Do your students need examples of a hook for an essay?
If you’ve ever read a student paper that starts “In this essay, I will…” you know your students need help with hooks.
If your students struggle with writing an intro, here are simple strategies and hooks that will make this easier for them.
What’s the problem?
How do we convince someone to read something we’ve written? More than that, how do we get them to stick around past the first line?
While an interesting thesis can draw in some readers, even the simplest premise can be made engaging with a good hook.
Middle school students will often struggle with creating hooks for their essays.
Whether they are writing a narrative or an argument, learning to use a strong hook will help students understand how to engage their reader.
This type of lesson makes excellent writing workshop mini lessons since you can teach one or two strategies and then let students practice using them.
But, what are the best ways to teach writing hooks?
Let’s take a look!
But, before beginning, make sure your students understand what writing hooks are and why they are important.
What are writing hooks?
A writing hook is sometimes called a “grabber” or a “lead.” It’s the way the writer engages the reader.
They are found in the first, introductory paragraph of a piece of writing.
” It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you.”
“The Ransom of Red Chief” by O’Henry
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Hooks are designed to grab the reader and draw her into the writing.
Why are writing hooks important?
If you have read even this far in this post then you apparently have a longer attention span than most people!
The average reader gives a website about 8 seconds before deciding whether to stay and read more or find something else. That alone is reason why hooks are important!
Ask your students: why should the reader stay?
Hopefully their response will be: because I have important things to say!
Their motive in writing a good essay hook is to engage the reader and compel her to keep reading to find that important content the writer has to share!
And, as Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” If you aren’t invested in what you’re writing about, why should your readers be?
This is key: teach mentor texts and examples
By using mentor texts, your students will see what experienced writers to do create hooks.
And it is easy to find examples in hooks in all kinds of texts. I opened up a health magazine and found the following hooks:
- (relatable story) “For the unseasoned home cook, recipe jargon can be a bit puzzling.”
- (personal story) “Growing up, I often had my head either in a book or lost in a daydream, and the rest of me sort of followed along for the (mostly) leisurely ride.”
- (description) “Susie had planned a perfect weekend retreat: a house near the ocean, plenty of downtime, and healthy meals.”
- (definition) “Your hamstrings are the large muscles in the back of your legs that run from your glutes to your knees.”
- (dramatic statement) “Revved-up fat burning!”
- (comparison/analogy) “Most of us understand our bodies about as well as we understand our cars.”
Each of these could be used as a mentor hook that students can use to craft their own.
Analyze the mentor hooks
Once you have collected some essay hooks, have your students analyze them.
- what did the writer do to try to grab the reader’s attention?
- how is the sentence constructed?
- what do you notice about the length of the sentence?
- does the writer use punctuation in an unusual way?
- how is the writer using language to capture the reader?
Students can copy the mentor hooks into their resource notebooks along with the analysis.
Create & organize an anchor chart
Involve your students in collecting hooks. As your collection grows, you can sort them into categories and actually create a “bank of hooks.” Students can go to that bank when they are working on a writing assignment.
Whether make a wall-sized anchor chart, or you simply have your students add them to their resource books, you will find patterns and styles.
When you find a new hook, try to categorize it. This is a great critical thinking activity!
What are the different types of hooks?
As you and your students start analyzing mentor hooks you’ll find that these are some of the hooks writers use:
- a question
- a story
- repeated a word or phrase
- definition of a word, term, or idea
- a quote or famous saying
- surprising fact or statistic
- shocking statement
- create an analogy or comparison
Practice using different hooks
Once your students have analyzed a few different types of hooks, have them practice using them.
First, give students a generic topic and thesis statement.
- the topic: dogs
- thesis statement: Training a dog takes time, consistency, and patience.
Next, have students choose one of the mentor hooks to imitate as they write their own hook that applies to their topic and thesis.
For our example, a student might write hooks that:
- asks a question: “Do you have what it takes to train a dog?”
- uses a quote: “A dog is man’s best friend.”
- tells a story: “My dog Rocco is a wonderful, loving pet. He is also a wild, out-of-control beast that eats shoes and digs in the yard.”
- sets a scene: “Imagine coming home from school and being greeted by a furry friend with a tail wagging so hard that his whole body shakes.”
- repeated word: “A dog is a great companion. A dog is loyal. A dog is fun to play with. A dog is also a lot of work.”
- a short sentence: “There is nothing like a dog.”
- a surprising statement: “I used to hate my dog.”
Have students share their practice statements. It is wonderful for them to have a bank of examples to draw upon when they are writing.
These are perfect writing workshop mini lessons to use — teach and then allow students to practice and share.
Take it a step further: what’s the “shape” of the introduction
Often students will write the hook and then, jump into another direction. They may drop in their thesis statement without any transition.
But a hook should not only hook the reader, but “hook” onto the next sentence. As students practice writing hooks, ask them how the hook leads in a natural way to the rest of the sentences in the introduction.
It’s helpful to use the fishing image to make this clear.
Just like a person who is fishing, the writer needs to not just “hook” the reader, but also reel the reader in. Keep the reader engaged.
This means using transitions — both transition words, phrases, words, and sentence structure.
It can help for students to see that an intro paragraph can be like an upside down triangle.
Start with the hook and make sure each sentence throughout the paragraph is connected. Don’t break the fishing line!
Writing a solid introduction is a skill. Make sure you continue to practice it.
As my students got more secure writing introductions, I began limiting the ones they could use — for example beginning with a question. Or, require they begin their intro with a story.
This helps grow their creative writing skills along with critical thinking.