Since we read The Outsiders aloud in class, it happens that some classes get out ahead of others in their progress through the book. Some classes are just faster with the vocab or they ask fewer questions about the instructions or whatever, but it means that in some periods we end up with more time to read. A little variation is ok, but I can’t let one or two classes to get too far out in front; I don’t want to have to make different tests and suchlike. So sometimes I have to stop them a little short of the end of the period, leaving a couple minutes empty. No I don’t do “sponge” activities. (If you’re a noob, go look it up.) What I do is the Off-Topic Q/A. The kids get to ask all the off-topic, non-sequitur questions they can cram into whatever time we have left. There’s no guarantee I will answer any particular question (more on that in a minute), but they can take their shot.

The questions usually fall into one of four categories:

Type 1: Basic Information. 

-Do you gave a dog?


– What’s his name?


-Do you have a wife?


-What’s her name?

Mrs. Coward.

-Do you even own a car?


And so on. Sigh. So little imagination.

Type 2: “What’s your favorite…?”

Gawd, these get old after awhile. Color? Yellow. Food? Pizza: the circle of life. Also burger: circle of life II. Band? Replacements. Who? Author? Too many, and you wouldn’t recognize them anyway. Superhero? Really? Animal? Really? Class? All my classes are so “special” I can’t choose. Shoe company? I actually get this more than you would think. I actually have an answer: Nike. They’re the only ones that fit my weird feet. Candy? Snickers or Butterfinger or Necco. Although I was just turned on to these things called Nerds Ropes. Mmmmm Nerds Rooooopes. Cookie? Peanut butter (pretty much verboten these days with all the peanut allergies) or snickerdoodles.

That last one is actually useful information because I always tell them that their excuses and pleas for mercy are much better heard when I am eating cookies.

Anyway, I would just like to see a little more creativity… Like the kid yesterday who asked about my favorite font and font size. That’s an off-topic question, Daddio!

Type 3: “Why…?”

These are classic seventh grade.

Why do you ride your bike?

Why do you carry a stick?

Why do you have all this stuff in your room?

Why do you say “Baby” all the time?

Why did you get a haircut?

Why does the Quiet Stick have chunks out of it?

Why do I have a bad grade?

Why don’t you like 8th graders?

Why don’t you drive?

In order: I like it. It’s fun. Why do you have stuff in your room? It’s fun, and you are. I got them all cut, not just one. Hmmm, I wonder. Hmmm, I wonder. They make me crabby. It makes me crabby.

Type 4: The Danny Partridge.

I know I am showing my age here, but one of my fave Partridge Family episodes was when Danny thought he needed to jazz up the act and add jokes. He goes to an old has-been/never-was comic and buys a bunch of old, lame jokes from him and tries to bust them on an unsuspecting crowd. We’re talking like, “I just flew in from LA and boy, my arms are tired,” or “Take my wife…Please” kind of stuff. It goes over big the first time because he’s cute, but…

Some kids think Off-Topic Question time is their Danny Partridge moment:

-Mr. Coward…What exactly would you do… for a Klondike Bar?

-Do you know how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a…?

-Who IS your daddy?

-Did you see that? (He actually thought I would fall for that.)

-Mr. Coward… do you… Got milk?