This is how you ask a girl to the prom, Fletcher Gelber recently told his public-speaking class at Strath Haven High School.

First, he said, you need a girl to ask.

"Lauren, will you please come up here?"

Then, as former flame Lauren Pierangeli stood blushing in front of their classmates, Gelber explained Step 2: "Look her in the eyes and say something meaningful." He turned to Pierangeli.

"Lauren, we've been to eighth grade dance, Freshman Formal, the sock hop, and Junior Ball, and it would be my honor if we could go to Senior Prom together."

Step 3, Gelber told the class, was to "seal the deal." This could be done like so, he demonstrated, pulling a bouquet of roses from behind the teacher's desk and handing them to the teary-eyed Pierangeli.

The boys cheered. The girls: "Awwww."; The teacher gave the speech an "A."

And Gelber had a date to the prom.

"I wanted to do something she'd remember for the rest of her life," the 18-year-old said.

Said Pierangeli, 17: "It was the best prom invite ever."

When it's time for the big dance, some modern students text their prom proposals or pose the question via e-mail. Others might ask a friend to ask a friend if she might, you know, hang out in formal wear. But public and innovative invitations - think 300 red cups stuck in a chain-link fence spelling "Prom?", or personalized graffiti scrawled on the school's front steps - are becoming just as common among today's teens.

Antonia van der Meer, editor in chief of Your Prom magazine, believes it's "a bit of a trickle-down effect for what we've seen in wedding proposals."

"This is just another way they're making prom special and making it stand out," van der Meer said.

Perhaps the inspiration for these over-the-top prom "asks" comes from the now-canceled MTV reality show Laguna Beach, which showed wealthy California teens winning dates with over-the-top gestures involving gorilla suits and baby pools.

"It's about 'keeping up with the Joneses,' and reality television is the new Joneses to our girls," said Seventeen executive editor Joanna Saltz. "What they see play out on television - like My Super Sweet 16 - sets a standard that wasn't there before."

That's not to say teenage girls are sheep waiting for a reality-star shepherd, Salz said. Rather, they're empowered enough to want good things for themselves.

One downside: a sweet but quiet proposal might have a girl thinking hers wasn't good enough.

"That shouldn't be the case," Salz said. "Whether you're asked on a chariot led by white horses or if you go with a group of friends, prom is a special night."

Evan Gooberman said he's never seen Laguna Beach, yet he is credited by many of his Haddonfield Memorial High School classmates as "the guy who started the whole prom thing" there.

Last year, Gooberman and a female friend were performing a skit as part of the morning announcements when he decided to end with, "And one more thing: Will you go to prom with me?"

Why'd he do it? "I thought it would be funny," he said simply. "Then people kept trying to top each other."

Although all of the stories are different, they share a sweetness and thoughtfulness some might not associate with teenagers.

When Alexa Dombkoski was a sophomore at Cheltenham High School, her boyfriend gave her a teddy bear dressed in a tuxedo. When she squeezed the bear's paw, she heard her boyfriend's voice asking her to prom.

"I didn't even think he was going to ask me in a special way because he was my boyfriend and it was already a given that I was going with him," said Dombkoski, now 18 and a senior.

Last year, Dombkoski came home from school to find the driveway of her Glenside home covered by a chalk mural. It depicted a guy in a tuxedo and a girl in a long dress with hearts and flowers surrounding them. Friends had helped her future prom date complete the surprise. (Teddy-bear guy was by then out of the picture.)

For this, her senior year, Dombkoski decided to take matters into her own hands. She had a teacher put an additional question, "Will you go to prom with Alexa?" on her chosen one's math test. Then, sitting behind him, she waited for him to notice.

"It was taking him forever," Dombkoski said. "Finally, the teacher said, 'It's imperative you do No. 7.' All the kids looked down and said, 'There is no No. 7.' Then he looked down and swung around and said, 'Is this for me?'"

Dombkoski admits she didn't do too well on the test, but she got her guy for the June 11 event.

Creative proposals don't have to be expensive. One of Dombkoski's Cheltenham friends stayed up all night blowing up hundreds of balloons that she then placed in her boyfriend's room. A sign that read "Prom?" hung from the ceiling fan.

Two Haddonfield students asked teachers to place similar signs in their prospective dates' luggage as it was routinely inspected during the senior trip.

Another Haddonfield boy who knew his girlfriend liked sunflowers bought a package of the seeds and spelled out "PROM?" on her desk. She got a date as well as a salty snack.

Jake Carwile, 18, of Haddonfield, enlisted friends to cover the windows of his intended's car with Post-It notes, each labeled "Prom?" She was running by during track practice when she noticed. As she approached, Carwile popped out of the car with flowers.

"Last year, I did the classic 'Will you go to prom with me?' " Carwile said. "I decided that since it's my senior year, I'd do something fun."

Kate Gadsden's boyfriend went to a local tennis club to collect dud balls, then filled her car with hundreds of them. He also left her a note that said, "I didn't have the balls to ask you in person, so I got these instead. Prom?"

"He knew I would say yes, and I knew he was going to ask me sometime that week, but I was completely surprised," said Gadsden, 17, a senior at Episcopal Academy who lives in Gladwyne. Their prom is Saturday. "It was nice to be asked in a cute way."

As for the cleanup, Gadsden said, "It took a long time to get them out. . . . He took some and I have some. I might use them when I play tennis this summer."

The trick to success, van der Meer said, is knowing your intended. If he or she shuns the limelight or will possibly say no, asking in front of the entire school isn't the best idea. If your future date hates chocolate, perhaps those personalized M&M's - which one local youth used to great success - aren't a good idea.

And don't be upset if your best-laid plans fail. Gooberman said one classmate with an injured leg wrote "Prom?" on top of one of his crutches, then kept dropping it in front of his girlfriend as they walked down the hall. She dutifully picked it up each time, but by the fifth time was getting a little angry.

"Someone finally had to yell, 'Caitlin, look at the top of the crutch!' " Gooberman said.

Christian Sabelli, 17, of Haddonfield, had a similar misstep with his prom date. As the two prepared to play a game of doubles tennis, he tossed her, multiple times, a ball on which he'd written "Prom?"

The girl just caught the ball and began bouncing it. She didn't notice the proposition until another player yelled, "What's that written on that ball?"

"She thought it was just dirty," Sabelli said.

He sealed the deal with a bouquet hidden under his tennis bag.

"You start talking about it with your friends early in the year, thinking about what you'll do," Sabelli said. "You kinda feel lame if you just ask. It's an up-to-the-challenge type thing. Everybody else has such creative ideas."

After last year's schoolwide prom proposal over the loudspeaker, Gooberman, 18, knew he'd have to take things a bit further when he posed the question to girlfriend Katie Alberico, 17, about their prom on Friday. (He joked that with the bar he'd set, he'd have to "rent one of those skywriting things or something" when he proposed marriage.)

For the big query, Gooberman chose the high school's stage as the whole school watched a student performance. With Alberico answering trivia questions as part of the show, the MC faked a microphone problem. That required Gooberman, the show's sound man, to enter.

"Repairs" complete, Gooberman took over the trivia quiz. His last question? "Katie, will you go to senior prom with me?"

The crowd cheered. Alberico accepted. The couple hugged.

"I'm going to kill you," she whispered.

The entire event was captured on video.

Said Gooberman, "She'll remember it forever."