The Power in a Quote

A fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man of wit and a pebble in the hand of a fool.
Joseph Roux

So I was trying to figure out how to get my students to start consolidating what we had been talking about (what is a need? what is a want?  what is well-being?) and process that in terms of childrens’ needs around the world.  And I wasn’t sure where to go so I thought out loud (as I have a tendency to do) in our workroom and a colleague from another team suggested finding some quotes and starting from there.  (side note: while it drives me to distraction so much, I do have moments where I love sitting in a workroom with 12-15 other people)

I had never really used quotes to start children discussing and thinking about something before, but I liked the idea of it because I know that I find quotes thought-provoking and powerful in my own life.  I have them around my house and in notebooks, these thoughts from others that I value.  There is something about a quote that speaks to us in a way that makes us reflect, question, wonder and feel in a way that very few things can match.  They can evoke so much passion and inspiration.  To me a quote is that tiny short way of wrapping up a person’s experiences and beliefs that calls out to others to understand and respond.

And so I tried it out….we put two classes together, divided them in pairs and had them go around to different quotes (relating to childrens’ needs) that were posted around the room.  Their task?  Read the quote with your partner and talk about it – what does it mean?  Do you agree/disagree with it – why?  They then had to write down their thoughts and leave them posted next to the quote and move on to a different one.

Things That Went Well

–  As I walked around the room, the students were engaged…I didn’t have to redirect too many of them. (at least for 20-25 minutes…which is about as long as they last in most independent discussions at 9 years old)

–  I stumbled across some really thoughtful discussions between pairs – whether they thought it was more important to feel valued or to have food/water (one disagreement between a pair on priorities of needs), amazement/disbelief at part of a quote and some children who were wholeheartedly supporting a quote about children deserving to be loved and have family/friends.  They agreed and disagreed with things and explained why.

–  Some of the students seemed to connect more on an emotional level with what people were saying than some of the other things I had shown them…when having to rephrase what someone said, they really had to think about what it meant and understand it.  They thought more deeply.

Things That Didn’t Go So Well and Should Probably be Rethought

–  In chatting with my colleague, apparently I stumbled across more of the great conversations and she ran into students who weren’t sure what some of the words mean and didn’t know what to do.  We talked about how it might have been more helpful in the future to read the quotes as a whole group and define any important words before they set out in pairs.  If they couldn’t understand the word/words, it made the rest of it pretty difficult.

–  Many of the pairs chose to agree/disagree and explain their thinking but skipped the part where they were supposed to write what they thought it meant, even after I reminded them to do so halfway through.  Which tells me that maybe they weren’t totally sure what it meant or didn’t know how to rephrase it in their own words.  Some of the quotes I chose were a bit beyond their level and perhaps I needed to find some simpler ones that they could all connect with a bit more.

–  There were some misunderstandings of quotes….we haven’t come together and wrapped up the ideas/activity and to be honest I’m not quite sure what the best way is to go about it, so that’s still needing to be thought out (soon)

I would LOVE to hear any ideas/ways of using quotes to inspire thinking or any other thoughts as it’s something that is very much in ‘rough draft’ form in our classroom at the moment!




A Few Quotes about Quotes 🙂 (from

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. ~Marlene Dietrich

Have you ever observed that we pay much more attention to a wise passage when it is quoted, than when we read it in the original author? ~Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life, 1873

Fine phrases I value more than bank-notes. I have ear for no other harmony than the harmony of words. To be occasionally quoted is the only fame I care for. ~Alexander Smith

Short sentences drawn from long experience. ~Miguel de Cervantes

Categories: Education, Thinking | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The Power in a Quote

  1. Great that you had a go at something different and that there was some measure of success. Learning is messy… for us as much as for them, so don’t worry that it wasn’t ‘perfect’.
    Letting go and giving the kids some ownership is excellent… explaining the words to the whole group beforehand would have taken away from that. I definitely do not think that would be an improvement! it would put the control back in the hands of the teachers,. Why not have dictionaries handy for looking up words? Why not move around between the students and explain the words to those who are unsure? Why not ask guiding questions (for those having difficulty) to help them understand, as you move between the groups? It doesn’t matter if they misunderstood some of the quotes, that’s part of the learning. Even if their ‘interpretations’ were different but it generated thinking and discussion, does it really matter? Think about what your intention was…
    It would have been great to gather the kids at the end and pull it together… not just in terms of the content, but the process. Ask them what they liked about it and what they didn’t? What they found easy and what they found difficult? What did they learn from the experience? You could even do this in writing, so that everyone has a chance to think about it…
    PS 20 minutes of engagement in a learning experience of this sort for 9 year olds is fabulous!

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