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Christine Esposito

"In these days of high stakes testing, it's sometimes hard to justify grabbing that teachable moment," says Christine Esposito. "The hook allows me and my students to grab it, run with it, and still stay on the pacing guide."

Esposito uses a "hook" -- a lead-in question -- at the start of each class period to spark the kind of classroom discussions that make her love teaching. The hook can be based on a combination of ideas, but for her sixth grade social studies and language arts students, it ultimately is an "on your own" question: A question connected to the subject to be discussed or read about that day, but one that does not require reading to be able to answer it.

"I do my best to make the question one that will cause students to have a strong reaction," Esposito told Education World. "Too often, the history I teach (U.S. History through 1877) seems very remote to my students. The hook is designed to get students to relate their own lives to something we're studying."

A secondary benefit for Esposito's students at Walker Upper Elementary in Charlottesville, Virginia, is that the hook requires them to write every day -- in social studies. Esposito addresses how to answer different types of questions, characteristics of a good paragraph, and how to support opinions with facts.

Hook questions are not primarily fact based. Esposito asks questions her students will want to answer or -- better yet -- debate. Examples include Can you legislate someone's beliefs? and How do you fix something you know is wrong?

"History often is seen by students as a boring subject full of dead men and dates that have no relevance to their lives," Esposito observed. "Good hooks help them see that history is relevant to their lives."

On most days, Esposito's students spend 5-7 minutes sharing their responses to the hook. As the year goes on, some students begin to think they can put off "real work" if the hook discussion takes on a life of its own. Little do they know that their teacher believes they learn more about history and the connections between historical periods during the discussions!

"We discuss how the hook relates to the day's topic and then move on to the lesson itself," said Esposito. "On the best days, discussing the hook becomes the lesson itself. Because every class is different, I never know when those days will come, but I live for them."

As a sixth grade teacher, Esposito has learned that all her students have opinions and love to share them. Throughout the school year, their answers become more sophisticated, and they take more care with what and how they write. The students find value in assuming defensible positions because they never know who might disagree with them and what kind of facts they will need to back up their claims. That's part of the lure of the hook!

"I'm always surprised by the connections students make between their lives, different time periods, and the history we study," Esposito added. "They help me see the history I teach with new eyes, and that makes me a better teacher."

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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