Engaging Lesson Openings – 6 Tips + 1 Caveat

How you open your lesson can have a big impact on whether your students start out excited about it or bored from the beginning. The goal of your opening, or ‘hook,’ is to communicate to students what they’re doing and why it’s important. However, you also want it to engage them and be ‘sticky’ so they remember it and the lesson that follows. Here are some strategies:

Make connections. If they can connect the new content to something they already know about, it’s more likely to stick. It might be simply relating to a previous lesson or maybe creating a metaphor or analogy so that they now have a concept or mental picture to connect it to.

Change it up. Any time we do something with our students that’s out-of-the-ordinary for us, kids get engaged. Whether you dress up, do a demo, or simply change the order of how you start the lesson, that change of pace will pique their interest.

Engage the senses. Playing a song related to the lesson, bringing in an object or artifact they can pass around, having them smell something – all of these engage their senses and wake up their minds. Things like this can also be brought back later to trigger that lesson content during review or other key times.

Create a knowledge gap. Posing a question, problem, riddle, or puzzle to open a lesson allows you to create a gap in their knowledge that they now want to fill. If done well, they won’t be able to answer it without the upcoming lesson and they’ll be buzzing with curiosity. This idea comes from Chip & Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick.

Tell a story. If you can tell an interesting or funny personal anecdote to introduce the lesson or read a picture book that relates, your students will eat it up, no matter their age. Telling a personal story also builds classroom culture and helps your students relate to you.

Make it relevant. Things can be relevant to students in many different ways. You might be able to insert pop culture references that appeal to them or describe real-life scenarios during which the new skill will help them. For some students, saying it will be on a test does make it relevant for them, while it will only stress out or annoy others. And many of the above strategies can make things relevant in-and-of themselves. For example, if you present a riddle and now they want to solve it, it’s officially relevant to them.

CAVEAT: Planning engaging lesson openings can suck up an enormous amount of time. Our Teaching Excellence team refers to openings as the icing on the cake. You bake the cake first before you add the icing; you plan your lesson before spending time on an engaging opening. Spending hours scouring YouTube videos or trying to find a revolutionary war artifact, while cool, will all be for naught if the lesson that follows isn’t solid or you’re useless because you stayed up all night. Reserve elaborate openings for critical lessons like the first day of a new unit or a foundational skill or concept and limit yourself to 15-20 minutes for planning everyday openings.

What are some of your best lesson openings? Share them in the comments!

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