“What’s Not Wrong?”

My first choice for the name of this blog was “Still Learning,” but somebody already had that one.  Maybe my second choice–“What’s Not Wrong?”–is even better.

This phrase comes from a game-like activity I enjoy doing with my classes.  It stems from the realization that it’s usually easy to make a list of what is wrong at any given time.  We have no problem articulating what is wrong with the world, our health, our schedule, the people around us, the government, and on and on.  But when we are asked to name one thing that is not wrong, sometimes we struggle with that.

Here is how I do “What’s Not Wrong?” in class the first time.  I write the question “What’s Not Wrong?” on the board in enormous letters.  (I like to use the Spanish upside-down question mark at the front end of it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if English did that too?)  I also give each student a small piece of paper.  Old page-a-day calendars are perfect for this, especially if one side is blank.  Then I tell the class, “Right now, we’re going to have a little dose of positivity.  It’s easy to think of things that are going wrong in our lives and in our days.  That’s easy.  Your challenge right now is to write down one thing that is absolutely, incontrovertibly Not Wrong–anything that is going well for you, anything you’re happy about or pleased with, or something that makes you smile inwardly or outwardly.  Write it down anonymously.  Don’t show it to anyone.  Give it to me when you’re finished.  Go.”

Then the questions begin:  “What if we can’t think of anything?”  “What if I’m having a really bad day?”  “Can we write down something that is true, like 2+2=4?  Truth is not wrong.”  I just smile and say, “Do your best, and do it quickly.”

Some students take to it right away; others struggle mightily.  I wait until every student has given me a paper with something written on it.  Then I sit down in the front of the room and read them aloud, prefacing most of them with the question “What’s Not Wrong?”

Sometimes students write about a recent strong test score or achievement in an activity or sport.  Some write about upcoming vacations or events planned with friends.  Some mention recent or upcoming milestones: removal of orthodontia, birthdays, anniversaries.  Some write about rainbows, or goldfish, or their own personal avatar of happiness.

After spending a few minutes listening to the not-wrong-ness in the room, no one is able to continue with a negative attitude, at least outwardly.

The next time we do “What’s Not Wrong?” several days later, most students are able to come up with an idea more quickly.  Before too long, students start to ask, “Can we do ‘What’s Not Wrong?’ today?”  Sometimes I say yes, but if it doesn’t fit the daily schedule, I say, “You know, you really don’t need a teacher or class in order to tell yourself what’s not wrong.  You can do it any time any place.”

On our class web site, I added a What’s Not Wrong? Group.  (I’ll have more to say later in other posts about our American Studies Ning.)  I’m heartened to see the number of written posts students have submitted to that Group.

“What’s Not Wrong?” has turned out to be a memorable experience for many students.  Imagine my surprise to hear from a former student who conducted a What’s-Not-Wrong segment every Thursday morning on her radio talk show.  A group of former students held an informal reunion and found themselves playing “What’s Not Wrong?” I was thrilled when one of them emailed to tell me about it.  Another former student posts a “What’s Not Wrong?” idea on Twitter from time to time.

So, why title my blog “What’s Not Wrong?”? Because I want to focus on good things here.  There is enough badness in the world, and I don’t want to add more.  Of course, sometimes I’ll be compelled to write about problems that I’m working through or frustrations that are vexing me.  I realize that no one wants to read rants, so by naming this blog “What’s Not Wrong?” I am reminding myself to focus on solutions, not problems.  To concentrate on events worth celebrating and finding my way to the positive aspects of difficult situations.

Thanks for your time in reading this.  Your comments and questions are always welcome.

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19 Responses to “What’s Not Wrong?”

  1. @JenAnsbach says:

    Gary, THANK YOU for this. I will start classes after midterms this way–because right now, I feel like they are all going wrong. 🙂 Sometimes it’s hard to remember that there is so much more that is right that we can build from.

    You inspire me. 🙂


  2. Meenoo says:

    This is awesome, definitely going to borrow this idea! Thanks for sharing this experience.


  3. Betsy Woods says:

    Sounds fun. I’m going to adapt it for the next time when we do peer review of writing assignments.


  4. Mindi Rench says:

    You’re always an inspiration to me. January/February is such a hard time for me, and “What’s Not Wrong?” might be just the thing I need to boost the positivity level in my classroom. Thanks for another great idea!


  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention “What’s Not Wrong?” | What's Not Wrong? -- Topsy.com

  6. Michael Bachrodt says:


    I like it! I think you will have much success with this new blog. Sharing this teaching idea is a great way to start, and, as you can see from the comments, it has already inspired others.


  7. mardie says:

    I love this idea and can’t wait to try it with my students. I used to do a Friday Feel Good thing where each student would contribute one thing that happened or that they did that week that made them proud. I like the What’s Not Wrong? idea better because it’s anonymous and it’s easier to find something that’s not wrong than something that inspires pride.


  8. Karen says:

    Thanks, Gary. This post makes me happy.


  9. Cindy Mondi says:

    What a terrific idea… especially now, with the all of the negativity following public education… I am going to try this in our elementary school’s “end of the year” exit meetings… I am sure this will get the focus back on what we do RIGHT! And remind us to think positively. Thanks!


  10. mbech says:

    What a great idea! Thank you! I am going to use it in a training for teachers next week that has a lot of heavy content in working with students who have persistent difficulties learning.


  11. Margaret says:

    Loved the positive spirit conveyed in this activity. I am going to use it as an activating strategy in the classroom and during our PLC sessions with adults! This is an especially good time to reflect on all the positive things that have been accomplished and are being done in our school rather than dwelling on our shortcomings.


  12. Beth says:

    I was brought here by the link in this week’s Big Fresh Newsletter by Choice Literacy. This will be the perfect way to start off an inservice session I am doing in a few weeks! Thank you!


  13. Melanie says:

    What an uplifting (and attention getting) way to begin a faculty meeting. I’m forwarding this to my principal right away.
    Thanks so much for the inspiration.


  14. Hi,
    Thanks for this post. I just tweeted it! In my grade 2 classroom, I will ask the children to share what’s going well. It’s always good to hear their perspective and often their comments will provide me with a good assessment of what’s going on in the classroom. Yes, there will be an occasional, or more comment, about recess but these are important too as they reveal the social networkings of what goes on at recess. Another similar activity we try to get to every day during “closing circle” is appreciations. Children appreciate one child or the whole class for something that they did or said that day. Can be very revealing, as well.


  15. Lori says:

    What a great activity! Thanks for sharing.


  16. alohapuanani says:

    Love the concept and I am excited to try this idea at a staff meeting. This time of year with all the budget cuts, poor economy, and high stress put on educators to meet standard it is extremely difficult to look at all the positives in our education world. I think this “do now” will set our Data Day in the right direction. Mahalo for sharing.


  17. Sue Mulligan says:

    I love this Idea. I did something similar during our “Tribal Council” meetings in 5th grade. However, I like the language you use for this, it opens up the possibilities. I’m going to borrow it for my 8th graders.


  18. kenc says:

    Great idea, Gary. And all you have to do to accomplish it is avoid the daily newspaper! (Kidding… I think.) I can even envision adding to it for more specific responses now and again… e.g. “What’s not wrong with our school, our town, our (gasp!) teachers, etc.”


  19. Nick Mamula says:

    I appreciate your reflection and your activity. I might have to borrow it. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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