How else? What if?

I’ve continued my reading in Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston and I really enjoyed the section on asking “How else?” and on using hypothetical situations.

When I first read the heading “How else?” I thought of the scene from Dude Where’s My Car when the drive thru person kept asking, “And den…. And den…” I laughed to myself because I remember how frustrating it was.

I kept reading and Johnston was right again.  Asking students how else they can solve problems or how else they can write about something extends their thinking and their problem solving skills.  It causes them to think of multiple solutions and shows them that there is more than one right answer or one right way to do things.  I think this will be helpful in reducing anxiety that students may feel (I know I did) when they worry about getting something right, or doing something correctly.

I feel that asking, “How else?” will also extend my flexibility as a teacher and help me become more open minded.  I don’t want my students to worry about writing something the way I want them to.  I don’t want them to think, “That’s not how she wants us to write our story.” If my students think that way then I am failing them when it comes to building agency.  By asking how else they can do something gives them even more ownership of their learning because they are ultimately creating the choices that they get to choose from.

Johnston continues to write about other questions we can ask such as, “What if?” This question creates hypothetical situations which also helps students think critically and abstractly.  I was very surprised at how such small changes in the way that I speak to my children could actually help with their thinking and problem solving abilities.

I’ve often asked myself and my colleagues when frustrated, “How do you teach a kid to think?” I now know that you can teach a kid to think by asking them questions that don’t have a specific, predetermined answer.  These changes in my conversations with my students won’t take much effort on my part, but I hope that they have the impact that Johnston writes about.

More later!



  1. Love your thoughts on this! I find it so funny now as a teacher to think about how kids often put full stock into everything we say and do. This is crazy when I know how much I mess up and do not know! Teaching kids that we are learning right along with them is powerful and something that I want to do more in my own classroom! Thanks for your thoughts Jaymie!


  2. Jaymie, I so appreciate the honesty in your posts! I really like your thoughts on “what else?” I feel like it’s easy to sound like a broken record when we push the “and then…”s but it’s so effective when we do it purposefully. I don’t know about you, but I think there a bigger challenge in this in literacy than in math. I feel like “what else” or “how else?” are natural in math, but not as much so in reading and writing. I’d be curious to see how you do that push in literacy – I know I need some ideas in it! I also really like your reflection on teaching kids how to think. You’re totally right – we can’t control their thoughts, but we can certainly control the way we set them up. Nice post, can’t wait for our group’s next round 🙂


  3. I think that these two simple statements, how else… and what if…, could completely change the paradigm that has been created in schools! How many times have we sat, even still today, in our grad classes and said, “Are we doing this right? Is this how we are supposed to do this?” We were raised in classrooms where there is a right and a wrong answer. There is a right way and a wrong way. I think you are right though, it is so important that our students learn to be creative and think through multiple solutions to a problem. This might also help some students work through some of that anxiety that can come with requiring students to do things “our way”.


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