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Pupil Engagement: The Hook for English

How do you get your class excited and engaged for their next topic? Nadine Finlay uses a ‘Hook’ to introduce a topic and to get her pupils eager to learn.

I have always had a feeling of excitement when planning a new topic. Being an Early Years Specialist has meant that I strive to find a moment of ‘awe and wonder’ when beginning each new topic, also known as a Hook. However, having got to know many teachers over the years that I have either worked with or met through CPD, having a Hook is something that is not necessarily general practice in many classrooms. 

I feel that one of the super powers an author has is to create an alternative universe, a world of fantasy where the reader feels excited and yet safe. This is something that I aim to replicate with the Hook of a topic. There are key characteristics that each of my Hooks have

  • Excitement
  • Unexpected
  • Safe 
  • Linked to a rich text
  • Practical
  • Off timetable 
  • Involving other adults, not usually involved in my class

Some of the examples of Hooks that I have used are

A postcard

This was sent in the school holidays, to the children at their homes. I had made them with a topic photo on the front and a generic printed message on the back, which I then signed. The children were so excited that they brought their postcard in on the very first day. The topic began by researching some of the clues that I had hidden within the picture. 

Dragon video clip

One of the other Key Stage teachers dashed into my classroom during morning registration to announce that she had received a shocking email. The whole of the Key Stage headed into the hall to watch the short video clip, which showed our school field with a dragon swooping overhead. It was then decided, by everyone, that an environment walk should be carried out. Children were given pre-made packs, that contained a map of the school grounds, a pencil, class camera and some clues so the children knew where to head around the school grounds. Once the walk began the children came across a dragons’ nest and in a variety of different places there were dragon eggs.

Alien eggs 

When I took the class into the whole school assembly, a TA from a nearby classroom placed some alien eggs and a letter in the middle of the carpet. The children and I returned to the classroom and found the alien eggs in the classroom. The children knew that it couldn’t have been me that put them there, as I had been in assembly with them. The letter outlined what the children need to do in order to care for the aliens appropriately. This was a really successful way of beginning instructions and letter writing in English, as well as learning how to care for others in PSHE. 


On the first day back to school after a half term, the children entered the classroom to find that it had been filled with paper aeroplanes and flight mobiles. They were hanging from the ceiling all around the room. On each table there were different clearly written step-by-step instructions and an assortment of coloured card. The children were instantly mesmerised and began following the instructions to create different aeroplanes. This topic grew into learning about Amelia Earhart, making predictions about what different card would do to the flight length of their planes, measuring distances of flight and so many more areas.  

A Hook can be incredibly powerful as a means of capturing a child’s attention and inspiring them to find out more. I believe that learning should be purposeful and fun and that is what I try to recreate in my classroom. Why not give it a try yourself?

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The author

Nadine has worked with children for 17 years having originally trained as an International Montessori Directress and then moving into state schools by completing a GTP. Nadine is passionate about making the most out of every day, either at school or with her two young children. She has previously written articles that have been published in various magazines including the TES.

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