Lesson planning: Knock-out pupils with a double hook

Originally written for SecEd Magazine and published on 12 October 2022.

Earlier this year, Doug Lemov published the third edition of his highly successful Teach Like A Champion, which explains numerous tried and tested teaching strategies (Lemov, 2022).

Teach Like A Champion is, of course, immensely popular and is regularly referenced by teacher trainers, CPD leads and in articles and blogs like this. It also seems omnipresent on #edutwitter.

However, despite the third edition being as useful as previous ones, I was disappointed to see that technique 12 from the first edition is missing from the latest, as it was from the second iteration.

For those without a copy of the original, technique 12 was called “hook” – which is a short and engaging activity that grabs pupils’ attention prior to the lesson or sequence of learning tasks.

Hook strategies

In Teach Like A Champion 1.0, Lemov (2010) gave a number of examples of a good “hook”, including:

  • An engaging story.
  • An analogy that links the taught content to something that interests the pupils.
  • Using a prop to elicit curiosity.
  • A short snippet of media, such as a relevant video or piece of music.
  • Showing something that promotes the status of material that will be taught or work to completed.
  • Something challenging that stimulates the pupils’ minds.

Similarly, academic and author Elizabeth F Barkley advocates the use of hooks. She suggests (Barkley & Major, 2018) that they can comprise:

  • An inspiring quotation.
  • Posing an intriguing question.
  • Showing a surprising statistic.
  • Asking thought-provoking rhetorical or open-ended questions.
  • Making a contrarian or controversial statement.
  • Providing an unusual detail.
  • Telling an engaging story.

One of the reasons I am surprised to see “hook” demoted from Teach Like A Champion 2.0 and 3.0 is that I have used all of Lemov’s suggestions for the original technique 12 and feel, in the right context, that they all work extremely well. The same can be said for Barkley’s seven suggestions, which I also use regularly and would recommend.

Another type of hook: the advance organiser

However, despite the extremely worthwhile ideas outlined above, the idea of hook has been around for some time and was initially conceptualised as a strategy to teach new knowledge by “hooking” it to prior learning.

In 1968, David Ausubel recognised that the activation of prior knowledge deepened learning by bridging what is known with new material. Essentially, the knowledge we already have is stored as schemata (or schemas) in our long-term memory – “they’re like the clothing rack in the hall where there are ‘hooks’ that we can use to hang new information” (Kirschner & Neelen, 2019). Ausubel referred to this clothing rack as an “advance organiser”.

In fact, Ausubel and his colleagues, while receiving the usual academic criticism, were so convinced of this that they later stated: “The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach (them) accordingly.” (Ausubel et al, 1978; cited in Pagliaro, 2018).

This idea is often called “subsumption” as: “Learning occurs when new material is ‘subsumed’ into an existing cognitive structure by hooking new concepts to old ones.” (Pagliaro, 2018).

Synthesising the two hooks: the ‘double hook’

Despite their conceptual differences, some writers have linked these two hooks together. For instance, Herwindy M Tedjaatmadja and Willy A Renandya (2012) suggest that a good hook syntheses these three principles:

  • Learning is best facilitated when pupils are cognitively ready, which means they can devote more attention to the material taught.
  • Learning is also aided by pupils being “happy” (I would suggest anything that excites intrinsic interest in the content taught is relevant here).
  • The hook activates learners’ prior knowledge and stimulates interest with the new content of the lesson, thus building upon the schemata and extending or deepening, subject knowledge.

Madeline Hunter also seemed to address this with her idea of an “anticipatory set”, which involved devising activities to:

  • First, put pupils into a receptive frame of mind and concentrate their attention on the subject matter being taught.
  • Second, create an organising framework, similar to Ausubel’s advance organisers, for the material to be taught (Hunter & Hunter, 2004).

However, given that many examples of hook circulating on the internet are purely engaging/fun activities or formulated to elicit curiosity, what short learning tasks can we use to link prior learning with anticipatory excitement? Here are some ideas that combine both types of hooks (they borrow, adapt and add to those given above):

Vocabulary games: These can include competitive completion of cryptic crosswords, anagrams or incomplete letter stems based on previous key words, terms or phrases that will then be applied, adapted or built upon when unpacking the new material.

Lowstakes quizzes: This is a common retrieval strategy, but with added competition and rewards can easily be an engaging hook and, in turn, subsumptive hook.

Engaging narratives: Short stories that build on previous learning, but have a twist or outcome that moves the sequence of learning on to the next topic area.

Emotional scenarios: These are a little different but similar in context to the above. A scenario could lead to a choice that either a) goes one way based on a previous lesson or b) goes another based on the possibility of the upcoming lesson. Pupils then debate or discuss the outcomes. This is perhaps best suited to humanities or English lessons, but with imagination could be used elsewhere.

Controversial statements
: I use these all the time in RE and sociology. For example, a series of statements on the ethics of killing living things (asked in an appropriate manner) can link “religion and life” lessons on animals rights to euthanasia (the 5th Buddhist Precept, “Do not harm living things”, can be applied to both, but arguably altered with “right intention” in the latter); this is the subsumptive hook whereas the emotive nature of the questions is the engaging hook.

Startling statistics: Both RE and sociology cover lessons on crime. I use statistics on literacy rates, addiction and overcrowding in prison to link previous lessons on the causes of crime (illiteracy and/or addiction among other things) with the new lesson on incarceration (including overcrowding). I am sure statistics can be used in STEM subjects too, perhaps questioning the actual use of data, formulation, or relation to empirical evidence.

Video clips: Find short clips from soap operas, films and news programmes that are relevant to the topics being covered. Then ask retrieval questions that link the video content to prior knowledge before exploring new content with open questions. Pupils are, if I am honest, often hooked by the references to pop culture as much as their love for the subject – nevertheless, they see the relevance of the topic and carry on learning.

Music videos: In a similar vein, choose appropriate and contextually relevant videos that a) engage the pupils, b) allow quick retrieval questions based on previous lessons, and c) indicate the content coming up.

A challenging problem (with a concrete example): A real-life conundrum involving a topic or situation a pupil might find themselves in and be able to relate to can both engage pupils and allow them to put previously taught knowledge and skills into practice. If an aspect or part of the problem-solving process is particularly challenging, then that can become the focus of the next stage of learning. I have seen this used with football odds as a hook in mathematics.


Of course, a creative and imaginative teacher or department can probably produce various other activities combining both uses of hook. Therefore, despite the hook’s relegation from Lemov’s exceedingly useful third edition of Teach Like A Champion, I will be keeping my copy of the original.

Further information & resources

  • Ausubel, Novak, & Hanesian: Educational Psychology: A cognitive viewWerbel & Peck1978.
  • Barkley& Major: Interactive lecturing: A handbook for college facultyJossey-Bass, 2018. See also Elizabeth Barkley’s article Seven ways to use the hook to grab students attentionhttps://bit.ly/3bAQy5f
  • Hunter& HunterMadeline Hunter’s Mastery Teaching: Increasing instructional effectiveness in elementary and secondary schoolsCorwin Press, 2004.
  • Kirschner& Neelen: What we already know determines what, how, and how well we learn, 3-star Learning Experiences (blog), 2019https://bit.ly/3zB1Y0s
  • Lemov: Teach Like a ChampionJossey-Bass2010.
  • Lemov: Teach like a champion 3.0, Jossey-Bass2022https://teachlikeachampion.org/
  • Pagliaro: Questioning, instructional strategies, and classroom managementRowman & Littlefield2018.
  • Tedjaatmadja& Renandya: Hook, book, look, took, Modern English Teacher (21), 2012: https://bit.ly/3SBzYTj

Picture credit: pxhere.com (used under a creative commons licence)

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