Article | Getting Students Hooked on Lessons

Students need to be interested in a lesson. They need to buy in, to find a reason to pay attention and to participate. For some, the thrill of learning something new is its own reward. But sadly, for many others, the intrinsic value of learning eludes them. As teachers, we need to provide the connection, the spark that entices students to be an active part of what is happening around them.

We all know that learning does not happen in a vacuum. Each new piece of knowledge is attached to a previous understanding. We need to grab a student’s attention and hold it, so that the new ideas being presented can begin to adhere to a concept, an idea or a pattern, already present in that student’s knowledge base. So – how do we accomplish this remarkable feat?

We call it – the hook!

Starting a new lesson with a favourite story, a piece of music or a short video clip will entice students with what is to come. We create a reason to listen and an excuse to engage such that our students can’t help but be intrigued by what is occurring. But it isn’t enough to read in a language class or watch a video clip in a drama class. We need to mix it up and do the unexpected – music in math, science in social studies, geography in gym. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination (and maybe the resources at hand).

As Monty Python would say, “Now for something completely different.”

  • Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander combines a Medieval family (the title character, his wife Lady Di of Ameter and their son Radius), problem solving and some great geometry lessons. Reading this could kick start any number of math or social studies lessons. There are six books in the series, each with a different math related theme. These are suitable for junior students, ages eight and up.
  • Start a geography class about global warming with a science experiment melting ice with different heat sources – an electric candle, a hair dryer, a flashlight. Try each at varying distances from the ice and with varying intensities where possible. Adding salt to the water before it is frozen might lead to different results. A great discussion starter for any intermediate or senior class.
  • Teens can find Shakepeare a challenge, due in part, to the style of English found therein. To make A Midsummer’s Night Dream easier to follow, brainstorm current pop culture couples. Use these names as a means of following the ever changing romances of the characters in Shakespeare’s comedy. In studying Romeo and Juliet, use the Dire Straits tune by the same name or a clip from the film West Side Story to start the discussion.

Dire Straits – Romeo and Juliet

West Side Story

  • Build square based pyramids using a building block toy like Lego or cut and glue that same pyramid from a math net to introduce any study of ancient Egypt. The pyramids are then available for a geometry class.
  • A lesson in abstract art might start with a favourite piece of music – or an unknown one. Have students draw curved lines on any size paper while listening – no shading or colouring, only lines. Pass the paper to another student who then connects some lines to with straight or squiggly ones. The third person in the triad begins to shade or colour in. Continue the lesson as designed.

Beginning a lesson with something that captures the students’ attention will help them *hook* the new ideas to old ones and keep them well engaged in the learning. Working with others allows them to articulate their thoughts and collaborate to create.

What could be more enticing?

Susan Ward

Susan Ward

Retired elementary school principal. Currently a part-time instructor at Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. I work with teacher candidates placing them in schools and evaluating their teaching skills. I also teach a 20 hour course in social studies curriculum to teacher candidates. I have been an educator for over 35 years and am committed to having the best prepared new teachers we can develop, coming into the field.

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2 Responses

  1. Susan Ward Susan Ward says:

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