7 Ways to Use “The Hook” to Grab Students’ Attention

July 8, 2019 Elizabeth F. Barkley

Many lecturers launch immediately into their talks without much in the way of introduction. There is a better approach: Begin your lectures with The Hook. The Hook is an attention-getting device that you use to help students engage in the lecture from the outset.

The Hook should be compelling enough to encourage students to set aside thinking about other things to focus on the lecture. If you seed engagement at the beginning, students are likely to try to stay with you throughout the session.  

The Hook also sends a signal to the students about your lecture style so that they are better able to follow you, and it also provides them with a glimpse of the central message of the talk, which in turn can help their comprehension. There are many different approaches to The Hook, including the following:

1. Use a Quotation

 A quotation from someone famous in your field or perhaps from popular culture can set the scene of a given lecture, be thought-provoking because it borrows authority, and help students to see the importance of the topic. Using the same quote to start and end the session can bookend the lecture and reinforce the lecture’s theme.

2. Pose an Intriguing Question

A good question can help focus students’ attention on the most important issue you are there to discuss. Bringing the question back at the end of the session can help students understand the value of the lecture, particularly if you have, at least in part, 

answered the question. Alternately, consider introducing a new intriguing question that relates to the initial question, and that may pique interest in the upcoming lecture.

3. Show a Statistic

 Provide an interesting or impressive statistic to start and end a lecture. This can draw in student learners and help them to understand the importance of a topic. An alternate universe scenario. You can capture student attention by providing a provocative what-if scenario.

4. Employ an Open-Ended Rhetorical Question or Series of Rhetorical Questions

You can start a lecture by asking students to consider an answer to a rhetorical question. Avoid asking a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no.  If the question is not thought-provoking, students may shut down and quit listening.

5. Make a Contrarian Statement

You can begin a lecture by taking the opposite viewpoint on something that may be conventional wisdom.

6. Provide Unusual Detail

Consider starting a lecture with an unusual detail or little-known fact.

7. Tell a Story

Stories can be one of the most effective ways to start a lecture. People make sense of the world through stories, and moreover, we simply enjoy them.

The key to The Hook is to know your audience so that you can gauge how best to capture their attention. When you plan The Hook, try to imagine how students will react to it. Only use a relevant hook; if you try to use one just to be clever, students will know.

A professor in a course on leadership wanted to seed engagement at the very beginning of each lecture. She, therefore, developed a repertoire of Hooks, including the following:


“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”—Martin 

Luther King, Jr.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”—Peter Drucker

“The first rule of leadership: everything is your fault.”—Hopper, A Bug’s Life

Statistic or fact

 “According to the Grant Thornton International (2015), the percentage of women in senior business roles globally is 24; the percentage of firms with no women in senior management is 33.”

An alternate universe scenario

“What if Steve Jobs had not been born?”

Open-Ended Rhetorical Question

 “How do leaders become leaders?” or “What characteristics are essential to be a leader?”

Contrarian Statement

“Good leaders work smarter, not harder. That’s what people say. I don’t believe that. I believe that great leaders are exceptionally hard workers.”

Unusual Detail

“Leaders have been around since humans began to live together in clans and tribes. Leadership research, however, is a relatively new field, with the first analyses of leadership starting only in the early twentieth century.”

A Story

The following story is attributed to Gandhi and recounted by Erika Andersen in her book, Leading So People Will Follow(Jossey-Bass © 2012)to illustrate leading by example:

A young mother came to Gandhi leading her little boy by the hand and said, “Mahatma Ji, my son eats far too many sweets, and I’m concerned for his heath. If you tell him to stop, he will do it out of respect for you.” 

Gandhi nodded, looked thoughtful, and then asked the mother to return in two weeks. Puzzled, the young woman did as he asked.

Two weeks later, she returned and waited again to have the chance to speak to the master. When she came to the front of the line, she bowed respectfully to Gandhi and said, “Mahatma Ji, I came to you before and asked you to help my son understand he must not eat so many sweets. You asked me to return in two weeks, and so here we are.” 

Gandhi smiled and said, “Ah yes, I remember.” He turned to the little boy and said gravely, “Son, your health is very precious, and eating too much sugar could hurt your body and your teeth. You must stop eating so many sweets. Will you do that?”

The little boy ducked his head, awed, and replied, “Yes, Gandhi Ji.”

The mother thanked Gandhi and then said, “Forgive me Mahatma Ji, but why did you make us wait? I don’t understand why you couldn’t have said that same thing two weeks ago.” 

Gandhi replied, “Two weeks ago, I was eating too much sugar myself.”

Do you use any “hook” strategies in the classroom? Share your experiences with them in the comments below.

Excerpted and adapted from Interactive Lecturing: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley, Claire H. Major. Copyright ©, 2018, Wiley. All rights reserved.

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