You are currently viewing How to Hook Your Students Instantly:  the Anticipatory Set

How to Hook Your Students Instantly: the Anticipatory Set

When your students first walk into your classroom you have that instant to give them an impression of what you have planned for them for that day.  You can hook them instantly (also known as the anticipatory set).  Or they can enter the room, see the status quo, and sit down, already tuned out.  Then it is your job to fight the uphill battle to get them engaged.

Students are used to walking into a classroom, sitting down (whether in assigned seating or not), and waiting for the teacher to start talking.

Thirteen years of this, day in and day out, can get pretty tedious and boring.  And if they aren’t interested in the subject you are teaching, you just multiplied that boredom factor even more.

So the question becomes how to hook your students instantly upon entering the classroom?  You hook students instantly by appealing to their senses in ways that draw them to the education they are receiving in your classroom. 

What is a Hook?

A hook, otherwise known as the anticipatory set, is a short amount of time, usually no more than 5 minutes, where you do some activity that creates variety in your classroom routine and is designed to instantly engage your students to enthusiastically learn for the rest of the class period.

Let’s look at four great ways to do that:

  1. Visuals related to your days activities that are clearly visible as they walk into the classroom.
  2. Videos that introduce a concept.
  3. Play dress up.
  4. Be available for conversation.

1. Have Visuals Related to Your Day’s Activities Clearly Visible

The Table

I have a table near the door to the class that stands by itself.  It is one of the first things the students see as they enter the classroom.

Over the course of a typical school day, there should be at least 3 or 4 “special” things for the students to look forward to.  Whether that is a math game to introduce a new concept, a craft related to the book you are reading as a class, or a new food to drive home a history lesson, it is something different than reading along in a book or sitting and watching the teacher talking.

All of these things have displayable components.  And you can choose to display them in a couple of different ways.  For items that you plan that don’t have physical components, you could always do a word play picture to try to get them to relate to the activity.

Guessing Game

My class loved when I put things out on the table with no indication of what they were representing.  Then they had to try to guess.  Sometimes it was super easy, like when I had something related to our reading class.  Most of the books we read were classic literature or pop culture books that at least some of the kids had read.  So it could be easy if they knew what was coming up.

And of course a couple of different pies on March 14 would be totally obvious to a large number of students as to what you would be talking about that day if you chose to introduce or review that concept on that day.

If you were planning to play a game to teach a concept, then components of the game arranged on the table makes a great introduction.


You could also have small descriptions of each of the items on the table so there is no guessing.  You could put a description of the item and even how it ties into the lesson.  And you could put the subject that it relates to if you teach in a class that does not rotate class periods.

Generally speaking, the more things you can put on that table, the more engaged your students will be.  Almost exponentially so!  Three to five items would make a great display.

2.  Videos that Introduce a Concept

How to hook your students with videos–

There is a website called that has video clips from movies and tv shows.  It is designed to be used in classrooms from K-12 and even through college.  There is a short one-minute Youtube video explaining the basics of their program.

But it actually goes even deeper than that with a paid subscription.  You can insert live discussions, pause prompts, vocabulary search, in-video search, clip insights, and about a dozen more features.

Branching Out

Or you can always make your own video or find a quick video online.

The idea here is that once a video starts playing, you instantly grab the attention of virtually every single student.  And the classroom goes silent except for the video playing.

You literally have a captive (captivated) audience!

The great thing about the internet is that you can find literally anything that fits all of the concepts/classes you are teaching.  You may have to get creative sometimes, but that kind of makes it even more fun!

If you can’t find the exact concept you want to teach in video form, then you can always find something that is talked about and use that to get their attention and then draw it back to your subject.

An Example

For instance, if you were teaching on prepositions, rather than using an instructional video on prepositions (because honestly, unless it’s schoolhouse rock what video on prepositions is going to actually hook your students?!), you could find a video that doesn’t talk about prepositions at all.  But it may be teaching another really important life concept.

Let’s say you choose to watch “The Present.”  It is a 4 minute video that teaches a great life lesson.

Once the video is over, uncover a board that has questions on it related to the video.  Unless you have a smart board, and in that case, just turn it on and start working through the questions.  Make sure that all of the answers are prepositions!  Once you have gone through the questions and answers, you can then explain to them how all of those answers point them to the concept at hand.  And then you can teach on through the day’s lesson.


 A good display item for your table would be a stuffed dog or a picture of a dog.  They will never guess that it ties into prepositions. Even if you label it that way, they won’t get the connection until you do the hook!  But they will have a great time guessing!


As an added benefit, starting with a hook like that will actually shorten your instruction time.  The picture you are giving them is vivid and allows them to learn the concept in a much shorter time.  But it also allows them to retain the lesson because it was delivered in a unique way.

Of course, in this case, your hook ended up taking more like 10 minutes of time. But the life lesson you taught in addition to the tie to prepositions is something that can last a lifetime for some if not most of your students!

The point is that you got their attention and now they are ready to learn.


This works for all of you parents out there who are reading this!

If your child brings home some homework that he/she just can’t grasp the concept, then you can always do this trick yourself.

Rather than beating yourself over the head trying to find a way to explain it that they actually understand, make a visual picture that they can tangibly learn from.  Your job gets completed in less time.  And you enjoyed some fun time with them while you were doing work that needed to get done!


There IS a schoolhouse rock on prepositions.

3.  Play Dress Up

How to hook your students by playing dress up?  This one can take many forms.

You can dress up to reference a certain character or famous person.

It can be an author of a book you are reading.  Or it can be Isaac Newton to communicate how he discovered one of his laws of nature.

Another way you can change your appearance is to show up differently than you normally do.  Show up in a bathrobe to talk about a study on sleep and its benefits.  Wear a crazy hairstyle if your science lesson for the day is on the components of hair.

Dress like you are from the 1980’s if you are teaching a history lesson from the 80’s.  Or dress like the 1880’s if that is the era you are teaching about!

You get the point.  There are infinite possibilities here.  Many times, turning it into something creative is just a matter of taking one word out of the lesson content and figuring out how to make that visual for your students.  And generally it can even be loosely tied to the concept but still brought back around to make the connection.  And sometimes those are the concepts that are retained the best because they are generally more memorable.

4.  Be Available for Conversation

How to hook your students with conversation?

This one may be the easiest of all.  Except for the table display, which is pretty easy because you are already doing those things, there is no prep work involved here.

It is just a matter of being near the table to intentionally greet your kids.

Generally speaking, the table is going to be the conversation starter.  And the students are going to immediately engage as soon as they walk in and see what is on the table.

And all that leaves is for you to engage back with them regarding how you want that table to play out in your class time!

Your students will feel like you did something extra special for them because you did.  You thought of them and how to make their day a little bit better.  And they will know that you are listening to them because you were willing to engage them directly and personally.

And that is the heart of educating and learning!

Printable Hook Checklist

Here is a printable weekly checklist that you can add to your lesson planner.  It will help you to balance out the variety of activities and the correlating subject that you use to hook your class.  Since there are literally hundreds of ways  you can do this, I left lots of blank spaces for you to fill in the special hooks that work for your class!

Just click on it to grab your copy.

how to hook your students


The phrase, “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression” is very well applied here.  Although you could get a second chance because your students are kind of your captive audience for the year, you don’t want to fight that uphill battle.  you want to please them the first time around.

All of this ties in well to the concept of encouraging your students to learn to love reading, and learning for that matter!  You can read more about this in my article here.

Tell me what creative things you have done for your class or with your kids at home that made them excited about learning!

This Post Has 59 Comments

  1. Kez

    I totally agree with the idea of teaching grammar constructs indirectly through other life concepts. It makes learning more authentic, as students can see the real-life links to grammar functions that are normally taught in isolation. This is especially helpful with foreign language learners.

    1. Paolo

      Very good ideas. These are perfect for preschool teachers!

  2. Nyxinked

    Excellent post. My sister is a teacher in quite a bad school. She’s quite a young teacher and teaches teenagers, and one thing she does to keep them interested is keeping relevant. She’s an HE teacher, so not quite grammar etc, but in regards to learning to cook and the nutritional side of things, she keeps relevant by using Youtube to teach. Different, but it works.

  3. I liked that you included a number of different mediums on ways to hook your students. Using visuals and the video can help to create a more inclusive classroom atmosphere and help neurodiverse students feel more comfortable in the classroom.

  4. Amber Myers

    These sound like some great ideas. I know my kids always responded to the dressing game. My daughter was also big on dressing up.

  5. Candace Hampton

    I like that nowadays classes are much more interesting. I truly believe that it’s important to catch the students attention on the first impression. It only takes a minute for them to decide if the class is interesting or boring. The “hook” concept is really positive.

  6. Ewuzie Kingsley

    Very informative, Your blog is quite addictive and your posts are always captivating. This is a blog ever teacher should be following. I believe your classroom and teaching ideas will go a long way in helping the teacher in becoming great educators.

  7. Lily

    Sounds like a really great engaging teaching technique. I hope teachers take note and implement this.

  8. natalielovesbeauty

    This is such a good way to get kids excited about what’s to come! I wish more teachers did this back when I was in school.

    1. Marie

      Me too, Natalie!

  9. Chinenye Ifedebe

    I wish I had teachers who did this when I was growing up. It was straight into school work and they did not care if we were bored to death. Every teacher should read this.

    1. Marie

      I’m sorry for your school experience, Chinenye. I had a few really good teachers that inspired me to write and teach what I do today. I wish we could all have that from time to time!

  10. This is awesome. I like the idea of the video then transitioning into the lesson at hand. I also like the idea of using an item of food. I never heard of it looks like a brilliant teaching aid.

  11. Eloise

    I practice the first one all the time for my preschoolers, works like a charm! Great ideas to engage students, love it!

    1. Marie

      I love hearing things like this Eloise! Your students will remember you long after they move on! <3

  12. Ewa

    Great post! I don’t have much experience with children but I used to teach college students and I agree that gaining their interest from the beginning is very important. The more engaged they are with the material, the more likely they are to succeed in class, and if they start from the beginning, they are more likely to stay on track through the course.

    1. Marie

      All very true, Ewa. Thank you for sharing that with me!

  13. Great ideas! I dont believe learning was ever meant to be dull or boring. These tips would greatly prevent that!

  14. Jenny Suneson

    Oh wow, these are such great ideas. It makes learning more exciting.

  15. I love and appreciate how well thought out your plans are. You really seem to enjoy what you do and it shows.

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Lisa!

  16. ohmummymia

    So many good ideas! I’m pretty sure my son would respond on most of it.

  17. Melanie

    I love this post, thank you for the great ideas! I am excited to check out that you included!

  18. Those were really good advices. I am not a teacher but im trying to teach my kids some lessons while school are close.

    1. Marie

      I think many teachers do know and use hooks for learning. It is featured in several different models. And I agree, it is good from the Kindergarten all the way through college, because the idea is to get your students interested and engaged. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  19. World In Eyes

    The article is very much informative, I am printing this for sharing my friends (Teacher), the techniques are very useful for teachers.

  20. Tessa

    This is so great! It is amazing what a difference using these tools can make in engaging students.

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Tessa!

  21. chad

    Amazing ideas and very creative! Engaging kids and students specifically seems easy but this is such a difficult task for sure.

    1. Marie

      Sometimes it can be difficult. But realizing that is half of the battle. The next step is figuring out how to make it interesting and not torture!

  22. Emman Damian

    It’s a big challenge to be creative! I think you need to create more visuals be it in costume or digital. You can do it!

  23. Ramil Hinolan

    Teaching is a challenge. My wife was once a teacher and she had many problems before.

    1. Marie

      It is a difficult job!

  24. modfamglobal

    Such great ideas!! I could clearly visualize kids coming into the classroom and chattering away about some object that was displayed. “What is it for?” “What are we going to do with it?” “Why is it here?”

    1. Marie

      Exactly! It was so much fun watching them come in excited and wondering what things we would be doing.

  25. Anna

    I love your tips! Back when I was a student, I had a few teachers that could always catch out attention, no matter what. One history teacher in my middle school comes to mind especially. He had some mad storytelling skills! Even though it was a class extended math program, we all loved history. No one ever got late for his classes, even though he never checked the list.
    One thing he would to catch our attention is say rhyming puns about history! We wrote down these puns because they were hilarious, but when I look back at my notes, I have the entire history of Europe written down at the back of my notebook. Except it’s written in jokes. How cool is that?!

    1. Marie

      I love that, Anna! You were very fortunate to have him. And I bet many of the students remembered his material better because it was in an unusual and catchy format. Thank you for sharing your story!

  26. Catherine Santiago Jose

    I love how you explained everything.It’s very helpful, I love this post. It gives me a lot of ideas.

  27. sushmitamalakar

    This is a great resource for teachers! It is very important to engage the students – this age is critical for learning. Great post 🙂

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Sushmita!

  28. LifeMagHealth

    This is really a great idea at school. It can also be used at home specially during this quarantine period. Definitely gonna share this to my friends and relatives!

    1. Marie

      Yes, and it is even great to use in the home in non-academic endeavors as well! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  29. aisasami

    I use some of the ideas you mention in my classroom as you have to hook the little one’s attention immediately. But also, it gets them to participate more (especially the guessing game), something that ESL really wants as we need to have the kids speaking more.

    1. Marie

      You are exactly right, Aisasami!

  30. revolvingcompass

    This is good stuff. I am not a teacher, But I guess many of these tricks can be applied at home also to engage my kids. I am going to try some out!

    1. Marie

      Yes! These are just as good for home (even for non-academic activities) as they are for school! We all want to get our kids’ attention, lol!

  31. Bindu Thomas

    Great! This is such a great job on teaching kids. Loved the ideas really

  32. There is some really sound and sensible advice here which I am sure many people in the teaching profession will thank you for x

  33. SplendidPsyche

    This is a lovely post and not just for teachers. With such ideas, learning will be fun and easy.

  34. Kenny Ngo

    I love it when school lessons are interlinked with life lessons to show how it affects day to day living. Really most effective.

  35. Marjie Mare

    These are awesome ideas and thank you for sharing them. With my daughters, I have to be always be ready for their conversation.

  36. REMO

    This is really informative post. I learnt something new today 🙂

  37. littlemisadvencha

    I love this post! This gives our kids a lot of things to learn with different styles. Thanks for all the tips. For sure, kids will never get bored. Love it!

  38. Natalie

    First impression is everything. You made some really good points here. Great article. I will share this with my colleagues.

  39. Rosey Marie

    That’s a great way to teach prepositions. I laughed about School House Rock. My students didn’t like SHR. I was mortified, lol!

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