Thursday, September 17, 2015

Teach Students to Write a Good "Hook" in FIVE Simple Steps

Some of you may know this, but my husband is a high school Criminal Justice teacher and works next door to me. We ride in to work together almost every day. He switched careers 3 years ago when our first son was born, and he makes an EXCELLENT teacher!

Since he is teaching dual enrollment and because law enforcement officers have to do a lot of writing, he actually spends a significant part of his year teaching his juniors and seniors how to write quality research papers and reports. This morning, he was telling me that his juniors were struggling with intros, and I sighed in that knowing voice. We all struggle with this, right?

But it made me think back to a professional development we had a few years back that was literally the best PD I've ever had (and we got him for two days before school started and one more day during the year)! Fred Wolff from Six Traits Live! is engaging and gives lots of simple tips to incorporate into your classroom all the way from Kindergarten up through high school. I've blogged about him twice here and here (both times on sentence fluency), but today I want to share 5 steps for teaching students to write good hooks.

Compile a "text set" of some really good hooks. 

Make sure you have a variety. Picture books, articles, newspaper, etc. Also make sure to include as many different types of hooks as possible.
    • Start with a joke
    • Set the scene 
    • Use a quote or interesting fact
    • Give an example or scenario

Show them what doesn't work and talk about why. 

Read some papers or even books that start out boring, and let them decide for themselves that they wouldn't want to read any further.

Read a few examples of what does work. 

Just like any other skill, we need to be exposed to quality work so we know what it looks like. The more examples you can provide, the better. Talk about why these hooks are so much better. What makes them interesting? What types of words are they using?


The more students write hooks, the better they will do. And nothing says they have to write an entire paper every time. Let them just practice hooks for a while. Without having the stress of an entire paper hanging over them, they will be able to focus on this one skill and really make improvements.

During one Six Traits Live! PD, we were each given index cards at the beginning. At random intervals Fred would tell us to come up with a "hook" (of course, this was after he had read and modeled some good hooks first). We didn't have any other guidelines. No topic. Nothing. Our only purpose was to write the most interesting hook we could. Then we turned them in, and he chose some of the best.

Later, he read four hooks to us. One was from one of our peers, and the rest were from actual books. We played four corners to decide which of the hooks was not from a book. It was so neat to see how many of us were fooled into believing our peer's hook was from an author!

Continue the Exposure and Encourage Students to Help.

Put good hooks up around the room. Have students look for good ones as they read and add them to a collection.

After this PD, I was inspired to create a door decoration that used some of my favorite hooks from different children's books (a text set, if you will), and it's available for download here.The pencils have the hooks, and it's ready to just cut out and put up!

I'll leave you with one of my personal favorite hooks, and the first person to name the book it comes from will win my Mega mysteries bundle! (Contest now closed)

"It was one of those super-duper-cold Saturdays. One of those days that when you breathed out your breath kind of hung frozen in the air like a hunk of smoke and you could walk along and look exactly like a train blowing out big, fat, white puffs of smoke."

Good luck!


  1. The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis!

    It's a great hook!

  2. Thank you so much for the good ideas! My students have a hard time writing what our curriculum calls "introductions." I am going to start calling them hooks instead, and I'm going to use these ideas to help them practice. I especially like the idea of having them write just the hook when they are feeling overwhelmed thinking about a whole story! Thank you!