Every book has its cover, every lesson (should) have a hook.

hook_50_highYes, every book does have its cover and for a reason. The cover is the most important part of the book. Why? Well not because it tells the story or has “content” or “stuff”. Rather, because it fires us up, it gets us motivated, it stirs our soul. It creates anticipation – that potent elexir that all students (and teachers) need to drink.

Our lessons are similar. We need a HOOK!  Something to create energy and excitement about our time together. And I don’t just mean chit-chat and the usual start of class bantering. I mean something that creates a metaphor for the content and suggests how sweet and delicious the meal (lesson) will be.

I have many “hooks” I use. I’ve mentioned a few below. But first, here is an example I use often in teacher training to highlight the need of teachers to “bring the unknown into the known” – which is the basic principle of teaching. It is a picture and I ask teachers to turn to a partner and tell them what they see.

I then write “Cow” on the board or the power point. Do they see the cow? If needed, I then outline the cow with a pen or ppt highlight marker. (if you need help, it is on the left, face/snout facing you).

After this, the workshop goes well. Teachers get the point and are “hooked”. We then discuss basic teaching principles for contextualizing content and getting students to “see the cow”. Here are some more optical illusions that might work.

All our lessons should have a hook! And I’m not talking about the now ubiquitous,”put on a youtube video to get everyone engaged/excited , technique”. No. Videos are great but they seldom are a hook. A hook needs human conversation and exchange. A story, an experiment, a magic trick, a demonstration, a picture. It needs real shared surprise!

If you haven’t gotten the point yet, read on through a few of my favorite “hooks” and what they are good for teaching. You’ll soon understand

1.  The 3 cup magic trick. This guy explains it completely, so watch the video. I do this in class and the students are amazed! I use it to teach sequences. First, first of all, the first thing / Next, then, after that / lastly, finally, last but not least.

2.  The birthday trick. Great for introducing months or as a listening exercise for students. Read about it HERE on Teaching Recipes. I used this all year with my grade 4 class and they constantly were hunting about to find out how I knew their birthdays!

3.  The Full Bowl Science experiment. Fill up a whole bowl with water, right to the brim. Make sure you have paper towel underneath. Then ask the students to predict how many coins you can drop in it, before it will overflow. Get them to write their predictions down. Then start counting (yes, this is for teaching numbers!). You will be amazed and too your students. It will hold lots of coins – bring many. Finally, with higher level students, discuss why it can hold so many (because the surface of water has tension and a “skin” that allows it to go over the rim – that’s why insects can walk on top of water!).

4.  The money trick. I use this to teach about currencies of the world or for any lesson involving money. Bring a student to the front. Take out a nice, crisp bill. Put one of your elbows on a desk and place the money between a thumb and forefinger. Drop the bill and catch it between your fingers. Simple right? Well, it is easy for you because you know when it will be dropped. Do the same with the student and tell them if they catch it (they can’t lower their hand with the bill), they can keep it. You’ll have fun!

There are so many, many, many more hooks! I love magic tricks – ehow is a site with many. Here’s one that is simple but so many students get fooled.  What is your favorite “hook”?  Please share.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    I like the last one, and I see how it works – but I won’t say here in case others want to figure it out. However, I can’t see how you would do it in front of a class without giving it away. Care to explain?

  2. Krista says:

    How does that card one work?!? I’ve tried it several times, trying to look at ALL of the chosen cards for the equal amount of time, to sort of secretly pick one out from the group but to move my eyes along all the cards (which is a bit crazy of me, because there’s no way the computer can see my eyes anyway)… what gives? I have a feeling I’m going to be here allllll dayyyyy trying to fool the computer.

  3. ddeubel says:


    I’ll give you a hint – think of what is missing….. Anne, you are a quick study!

  4. ddeubel says:

    Here is a powerpoint that gives the answer to the last magic trick and would be helpful to explain!

  5. Anne says:

    First, I must confess that I have seen this one before.
    Second, thanks for the link to the PowerPoint, but I still don’t see how to do the trick in front of a room full of kids – how do you substitute one set of cards for the other without it being noticed?

  6. Leahn says:

    Hi David,

    I’m hooked on the hook idea! I saw Luke Prodromou using a birthday trick thing at TESOL Spain this year which was great. I love the idea of magic and using interesting facts in class. I have a question for you ok? Look at your wrist and follow your arm down to your elbow. Now think…which part of your body is the same size??????


    Your foot…… kids love this and teens too.

    Try it.


  7. ddeubel says:


    That’s neat and simple too! I actually forgot one of my favorite hooks – I picked it up years ago and use it when I really can’t think of any hook. I forget who the presenter was …..

    What you do is tell a story, or a good joke with a punchline. Tell it well and with animation. Even better if you personalize it and pretend it is a real story. Part way through, at a convenient point, just stop. Then start your presentation or lesson. Everyone will say….”wait! wait! wait! What about the ending?”. Tell them that if they listen well / participate / do a good job etc… you’ll share the ending and message at the end. They’ll be sure to remind you!

  8. Great post David, with some really cool ideas to use in class!

    I’m a big fan of hooks too, & use them quite a lot in my lessons. Have never tried magic tricks, but these look like fun so who knows; I might just give them a go.

    One of the things I often like to do is use snippets of music and images that are connected with the topic I’m planning to cover, and ask students to try and guess what the lesson is going to be about.

    Sometimes their ideas turn out to be better than mine, and lead us off on a more interesting tangent…

    I also do a variation on the “tell part of the story” trick sometimes, too, though more often than not I tend to put students in groups and ask them to write their own version of the ending, before revealing mine!

    I enjoyed this post a lot, & have included it in my “pick of the ELT blogosphere” round up for this week on my blog, here 🙂



  9. ddeubel says:


    Thanks for choosing my post to list! I really hadn’t read anything about this quite “vital” aspect of a lesson, so took my swing!

    Yes, guessing is good but I guess it also is “how” you do it. I see so many teachers do the guessing thing but it really turns into a pedantic and kind of “going through the motions ” thing when indeed, a hook should be magical and uplifting. But the proof is never in the pudding but the eating! But I do hope all teachers think more about this. We tend to pay attention to schema building and prompting student’s background knowledge but pay little attention to the emotional and motivational element of the lesson – which I call, “the hook”.

    But as you suggest – it is the tangents where a lot of the “magic ” is at…. take those low roads and you’ll get to Scotland long before a lot of others.

  10. Jayeeta says:

    How much time in maximum should be spent on a hook during an overall lesson time of 30 minutes?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Skip to toolbar