Monday, February 22, 2016


Recently, I enjoyed Tammar Stein’s young adult novel, Spoils. When the book begins, Leni is a week away from her 18th birthday and the right to spend her million dollar trust fund as she chooses. Her father won the lottery seven years before and she is the only family member left with money from the big event. Leni’s parents spent their lottery winnings on a lavish lifestyle that has left them broke and living in a mansion, cringing at calls from creditors. Leni is emotionally torn. She feels she has a responsibility to her parents to help them financially but she would rather donate her money to a worthy cause. Leni’s dilemma would make a fascinating writing prompt for middle or high school students.  With last month's  1.4 billion dollar PowerBall, many students have already considered what they might do with a lottery win, making this writing prompt an attractive one for reluctant writers.

What would you do if you won the lottery?
Would you spend it only on yourself and/or your family?
What items would you buy?
Would you travel?
Would you make investments? How would you choose what companies to invest in?
Would you try to help others? If so, would you choose individuals or an organized charity?

Ask your students to do a freewrite about winning the lottery, recording every fun fantasy they have. Then ask them to revise after digging a little deeper with research into some of the issues mentioned in Spoils, such as how 70 % of lottery winners are broke after a few years. How friends, relatives, and strangers hound them for money. How many end up living much worse lives than before. Time Magazine ran an article January 12, 2016, “Here’s How Winning the Lottery Makes You Miserable.”  On the same day, The Daily News ran “Curse of the lottery: Tragic stories of bigjackpot winners.”

Warning: Some of these news stories on winning the lottery are not for the faint-hearted. However, asking your students to write about the consequence of having a dream come true could produce some provocative narratives and spark interest from middle schoolers and high schoolers who never enjoyed writing before.

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