In this post I am going to discuss how to keep children engaged in lessons, either in the classroom or through e-learning.
What is a Hook?
A hook is something that gets children fully engaged in a topic that you are about to teach (it could be for a one-off lesson, but generally it comes at the beginning of a unit of work, or a series of lessons).
The hook could be something that the children take part in creating, like an immersive display (such as building a rainforest scene in the classroom before teaching a unit of work about the rainforest: playing rainforest sounds, placing giant potted plants around and creating more trees out of card and paper and … fake animal poo). Or, it could be a secret, prepared by the teacher beforehand. It might ten minutes to introduce or a whole lesson.
I think it works best if the hook is somehow present throughout the learning sequence, and therefore can be referred back to.
Why do we use them in teaching?
Motivation. This is an incredibly important facet of teaching, one that all teachers must recognise. In order to get the best out of any child, they must be motivated, because even the best teacher on the planet, without capturing a child’s interest, will not be able to teach them anything.
I think that this quote from Alfie Kohn, an American author of education, describes this idea best: “When students are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely…and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience “aha” moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery (Feel-Bad Education in Education Week, Kohn, 2004).
”Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery.Alfie KohnContributor to Education Week
Coupled with this, in some magic education formula, is also the element of ‘fresh’ intrigue (you may have taught the topic hundreds of times before, but to the child it is the first time). If something captures their imagination, a child will naturally want to know more.
Best Hooks for each year group
My first lesson when teaching AS Literature is giving groups of pupils short excerpts for each of their set texts for the 2 years. They have to use the language and content to put the extracts in order, starting with the oldest. Gives them an insight into what the course is like!
Music with atmospheric tracks can be used to inspire creative writing. I’ve used waves and sounds of the sea for example and blitz sounds when writing a WW2 diary entry.
I love anything that inspires wonder. To introduce a play I’ve used – play in a box. I often have to be a little inventive, i.e. I can’t actually get the sea in the box, so I tend to use a sheet that is held round the edge by students and rippled. I used to have a small wicker basket for The Tempest. It had clues about the text. We would sit in a circle and take an item/clue at a time and start to share ideas about the topic/play. The blue sheet was moved vigorously to represent the storm, and there was a paper boat, which went atop the sheet, and a magic wand.
Looking at the contents of a bag to introduce a place – we do a lesson about Uganda that starts by unpacking my backpack & discussing what is in there. The pac-a-mac surprises students as they tend to assume Uganda will be dry – it’s twice as wet as the UK.
While learning about the Greeks and studying Pandora’s Box, we showed the children a beautifully crafted wooden box and asked them if they would open it (to mimic Pandora’s choice). The box stayed in the classroom after the wonderful discussion and ‘moved’ around the room each day. The children used to like coming into school each day and trying to work out where the box would turn up next!
We recently created an alien crash site in our classroom, complete with alien goo and a space ship (made out of old junk) before doing a unit writing newspaper article about the alien crash.
We created an alien egg (it was 2 foot tall), which we just happened to discover on the school field when we went outside for some fresh air – inspired by @PieCorbett.
Hiding a letter (reproduced from the newspaper) from Ernest Shackleton in an ice cube that requested volunteers for his expedition. The ice slowly melted as children watch in awe and then they could read the letter! Some chose to sign up and some didn’t!
When introducing ‘The Borrowers’ we set up ‘Borrower activities’, such as tiny footprints on tables, string hanging from the ceiling, even CCTV footage (made using Clips). The children wrote letters to the strange people living in the ceiling!
We set up our classrooms to look like Stonehenge (tables upright) and then the children had to ‘dig’ up clues about the Amesbury Archer and piece them together. They all wore hi-vis jackets too! Great start to a Stone Age topic!
We used a free version of the Fxguru app to create a video of an alien ship crashing in the school playground. The children were amazed, and as they were in Year 2, they couldn’t help but tell everybody!
Kidnapped Grandma/Wolf attack.
Some Other Ideas…
- A letter from a local MP
- Mummifying fish
- Victorian classroom/school
- A ‘History Off the Page‘ day
- Ragged School visit
- Solving crimes in Gressehall – a Norfolk Victorian workhouse
- Setting up a crime scene leading into investigative journalism
- Taking away all the chairs and getting children to persuade them to come back to the classroom
- Silent lessons where students enter and are instructed to be silent and then given a single piece of information which sets them off on the lesson – like a scavenger hunt
- Jabberwocky – we trashed a room and drew monster claw prints everywhere, the children then came in as reporters to find clues. We were delivered a scroll with the poem on mid-way through their detecting
- I used a video and discussion to introduce the technology and its effect on society before studying ‘The Pedestrian’ by Ray Bradbury
- I put up a gif of flat-earth cosmology and insisted it was correct. They disagreed with me, so I told them to prove it. The result was high engagement, critical thinking, and excellent research. Also, it was really fun to teach.
- Before studying an extract from 1984 with my 9s, we had a discussion about the level of CCTV and surveillance in today’s society. It got them thinking about whether it was too much/not enough and reasons for their opinion. It was a really interesting conversation.
Are books the best hook?
This was something that came out of my discussion on Twitter. I asked people to tell me some of the best HOOKS that they had ever used before in the classroom (see above and below), but quite a few people thought I had said BOOKS, and proceeded to give me a list of amazing books to use to start a topic with, or just some of their favourite books to use in the classroom. This was amazing, even if it was not quite what I was after, but it did bring up a great point – is the best hook, a book? I would argue that often a book is great, especially if you are going to use it in reading or English sessions, but sometimes a video, or letter, or display works just as well – a variety is best.
How can we hooks in the current climate?
So, with schools closed, how can we bring stimulating, fun, thought-provoking lessons to all the children at home, and those few that are in school? In many cases, we no longer have a physical building or classroom to decorate and we don’t have our own exciting presence to prance around in the front of our class. In many cases, we have online interaction, in a whole multitude of different ways (and in some cases, none). It’s a worry for many teachers and something that will become more difficult the longer some form of lockdown continues.
The best form of interaction at the moment is for children to have a connection with their class teacher(s), either through email, letters, video, phone, video call etc. A teacher is the inspiration for most children: their personality, their wit, their nuances, and that is the great skill that all teachers (yes, you) possess, and what you do is so important and sadly missing at the moment.
Twitter suggestions: Ways to hook children into their learning
- I’m using Google classroom, I’ve found being enthusiastic about the topics in messages to the class and letting my personality come through has engaged the children. We record videos and short stories to give a personal touch too.
- We record bedtime stories for the children to listen to, from a range of different teachers.
- We have created interactive quizzes about topics they are going to learn about or as a review.
- We have sent children to the Kidzania website to do a quiz about what you will be when you are older.
- A whole-school video showing teachers doing different things (like the toilet roll challenge) was really well received by our school pupils.
- In addition to the work I set on Google Classroom, I’ve got my pupils engaged in a weekly Meme war for a bit of creativity and I’ve got them all to contribute to a weekly Quaran-tunes playlist to keep our spirits up.
In conclusion, the best form of hook, can be anything, as long as it comes from you, their teacher, and that you keep it varied, fresh, different and flexible. Really, just keep being the imaginative, inventive teacher that you always are, but through a different medium.
I personally can’t wait to get back into school to try out some of these amazing ideas. However, while we’re waiting, there are things that we can do to keep inspiring the children we teach. The whole teaching community has done an amazing job so far, in extreme circumstances, and that is to be applauded.
Many thanks to all the people on Twitter for their suggestions.