now I know them as writers and we have discussed many, many strategies that writers use.

Try a time line,” I whisper to one girl.

“Stick a star next to the event that has the most energy for you. And that’s what you should write about,” I explain to another.

“What do you mean all you did was jump on a trampoline? I would love to do that. Make me feel like I was there– show don’t tell. Write what you were thinking while you were climbing on that trampoline.”

“You saw Dave Matthews??? Make a movie in your mind of that– slow it down. Now try writing about it.”

I move to another raised hand. “Stuck, James?” I nod sympathetically. “That happens to every writer. Try making a list. Maybe you can even use the list in your writing. Remember how Ann Cameron did that in The Stories Juian Tells. She did that with the vegetables.” I do a quick list lesson for the class with Ann Cameron’s novel in my hand. Ravenel adds that she has done that with her father when they have written poetry. All of the sudden we are rearranging words according to sound and syllable.

Later in the morning, James’ hand is in air. I look at his first sentence: “Hershey Bars, Crunch Bars, Reeses, and Twix–I ate a lot of candy.” With James’ permission, I read it to the class. James gives me a winning smile as I show him that with a few well-chosen words he has written a poem and a lead sentence, all in one.

A strategy shorthand emerges over time. This shorthand is made of tips that could fit tightly in a tiny triangular window, but this Eight Ball sized advice is generated child by child, not randomly. Good writing is not left to chance. We’ve just finished the first nine weeks. Children know how to tap into the story in and around them. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Will they continue to grow as readers, writers, and thinkers?

Yes, definitely.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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9 Responses to Yes, Definitely!

  1. Wendy Martin says:

    So funny to read about your Magic 8 ball on the day that Josie took her jacks into school. What’s next, Pet Rocks?

    I love the way you get these kids thinking. It reminded me of a child’s biography of Ben Franklin that I read recently.

    It said, “Benjamin also read a book on how to argue. The author said that a person should not flatly contradict another person. Instead he should be polite and ask questions until at last he had brought his opponent around to contradicting himself. Benjamin tried this and found that it worked.”

  2. Abbie says:

    you go James!…still missing you all. I want to read more poetry from room 204. Ms. R.

  3. BreAnne Buch says:

    Wow! I absolutely loved the way you tied your childhood experiences of luck and fate into your own classroom experiences. As a young child, I found myself also pulling out the eight ball and asking for those “yes” answers that never seemed to appear. I would pretend that the “yes” appeared and that all my problems were answered. This idiosyncrasy created further problems growing up. I would simply ask the eight ball if I needed to do my homework that night, or if I could wait the morning. This led to constant notes home, and lectures from my mother, asking why my homework had not been completed. Too many times we rely on pure luck and fate. I love the way that you tell your students that they can all succeed, and that it is not just luck to become good writers. Thank you so much for publishing this article! I enjoyed reading it!

  4. Jodi Harris says:

    As I read the beginning of this, I found myself remembering all the times I used a Magic Eight Ball as a child! As you did, I was always wishing for that snow storm, or an A on a test, or if the cute boy I had a crush on also had a crush on me! If I got a negative response from the ball, I shook it harder and closed my eyes tighter until I got the answer I really wanted.
    I found it very interesting how you tied the Magic Eight Ball into your teaching experiences with Writer’s Workshop! It really made me think how students do ask a question in hopes for a positive and helpful response from the teacher. I love how you give the students great tips, as if you are giving them a little nudge to get started. James is quite a poet and I bet he didn’t even realize it! I love candy also! What a cute idea for a poem or short story!

  5. Meredith Sandel says:

    I still find myself reaching for the magic 8 ball for some questions. It seems to give a sense of hope just like your suggestions to the students gave them hope in writing a great story or poem. Not that they would have been hopeless without your advice but your suggestions helped them come up with ideas about what to write. Had they not had your suggestions, it would have been much harder for them to come up with something. I find it amazing that everyone has so many story ideas in them but just need a push in the right direction to make the story appear to them and come to life.

  6. marvene2 says:

    Wow, yes I remember those magic eight balls. I use to ask questions like “Does he really like me” or “Will my mom let me go to the movies Friday night”. It was fun to guess what the ball would say. It also gave a small sense of hope even though those answers were never accurate. You gave great personification to the eight ball describing it as yourself. You used that image of the eight ball to help students with their writing. The end result was just what we always wanted the magic eight ball to say; yes definitely.

  7. Gloria Maldonado says:

    I used to shake the magic 8 ball as a little girl as well. Now, I do not have one but if I see one at the store I shake it, shake it, shake it, just for fun. It is not easy to do Show Don’t Tell, but it makes the story more interesting and with lots of imagery.

  8. Lisa Benson says:

    I remember consulting the magic 8 ball for those critical decisions I had to make or answering silly questions. One of them was, will I get a puppy for my birthday? When my older sister got a puppy for her birthday I started to think the magic 8 ball was playing games with me like the Greek gods. I don’t remember exactly what happened to it after that.
    I like the idea of having a figurative magic 8 ball for a student. I think being a writer myself will be the only way I can obtain one. Otherwise, I would be digging them into a deeper hole.

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