Thirty-four words


“Teaching Practices That Position Students Closer to Reading and Writing Excellence” presentation, Kelly Gallagher, NCRA, 03/19/2018.

When Kelly Gallagher gave the keynote address at the North Carolina Reading Association last week, he cautioned educators about overwhelming student writers. He said: “Start off small when modeling. Use high-interest models.”

Before students write an essay, for example, they might write a 100-word memoir after the teacher models it.

Gallagher doesn’t begin there. He starts even smaller.

He shared the example of the “34-word story” he uses to inspire his students—that of Olympic speed skater, Dan Jansen, as seen in the photo above. Gallagher plays this Visa commercial at the outset of the lesson, to illustrate the impact of these few words:

He knows what he’s doing, Kelly Gallagher.

As if the hearts of the audience members weren’t pierced enough, he then shares this “34-word story” written by one of his students:


“Teaching Practices That Position Students Closer to Reading and Writing Excellence” presentation, Kelly Gallagher, NCRA, 03/19/2018.

The absolute power of words.

Just thirty-four of them.


Challenge: What would your “34-word story” be? I experiment with my own. . . .

A teacher once told me, after seeing my performance in a play: “I didn’t think you had it in you.” Guess what, teacher? There’s a lot more in me, too. Including the last word. 

I asked a friend to read my first blog post for feedback. She said, “What’s your niche? You need to target an audience.” I said, “I write for humans. My niche is the world.”

When all’s said and done, and my time here is over, I will go celebrating these things: I lived. I loved. I was loved. I got to write about it all. Thank you, God.

14 thoughts on “Thirty-four words

  1. Because I was a smart young lady, I was told I had to go into engineering or math. I tried those on, and they didn’t fit right. In the library is where I belong.

    That was harder than I thought it would be! What a great writing exercise to share; thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder why 34 words. Is it to claim a distinction from the 50 word story? I like most of Kelly Gallagher’s work and enjoyed hearing him speak at CATE a few weeks ago. It is important to start small, and I wonder how saying write 34 or 50 words works compared to saying write nonstop five minutes. Because I teach English the way I teach speech, I’ve embraced the notion of incrementalism a long time.


    • I don’t recall a reason being given other than the Jansen bio having 34 words and Gallagher emphasizing the importance of modeling, as always. It’s certainly an exercise, as C.S. Lewis would say, in “Know exactly what you want to say and say exactly that,” and in being concise (“Omit needless words,” good ol’ Strunk & White).


  3. I am a Kelly Gallagher fan. His approach to teaching is inspiring. I wish more teachers would be aware of his work. Teachers I work with don’t recognize his name when I bring in his ideas/strategies. Sad. 😦

    My attempt at a 34 word story of me: I loved school, couldn’t imagine not being in school, so I became a teacher for thirty-two years. I retired. Now, I still teach, but the students are teachers learning new ideas for their classrooms.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that the reason for choosing a specific number of words is to build in a need for revision. Few students (or any writers) are able to capture the idea perfectly in 34 words the first time through.


    • I’m so glad you found this helpful. Writing a thirty-four word story really is harder than it appears, but will give the students a taste of the true power of words without overwhelming them. I’m a big Gallagher fan! So much of his work is inspiring. I’d be honored for you to share my blog – thanks so much for asking and for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s