The Power of “What happens next?”


On cold and rainy days, I always wish that I could be at home in bed with a novel. Well, yesterday my wish came true. I wasn’t alone, however. My twelve-year-old and I first watched the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 together. We had missed it in the theaters. We both loved it! I had read the first five Harry Potter books aloud to my daughter when she was in third and fourth grade, but we stalled near the end of number five. She just lost the desire to know what happens next. I couldn’t get her started again, and I couldn’t get her to pick up the books herself, even though she is an avid reader. I felt frustrated by her lack of interest. I didn’t know how to re-ignite her desire to know what would happen next in Harry Potter’s life.

However, as the movie ended yesterday, she turned to me and said those lovely words; “What happens next?” I was thrilled! I told her that we own the book, and she can read it to find out. On a soggy, windy day, we spent most the afternoon together, reading our books. I’m reading Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, taking a break from the young adult authors I often read to make recommendations to my students. It is an excellent, complex, beautifully written novel. My daughter read the second half of the Deathly Hallows book. We read our books, side by side, for hours. She didn’t stop reading until she completed her book.


In my sixth grade classroom, I’m reading A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, aloud to my students. They’re doing a service learning project on water issues, and studying Africa in Social Studies and in Language Arts. So I began reading a chapter or two each class. This book ends each chapter with a massive cliff-hanger, often throwing some mystery out there to be explained more fully in the next chapter.

As  I end each reading, I hear a huge groan and sigh from my students as they beg me to read just one more chapter. At the beginning of each class, I am often asked if I will continue the story. They can’t wait to know what will happen next, and we speculate about what that might be. It is such a great pleasure to hear that groan of disappointment at the end of a reading!

One of my students confessed that she almost bought the book just to finish it herself, but she controlled her impulse, because she understood that this was an important kind of waiting. That desire to know what happens next is, sometimes, a delicious feeling, something to savor.

Like so many reading teachers, I’m always searching for the perfect book for my students. I want them to experience that feeling, that overwhelming desire to know what happens next. They don’t have to be books with obvious cliff-hangers, but they do have to take hold of a student’s natural curiosity. It is that kind of curiosity that is one of the most important elements in a person’s life, no matter what profession they pursue.

Without curiosity, scientists would never cure diseases, or figure out environmental questions, or map genes. Archeologists would never answer burning questions about our earliest ancestors, and mathematicians wouldn’t complete complex problems…the list goes on and on. Architects, electricians, product manufacturers, social workers…none of these professions would move forward, or expand, without someone asking, “What happens next?”

If we think about your own life as a story, this is one of the most profound questions we can ask ourselves. In learning, asking that question is essential to growing our knowledge, and pushing our own boundaries. Keeping that curiosity alive is one of our most important charges as educators. When students stop asking – it is time to re-think the process of education. How do we re-ignite that desire in our students to ask, “What happens next?” I really want know the answer.

So, I guess I’ll end this post right here…at the cliff-hanger.

3 Responses to “The Power of “What happens next?””

  1.   Susan Riley Says:

    It’s incredible what a spark will do – you never know what will feed it into a flame! That’s one of the things that makes teaching such a fulfilling profession…finding those things that leave our students wanting to push themselves to find the next set of “answers”. As Andy Andrews once said, “Our answers are only as good as our questions” – congrats on getting your students pushing that envelope!

  2.   Kami Mulzet Says:

    Well said! I especially love this, ” – you never know what will feed it into a flame!” That really is one of the best parts of teaching. Thanks so much for your comment!

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