The Power of a Quote

Getting class started in an interesting, powerful way can be a challenge. While there are scores of bell ringers and strategies out there, sometimes none of that is appealing. One idea shared at the NCTE Convention in Atlanta last month impressed me with its simplicity and potential: using a quote as a springboard for writing.

The speaker, Jeff Anderson, challenged us to spend two minutes writing in response to this quote, from e.e. Cummings: “Hope bounces.” Admittedly, a roomful of middle school language arts teachers may be a more agreeable, willing audience than a roomful of middle or high school students. The beauty of this approach, though, is that it doesn’t ask for an analysis. The directions are simple: Respond to this quote: ___________________________. The response can take a range of formats; the only “wrong” response is failing to write anything at all.


Choosing a compelling quote is one of the most critical elements here, especially at the beginning. The first few times this is done, having quotes that are powerful and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Giving students a variety of options for responding, from lists to poems to letters to free, stream-of-consciousness responses, invites them to focus more on their thoughts than on format. To get started with this, I have selected some key quotes within our current focus of study, A Christmas Carol. After posting the quote and sharing the focus–on responding more than format–I sit down to write my own response as well. This allows me to model the approach to this and provides me with a model to share.

This doesn’t have be limited to the language arts classroom, either. Consider how students in social studies might respond to a quote questioning a scientific theory or law. How could this be useful in a social studies class? Using a quote from a primary source document in social studies could spark writing and a powerful, engaging class discussion.

The simplicity of this approach doesn’t limit its power. Think of it this way: share a quote, write for two minutes, and invite students to share with a partner or two for another couple of minutes. Within the first five minutes of class, students have been engaged in reading and writing in response to that text. It also helps them get into the mindset of our language arts class; whatever might be weighing on their mind as they walk in the door can be set aside a bit more easily with this focus on a quote. Using a quote as a writing springboard is a win-win for students and teacher.

Looking for a resource of quotes? Try a site like

Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.

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