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Try This Journalism Teacher Hack to Get Instantly Better Hooks From Students


Try This Journalism Teacher Hack to Get Instantly Better Hooks From Students

When I swapped out my newsdesk for a teacher’s desk and landed in a high school English classroom, the last thing on my mind was writing amazing hooks (also called leads or ledes in journalism). Instead, I anticipated kids needing help finding research sources, crafting strong arguments, and building outlines. They did need that, but over the years I figured out that “need a creative hook” was one of the points of contention on every graded rubric, starting at way younger grades, and persisting as a point of frustration for students and their teachers through high school.

To combat this, one of the first lessons I taught, and continue to teach a decade later, is the 8 specific ways to craft a catchy hook, whether you are writing a news story or analytic literature essay. As readers, we all have the universal need to be drawn in–so whether a hook is a part of the latest ACT requirements or not, it’s a necessity to becoming a moving writer. The 8 hook examples have been on my wall in every classroom I’ve taught in, with a simple explainer and example for each.

Teachers and students alike have visited my room, not during their class time, to take pictures of these posters, and talk about the best ways to teach hooks. The easiest answer, of course, is by reading amazing examples of them. Students are always excited to be handed a list of articles, only to learn they only have to read the first two sentences of each. This easily lends itself to a game (we call it “Would you keep reading?”). Students can rate whether they want to keep reading to the next line or not, showing just how short the average reader’s attention span is, and how they can overcome boring hooks to keep their reader going.

As someone who wrote hooks (leads) for a living, I quickly saw that the point of contention wasn’t whether we needed better hooks (everyone does), but how to teach them. Some teachers weren’t really comfortable writing them themselves, so they definitely couldn’t give catchy examples of them. Others assumed they’d be taught this challenging skill at a younger age, and “should know it by now.” If journalists are still struggling with each article to come up with the best possible hook, why is it a given that 12-year-olds should know it?

The 8 types of ledes I teach in my classroom:

#1 Basic News

Basic News_Journalism Teacher Hack to Get Instantly Better Hooks From Students_Bored Teachers

You may think this only belongs in the newsroom, but it sure gets to the point even in a science class, where the factual information needs to be presented clearly upfront. Students of all ages understand this by simply including the 5 Ws and the H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How).

#2 Word Play

Word Play_Journalism Teacher Hack to Get Instantly Better Hooks From Students_Bored Teachers

One of the more difficult ledes to teach and write, this one comes naturally to some punny students who like to get creative with language and word choice. Words with a double meaning work well here.

#3 Scene-setter

Scene-setter_Journalism Teacher Hack to Get Instantly Better Hooks From Students_Bored Teachers

A more common hook taught from elementary school on, this lede helps up to feel like we are in the situation through descriptive and sensory language. The secret is helping students transition out of the scene during that transition sentence.

#4 Startling Statement

Startling Statement_Journalism Teacher Hack to Get Instantly Better Hooks From Students_Bored Teachers

A favorite in newsrooms and classrooms alike, this lede hooks us right from the beginning with a shocking statistic, sometimes a number or fact, that makes readers say, “Wait, what?!” After you have their attention you can guide it where you want.

#5 Blind

Blind_Journalism Teacher Hack to Get Instantly Better Hooks From Students_Bored Teachers

The blind lede leaves some facts out, revealing them later in the transition statement, thesis (or nut graf in journalism). An ultimate example of making your readers continue on for the answer.

#6 Round up

Round up_Bored Teachers

Students grow surprisingly fond of the round up lede, which presents a quick list to readers, because it easily accommodates the transition sentence that pulls together all of the items on the list.

#7 Direct Address

Direct Address_Bored Teachers

While we try to use this one a bit less frequently as students get older and become more developed writers, there’s still a time and place to directly address the reader using “you” statements.

#8 Anecdotal

Anecdotal_Bored Teachers

The ultimate example of “show don’t tell” encourages students to find a small anecdote that has a greater meaning, which might be revealed right away or later in the piece. In the example, instead of saying “Abby is a healthy eater” or “Abby is a rabbit”, students learn to show evidence through details and anecdotes.

So let’s get specific with our students. Let’s give them examples of great hooks to read, by great journalists, and not expect them to “just know it.” Let’s share the examples they write with each other in writer’s workshops, and get specific about what makes a great hook. Once that’s under control, let’s do the same for kickers.

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Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a freelance journalist and high school publications teacher in Cincinnati, OH. She's worked with other publications such as Glamour, Women's Health, Reader's Digest, and more. She has three young sons under age four and has been teaching high school for ten years. She encourages her students to develop communication skills, independence, and a passion for writing in their authentic writers' voices. To connect or read more of her work please her website or follow her on social media: Twitter Instagram Linked In.

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