Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Oh, the power of the hook! Is there anything else like it in the English classroom? No, I'm not proclaiming the delights of the coat racks, or advocating the 'Captain Hook' style of classroom discipline! I'm talking about the delights of thirty young minds buzzing with excitement over the mysterious box that has arrived during break-time, or the diary of the book character that got discovered in the school grounds. I'm talking about the wide-eyed reaction to learning that a dragon has laid an egg in the PE cupboard or the shock when your mobile phone goes off and you have a 'secret' argument with the mystery caller in the corridor!
Hooking children in to a new unit of work is one of my favourite things to plan; it has so much power in engaging their interest for whatever new skills they are about to learn. I have used all of the above examples and many more over the years and I believe that they are essential to making 'learning' the journey into curiosity that it ought to be.
I always remember, as an NQT, being told by a Year 7 child that he loved my lessons because he "never knew how they were going to start." Now without context, that could be construed as a sad indictment of my organisational skills, but luckily that wasn't the case! The truth was that at that stage of my career I was only acting on instinct - the concept of the 'starter' activity had never crossed my path - but I just found myself thinking of increasingly surprising and engaging ways to hook the children in and found that for the rest of those particular lessons, the class required very little motivation to stay engaged.
A really effective hook needs to do more than just interest and excite of course. In order for learning to flourish effectively, the hook needs to become a teaching point in itself, or lead to the next natural step required. For example, a piece of interactive storytelling that I love to incorporate into suspense writing units never fails to make the children jump - and often scream (before bursting into surprised laughter.) Children engaged? Definitely. However, I then use that experience to generate a series of ideas for what created the suspense, including using the children's relieved laughter as a springboard for discussion: how is it that something as normal as laughter can differ so much and create such different types of atmosphere? After all, is there anything more chilling than a humourless laugh when a character thinks they're alone?
Of course, the power of the 'hook' would be diminished if every lesson started with a pretend letter from the head teacher, or visit from a witness to a crime (I loved that last one!) but as a way into a new unit, or as a way to create excitement over a piece of writing, they are invaluable. Oh, and they are such fun to plan - I would declare myself to be 'hooked on them', but that would just be too cheesy...