Seven Learning Hooks

August 16th, 2011
Photo © by Texas Photo Wrangler | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Learning hooks (in educational jargon they are called “pre-teaching strategies”) focus on identifying student knowledge or experience (what is already known), “hooking” or engaging their interest (finding common ground), then presenting new material (making connections) in a way that will help students of all ages acquire information. Educational research has shown that people learn in this way.

In nautical imagery, a person without oars might throw the anchor, “hook” onto a stump or rock, then pull the rope to move the boat closer to the destination. The connection is made from the boat’s location to the stump or rock; then the boat moves to the new place. With a learning hook, one reaches forward for a solid concept in order to move to a new understanding.

Making Clear Connections

But watch out for faulty hooks! Many Sunday school teachers have experienced or know a story about the child who explained the angel’s name was Harold because at Christmas, they always sang “Hark! The ‘Harold’ Angel Sings.” You can add other examples of your own!

We may mistakenly assume that children have an accurate understanding of words and concepts. This assumption can lead to misconceptions, frustration, and confusion for your students. They then have trouble accessing what they already know, and new information is layered onto misconceptions or fragmented stories. None of this leads to greater biblical understanding and transformed Christian lives.

Transformational learning occurs through learning hooks when the biblical story becomes the students’ story, connecting the experience and the message to their own lives. Students familiar with learning hooks often can leap to their life experiences to make biblical connections. They can make these connections themselves; they have learned to ask themselves questions about the relationships to what they already know. It is fun to see the children engrossed in the connections and stories. They begin to see, “The Bible really is about my life!”

Teaching with learning hooks is like building on a rock, rather than sand (Matthew 7:24-27).

Seven Learning Hooks

Consider the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) with the following hooks in mind. Within your lesson, try:

Asking questions. What is a neighbor? How far away can a neighbor live? Who are their neighbors? What is similar/different about neighbors at home, at school, at church? What often happens among neighbors? (sharing, assisting, friendship)

This sets the story. You can return to these questions at the end of the lesson and ask who Jesus said was their neighbor.

Relating to a shared experience. Everyone has a neighbor. Ask students to tell you about their neighbors. Are they friendly? Do they visit you? Are you welcome in their yards? This hook puts everyone on the same learning page. You are connecting experiences, and no one feels left out. Find some common agreement or experience about neighbors.

Connecting to what they already know. Obviously, accrued knowledge is greater the older you become, but even young children know something about houses, bruises, neighbors, water, friends, sharing, rescuing. Link the story of something of which they already have knowledge. Ask them to name their friends. Then ask them to name someone they do not like very much and why.

Learning new vocabulary. “Never assume anything” is a motto for all teachers. Not everyone (adults and children alike) knows what a Samaritan represented to the Jewish people at that time. Samaritans and Jews deeply disliked each other over many centuries because they had differences of religious beliefs and of ethnic relationships. Knowing this adds greater depth to the story of the good Samaritan. You can explain the nuances of the relationship in terms that are age-appropriate and commonly understood. Taking a few minutes to explain this concept will make the story live in ways it never has before. Consider together how you and your students would feel to help or be helped by someone who is mean, different, someone you genuinely dislike or of whom you are generally afraid. This is Jesus’ message in the parable. This is transformational teaching.

Discovering misconceptions. Say: Tell me everything you know about the parable of the good Samaritan. List the responses on newsprint and then, as they learn the story, refer back and check their information. They will make their own discoveries. If you get a response that you know is clearly incorrect, mark it and ask students to look for this information as you go about your lesson. This gives students ownership of new information as they make their own discoveries.

Stimulating interest. Cover your classroom walls with pictures of different kinds of people together. Clip headlines of different people helping or being helped. Or, how did a natural disaster bring together widely-divergent people? Consider pictures, objects, music, or anything that relates to the lesson.

Making the lesson relevant. If there has been a related incident in your area, share the story. For the good Samaritan, perhaps there is a story in your town or state that exemplifies people helping others. Discuss with your class: Who would I not want to help? Who would I not want to help me? The biblical story comes to life and lives are transformed.

Learning hooks are essential to your teaching. As you become accustomed to using learning hooks, you will identify those hooks more quickly and so will your students. As you incorporate them into your teaching/learning, you will discover a growth in the depth of understanding and a new excitement about learning. While we are interested in helping students learn about God’s Word, the bigger picture is helping to transform them into disciples of Jesus Christ through the power of the Scripture. As teachers, you have been called to an awesome task. God bless you in your ministry.

comments powered by Disqus