Most middle schoolers have a love/hate relationship with questions. They love to ask questions. Especially self-centered, off-topic questions.

(in the middle of a lesson on irony) “What’s my grade?”

Or out-of-the-blue questions about stuff you talked about a month ago.

(talking about Injun Joe in Tom Sawyer) “Why did Ponyboy run away too? He didn’t actually do anything.”

They still sometimes have trouble actually formulating their questions.

“This is confusing.”

But when the tables are turned, they are more conflicted. They hate questions from their parents or teachers about the inner-workings of their decision-making.

“Why on Earth did you (not) do that?”

“mumble mumble…I was just…”

They hate questions they don’t know the answer to right away.

“This is confusing.”

But they love to answer questions they think they have the right answer to. The problem is that in their quest to be correct they sometimes REformulate your question so their answer will fit.

This week’s spelling list is 13 pairs of homophones, including who’s/whose, their/there/they’re and its/it’s. (OK, their/there/they’re isn’t technically a pair, but you know what I mean. Hey, that rhymes!) One of the warm up questions was looking for one of those for the answer to this:

* 2. its, whose, __

All the warm up answers are spelling (*) or vocabulary (**) words, they had their lists, they were in groups collaborating. I usually give them a few minutes to get started and then ask, “Where are we stuck?”

“Number Two!” A chorus.

What the…?

We haven’t really worked on the dreaded apostrophe yet, but I thought this one was still a gimme. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to do some actual teaching. I use the stick and point to the first word.

“OK. What does this word MEAN?”

A mighty, mighty chorus:


sigh. Picture me with head in hands as they beam beatifically at their erudition. But as Sister Mary Enda used to say, “Onward Christian Soldiers!”

“Let’s try this again. I asked what this word MEANS.”

I guess I might have raised my voice a little.  The chorus is silenced, but there are still quite a few hands waving confidently.

Sometimes middle schoolers don’t actually want to answer the question you asked. They just like raising their hands.

I choose one I think more likely to succeed. Save us please. I nod hopefully.


“You know, like… when you say… you know like… its!”

I remain the calm eye of the hurricane of laughter. I quietly persist.

“Ok, but what does that actually mean?”


“How about an example of how you would use it?”

“Ummm…” The tension mounts.

“I had the answer, but it left a little bit ago.”

Even her peers thought that one was priceless.