More hooks than a tackle shop!

Updated: Oct 25, 2018

Once my eye burst in front of an audience of 80 or so year 12 girls!

It was actually an oversize plastic optic nerve model but I squeezed too hard and it spurted intraocular fluid all over my shirt, trousers and the floor… the students loved it….another win, albeit a spectacular end of life moment for one of my props!

You see as a teacher of students, government workers, engineers, leaders, teachers and parents of all ages and demeanours all over Australia you need to be prepared. I come with a whole bunch of “hooks” (stuff that hooks in learners) I have around about 400 of the best clips on the web, a collection of amusing picture books, a lifetime of stories and a box full of cool props.

My props include severed plastic arms and legs (behave or else!) a fabulous plush heart that actually beats, a dismember-able zombie doll with guts, assorted energy balls and sticks which form circuits with up to 130 people holding hands, a ramp-walking elephant timer which is perhaps one of the cutest objects in history, a plethora of strange noise making things for getting people’s attention, magic colouring-in books, a catapult-able plush monkey who screams on landing and anything else that is attention grabbing and engaging.

To me these are little random acts of kindness to people who sit through too many dangerously boring professional developments; a small gift to students who have endured lessons that are less exciting than bowel movements!

Each of these props which lasts the journey is not a standalone prop, firstly they have to be small enough to fit into a travel bag that can go through airport security and not cost a fortune in excess baggage (They get jumpy when the fabulous plush heart that actually beats starts doing its thing in your hand luggage!) but each prop usually wraps itself around a story or a teaching point.

A dead eyed, seemingly bored engineer who I thought was hating everything I said turned out to be engaged in an internal research and design project on how to mill a ramp-walking elephant timer which is perhaps one of the cutest objects in history in metal and reduce it to a desk size interactive experience with curved ramps and an array of other awesome possibilities.

The catapult-able plush monkey who screams on landing is fired into a class of students who fight to catch it only to realise that they have to answer a question on what they learned in the session… gets boys in every time!

The magic colouring–in book did the rounds of a tough to crack aboriginal community thanks to a REALLY enthusiastic aboriginal teaching assistant and got me a positive introduction all over town.

Energy sticks close conferences brilliantly as everyone involved joins hands in a symbolic gesture of unity and connection while I take the fabulous plush heart that actually beats around the circuit to find what made it into different participants’ heart during the day!

Amazingly it doesn’t matter what age the participants are, the props still work… neoteny (the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile characteristics well into maturity) is a wonderful thing.

I find these objects by simply being curious and going into toy stores or looking online for cool stuff. Give yourself a treat and have a look at , not all of it is usable but its great fun looking. If that’s too hard I have been asked by several people if I need a merchandising manager but I’m willing to source you a box of cool stuff! (This gives me permission to look more!)

In Doug Lemov’s book Teach like a Champion he lists a taxonomy of forty nine teaching techniques that statistically high performing teacher’s use that help students from poor backgrounds enter university…

I demonstrate all of these techniques for teachers in classrooms but the four techniques that you can add to anything that you present are…

· “The Hook”… use something that grabs your audience’s attention early on that really hooks them into what is coming … perhaps it should be called “The Bait”!

· Vegas… The kind of song and dance routine stuff that gets people entertained.

· Props… Like a dismember-able zombie doll with guts that you use to introduce students to people without limbs whose lives are jaw droopingly amazing.

· The J-Factor… J stands for JOY

As Doug Lemov says....

If you can introduce material in a way that inspires and excites and can get your students to take the first step willingly, then there is no content about which you cannot engender excitement, engagement, and deep learning among your students. The way in is with The Hook: a short introductory moment that captures what’s interesting and engaging about the material and puts it out front.

A perfect example of this is a the Gobstopper Experiment that we use in the Mindset Manoeuvre workshop using gob stopper lollies and water in a flat white bowl.

Using food is a brilliant win with almost any group of students.

I have used variations of this lesson with thousands of classrooms ranging from Year One to Year Ten and have yet to have a misfire.

I even have used it to demonstrate that when you use three balanced approaches to teaching (Competitive, Individual and Collaborative) you get harmony by putting just three separate coloured gobstoppers, equal distance apart in a round bowl and putting in the water... it makes a peace symbol!

This is a brilliant hook to get students to work in teams and to follow a scientific sequence that works. It is also brilliant for getting students to work together in teams.

I usually put the class into groups of three and number them off 1,2,3.

I use these numbers to get the job done. It goes something like this...

"Number 1 get the bowl and give it to Number 2

Number 2 half fill the bowl with water

Number 3 grab three Gobstoppers and share them with your team."

I then move them through the experiment step by step making each group predict what is going to happen and suggest variable that could change and coming up with conclusions.

At any time I can ask question based on the numbered heads.

Here's how the book describes it...

"Numbered Heads Together is a cooperative learning strategy that holds each student accountable for learning the material. Students are placed in groups and each person is given a number (from one to the maximum number in each group). The teacher poses a question and students "put their heads together" to figure out the answer. The teacher calls a specific number to respond as spokesperson for the group. By having students work together in a group, this strategy ensures that each member knows the answer to problems or questions asked by the teacher. Because no one knows which number will be called, all team members must be prepared."

When the experiment is finished get your students to write it out just like a formal science experiment so they can do it again.

This little hook gets kids linked up to over two hundred science experiments on Steve Spangler’s “sick Science” videos that are fabulous for simple experimental procedure.

And there are a stack of other possible spin offs.

Like this clip which has had 31 Million hits...

Another hook I love to use is art and I love art.

I loved art as a child but had no idea how to go about it.

My family were “artistically challenged“ but I loved nothing more than sitting with my Dad while he drew a picture of a house with a water tank, in the hills with clouds, a sun and an anorexic pony. Dad’s chosen medium for this was a builders pencil on the back of rejected jam tin labels from the factory he worked at.

Now that I think about it those Monbulk jam tins could have been an iconic work of art if I had have got in before Andy Warhol!

My mother did not foster my artistic growth at all by telling me that if I wanted to be an artist I would have to get “used to the flavour of dog food” because that was all I would be able to afford to eat if I was trying to make a living out of art!

Weirdly enough I could and can draw! I found this out when I was teaching junior primary classrooms, but being able to draw and actually teaching drawing are two very different things.

I loved teaching art and could shoehorn it into every part of the Curriculum, Art, English Mathematics, Science and Technology all naturally connect with Art.

I festooned my classes with art, hung it from the ceilings stuck it to the walls, doors and windows and took any opportunity I could to display colour and warmth to a classroom.

I now think all classrooms should be a work of art or at the very least visually pleasing.


To me this is the best art site on the planet… maybe the universe.


Because it not only shows you "what" but "how" and connects it to areas outside of Art ….

I could go on but I’ll let you explore it instead.

How it works

This whole site is full of great art ideas like the one below.

It includes step by step instructions plus includes any videos that have been made on Youtube which demonstrate the techniques... JUST BRILLIANT!

Finally I have to put in a stack of awesome mathematics hooks.

A Worldometer is the most awesome hook:

Just click onto the hook to see some awesome world statistics whirl in front of you.

Another brilliant Maths hook is the magic square.

This looks like magic and is explained like this…

Magicians often include acts that are not strictly magic, but leave their audiences feeling that they have witnessed something impossible. Memory stunts, unusual scientific demonstrations, playing chess blindfolded and rapid mental mathematics are some examples.

Successful stunts of this kind suggest the performer has an enhanced talent. In some cases, this is true – they may have an extraordinary memory or be a chess grandmaster. But in most cases the performer is using a system. These systems can be simple, or can require tremendous skill – but they are still easier than doing the stunt without any system at all.

A popular mathematical stunt is to create a “magic square”. This is a grid, most commonly 4x4, filled with numbers. The numbers in every row add up to the same number.

Now here is a system that works…

See if your students can learn the magician’s art and totally hold an audience of their peers in complete awe of their mastery.

Here are some more Maths Marvels that you will love.

All of these are people working the hook!

They are all good teachers who know that without engagement teaching has no meaning and that coverage is the enemy of understanding but too often we cover things because they are in a “hookless” curriculum made up by people who are more interested in the theory and the politics to get the practise.

For you practise makes perfect, share your hooks, give them away and they will come back to you many times over.

Here’s a hook I am sharing today with primary kids in Kalgoorlie.

The aim is to teach students how to play, have fun, listen, muck around but use good social skills.

This is really organised conflict that quickly teaches young students that you don’t have to win every game to have fun.

Enjoy, much love Greg Mitchell

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