The best of teachers know how to capture their students’ attention, direct their focus towards a new objective, and move from one concept to another effectively. The ability to do that is called a hook, or in the United States, an anticipatory set. If you think about it, all of us who are mentally involved in something must have our attention grabbed, and a new idea introduced in a novel way so that we will stop what we are doing and start doing something else. It is why marketing executives use pop-up ads on social media. They catch our eye and make our brain think, “I want to know more about that!” Teachers have been doing this for years in the classroom.
In the 1960s, educator Madeline Hunter popularized the idea that good lessons go through a complete cycle from beginning to end. They begin with an anticipatory set (a hook) to capture the student’s attention, followed by direct teaching of new information, guided practice, independent practice, and a lesson closure that helps the students understand what it was that they learned from doing the lesson. Although there are many components of each part of the cycle and not every lesson requires every step, the hook is considered necessary any time you begin a new subject or objective that is different from what was being done previously in the day.
Planning is the foundation of any good instruction. A teacher who doesn’t plan and goes into a classroom to teach “by the seat of his/her pants” is likely to experience stress, confusion, and a lack of student interest. Students want to please the teacher, but if they are not sure what the teacher wants them to do, they will become disruptive. Off-task behaviour will increase. A lesson without a good hook will likely result in very little learning occurring, no matter how much teaching is done. Remember that academic achievement is about student learning, not about teachers teaching.
Teachers must become familiar with what their districts or state requires to be taught. They must know what the objectives are and what materials he or she can access to teach it. They also need to be aware of the amount of time a lesson will require to reach mastery. Some concepts can be covered in one day or one hour. Others are broader topics that require several hours spread over many days.
For extended lessons, part of the anticipatory set or hook becomes a reminder to students of what was done on the previous day or lesson. That reminder focuses their brains and they can continue with the next part of the lesson. Sometimes all it takes is a question that ties previous learning to today’s lesson. For example, “Who can tell me what we learned about butterflies yesterday?” Another way to begin a hook with prior knowledge is to create a KWL chart. You fill in what was learned yesterday in the KNOW column. You have students decide what information they WANT to know, and as they learn it, you complete the Learned column.
Here is an example of a KWL chart for a science lesson on butterfly life cycles:
An anticipatory set or hook should never take more than a couple of minutes of your time. Its purpose is only to grab students’ attention, not to drag them down a rabbit hole that is not important to your lesson’s objective.
Hooks can be grouped by types- Pictures, Music, Act it Out, Brainstorming , Play a Game, or Sensory Activities. Here are some examples of each:
Display a colourful poster related to your topic. Pick one thing below to spark students’ thinking:
Some teachers incorporate music or singing into their hooks to signal that something new and fun is beginning, so it is time to pay attention. Anything that incorporates movement, even just switching from desks to the floor or changing centre stations makes a child’s brain wake up and focus on what is different. The brain thrives on novelty. Children were never intended to stay seated for hours at a time. Getting them out of their chairs and letting them move quickly re-energises their brains. Once they are focused, you can ask a good question or show them something interesting that is related to the lesson.
Going to start a science lesson about geology? Bring a hard hat and a magnifying glass to class so you can help them “explore” different rocks. The kids can’t help but wonder what you are going to do.
Are you going to be reading the book Island of the Blue Dolphins? Kids will love it if you bring a makeshift spear to class and spend a few minutes brainstorming how an American Indian might use it. They will think about hunting and fighting enemies, but it will be a surprise that this historical fiction’s main character used a spear for fishing.
A fun hook for older children is to play one round of “Three True Facts and a Fib” about something you are going to study. For example, if you are studying mammals, you could say Mammals all:
Which of these statements isn’t true? As D is the correct answer, you can tell them to be watching for which mammals live in water as they learn about different kinds of mammals.
Having children hold and feel objects and then write about them gives them different sensory words to use that they don’t get from just looking at a picture. Going to write a story about finding fossils? Have some fossils for them to touch and feel instead of just looking at a picture. Want them to write about winning an award? Have them wear a medal or hold a trophy and talk about its significance first. Many children have never seen a trophy or received a medal for something. The sensory experience will ignite their brain with new ideas about winning one.
Use an anticipatory set or hook at the beginning of your lessons to make your students pay attention, be aware of what they will be learning, and stay focused.