Homeschool Teaching Tip #3: Find a Hook

This post is part of a series of helpful teaching tips for homeschoolers. If you haven’t yet, check out Tip #1 and Tip #2

Imagine you walk into a classroom and take a seat at your desk. There you find a worksheet with a tree diagram. The teacher announces that you’ll be studying trees today. She lists the vocabulary words you should add to your diagram.

Now imagine instead that you walk into a classroom with a three foot wide slice of tree trunk on a table with a few magnifying glasses scattered next to it. The teacher invites you to study the tree for a few minutes and see what you see. 

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who would find the second scenario more interesting. 

Whether or not you have any interest in trees, the fact that the tree trunk is real, unexpected, accessible and different makes it intriguing. The wonder and curiosity of it all leads to learning and retention.

Just like most good ideas, it’s not a new concept. A “hook” is really just anything that intrigues (or hooks) the learner and gets them curious for more. More recently, I’ve seen it called an “invitation” or a “provocation,” but the idea is the same.

I was formally introduced to this idea in Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU), a science curriculum written by Bernard Nebel, PhD. It’s one of the key methods he uses to generate interest and child-led discovery in the BFSU lessons. I’ve used this method frequently when teaching science and history, but you can find creative ways to use hooks in all subjects. 

Thankfully, hooks don’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it’s as easy as changing the order you present your lesson. Instead of talking at your students and then bringing out the baking soda and vinegar volcano experiment later, set the baking soda and vinegar on the counter first. Let them observe the ingredients, notice their attributes and make guesses as to what experiment you’ll be doing. From there you can ask them questions and steer the conversation toward the objectives you have for the lesson. 

Here’s an example of what I mean. This summer I needed to start an experiment (for BFSU Vol. II, Lesson B-16: Fungi & Bacteria I) in early August so the results would be ready for our lesson this fall. Instead of telling my kids what we were doing right away, I just arranged the supplies on our counter. Since it’s all stuff I’d be getting out for the experiment anyway, this took no extra time or effort on my part.

BFSU Vol II decomposition experiment supplies on counter as learning hook
Set stuff on counter – easy peasy!

I let the kids find the things and ask me about them. Once they were intrigued, I had them guess what we might be doing and then talk about what they already know about the materials. After a minute or two, I let them know the gist of the experiment. They took some measurements of the different materials and wrote down their hypotheses about which materials would decompose or not. 

Just by introducing the experiment in this way (instead of starting with vocabulary or a speech about the experiment we’ll be doing later), they were already engaged and hooked. Their curiosity made them a much more receptive audience. 

So simple! So effective!

In many ways, it’s very much like strewing. In both cases, you’re creating an invitation to come and explore more. Instead of just spurting out information at them, you’re inviting them in to make the learning their own. 

The main difference between strewing and finding a hook is that there’s typically no expectation or agenda with strewing. Things you strew are optional for your kids. If they choose not to engage with an item you’ve set out for them – a bowl of pinecones, for example – then you just skip it or try again another time.

Hooks, on the other hand, are there to draw kids into a topic when there typically IS a particular objective or lesson to be covered. The bowl of pinecones is there to introduce a lesson on trees or seeds. From there, the kids’ observations and discussion can be guided toward the lesson for the day.

Before I knew how effective hooks are for learning, I assumed the kids needed details first – like vocabulary words and background information on the subject – before they could understand or do the “fun” parts of the lesson. The problem with that was that I often lost their interest before we even got to the good stuff. 

Finding a good hook to generate interest and discussion lets you work the details (background and vocabulary) into the lesson in a very natural way. When it comes to effectiveness, there’s a world of difference between you telling your not-super-interested kid “the center of the tree is called the heartwood” and them pointing at a tree stump and ASKING YOU “mom, what’s this part of the tree here called?” The key is that THEY WANT to know.

Take some time to think about how you present your lessons. Are there some you could rearrange so you lead with an engaging hook? And remember, it doesn’t have to be something complex!  Hooks might be…

  • Items or tools needed for an experiment
  • Ingredients for a recipe
  • Interesting picture books on your topic
  • An engaging YouTube video
  • Tools or supplies needed for an art project
  • A comic or joke to introduce your topic
  • A short game or puzzle relevant to your lesson
  • Toys or objects to start a discussion
  • A trip to the backyard or park to make observations or collect things

Once you begin to think of ways to present lessons in this way, you’ll find you can use almost anything as a hook. As homeschoolers, we have the freedom and small class sizes to really get crazy with this. I’m still trying to find a way to make a trip to Baskin-Robbins a hook for something… 😉

Think of a hook as your lesson’s first impression – and try to make it a good one!

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