Toilets and Tanks: My successful ‘hook lessons’

Week one is always a tough one – maybe not as challenging as trying to write a blog post with a cat trying to sit on your chest, as I’m doing right now – because we’re all trying to adjust to the reality of being back in the classroom. On the Friday of first week back of term, I’m tired; my students are tired. Last week was no exception. I did, however, manage to plan and run two very successful lessons – both were intended as lessons to hook students into the projects/topics we will be studying for most of Term 4.

Year 12: Like all other year 12 teachers right now, we’re studying ‘Belonging’. In order to hook my students’ interest into the topic, I decided to get them thinking about their connectedness to the place they spend their most time – school. I also wanted them to start writing straight away – writing every lesson is essential in all classes (I forget this so often!) but super essential with year 12. I don’t mean writing notes from the board, either… I mean writing something original from their brains. It can be critical or creative or both. This lesson was to be about creative writing.

Firstly I explained the task to my students: We are going to take a​ walk​ around​ the​ school​ and​ stop​ at​ key​ places​ -​ oval,​ handball​ spot,​ basketball​ courts,​ TAS​ quad,​ front​ office,​ common​ room,​ front​ of​ school,​ canteen, for example.​ For​ each​ place,​ they are to write​ a​ list​ of​ five words: adjectives/​ abstract​ nouns/​ action​ verbs​ that​ capture​ the​ feeling/mood​ of​ each​ place.​ I had to model this on the board for students – the adjectives were to reflect the five senses and some students needed reminding of what an abstract noun is… it’s a tricky one to remember. I encouraged my students​ to try​ to​ focus​ on​ their​​ own​ emotional​ response​ to​ the​ place.​ ​

So off we went outside. It turned out to be a drizzly kind of day with intermittent rain, which I assume will result in more ‘not belonging’ writing. Rain makes us moody. Pathetic fallacy? lol. The first place was the English staffroom. My class of 20 crammed into the spaces around my colleagues desks – some sat on the teachers’ chairs or on the floor. It was interesting to see the expressions on their faces! They could see my half-eaten, cold porridge from my hast breakfast two hours before and there was an upturned, very dead cockroach on the floor near one student. Nice, huh? Next I moved them through the concrete outdoor corridor to a locked metal gate – the entry to the downstairs teacher toilet. It is always looked. It has a hand-painted yellow and red ‘teachers only’ sign slouched against the inside walls. Students don’t go in there. In fact, it’s probably only the very desperate teachers who go in there. So I unlocked the padlock and my students filed into this foreign space. It was even more funny seeing the expressions on their faces in here than in the staffroom! Some students leant against the boarded up urinal to do their writing… we got a laugh out of that. They all stood very quietly to complete their writing. Perhaps they were scared to disturb the sanctity of the place?

We visited three more location: canteen (with it’s stench of cooking chicken burgers and the smile and belly-laugh of the loveliest canteen lady you’ll ever meet), the front of the school (where a late student hastily pushed through my students, his face red but his body language trying hard to communicate his nonchalance) and the library (our most modern learning space, all strange shaped lounges and coloured ottomans).  After these five spaces, we returned​ to​ class​ and​ I instructed my students​ to write​ a​ 100​ micro​ description​ of one of the spaces, capturing​ the​ sense​ of​ connection/disconnection​ that​ they felt​ for​ the​ place.​ ​ This needed to be 100 words exactly and I encouraged them to use an extended metaphor to challenge themselves if they felt up to the task. Those who finished quickly were to answer some reflection questions: What is it that made you feel that you belonged in a certain location in the school? What is it that made you feel as though you did not belong? Is it possible for that the ‘vibe’ of a physical location can make an individual experience a sense of disconnection? How do you explain this?​

Their completed and refined micro descriptions will be posted to their personal blogs. I’m really looking forward to reading them!

Year 10: This lesson was to introduce them to our ‘Images of War’ project. I crowd-sourced this hook lesson on Twitter due to my holiday-induced brain freeze. Essentially I wanted a lesson that would encourage my students to think imaginatively, emotionally and rationally about the projects’ driving question (Should we be exposed to images of war?) without actually being asked the question. So how did I do it? Before the lesson I had printed off twenty images of war – a variety of photographs and recruitment posters that showed both the glory and horror of war. I posted these around the walls of the classroom as a kind of ‘Gallery of War’. I also set up a ‘creative station’ with paint, paint brushes, playdough, paper, string, lego, old toys, BluTac, scissors etc. I arranged the tables into two long rows of 12 tables – one row on either side of the room.

When students came into the room, I had them sit on the floor in the middle of the room. I explained to the their tasks: They​ are​ t​o​ look​ at​ all​ the​ images​ and​ then​ select​ the​ ones​ that​ make​ them​ THINK/FEEL/IMAGINE​ some​ aspect​ of​ war.​ They​ are to use a Post-It note (yellow for IMAGINE, blue for THINK, pink for FEEL) and​ write​ a​ sentence​ explaining​ what​ they​ think,​ feel​ or​ imagine​ when​ they​ look​ at​ the​ poster.​ For​ example,​ a​ recruitment​ poster​ might​ elicit​ feelings​ o​f​ bravery​ or​ patriotism​.​ I told students this was a ‘cave’ learning experience – they needed to work silently and not disturb others. Two students and I handed out the Post-It notes and I pressed play on my War Songs playlist on YouTube – these played​ whilst​ the​ students​ walk​ silently​ through​ the​ gallery.​

Once​ students​ had​ used​ all​ of​ their​ Post-It​ notes,​ they​ choose​ ​ a​ ‘medium’​ to​ work​ in​ and​ composed their own​​ ‘image​ of​ war’.​ I left the war​ songs​ playing​ during​ this​ activity and went around the room reminding students that they needed to be in their ‘cave’ – out of respect for those in the photographs around the walls.​ Students chose to paint, draw and create models from the lego. The table arrangement worked really well for this task – they divided into two large teams and looked to each other for inspiration. Once​ most were complete, the music was turned off and I asked my students​ to share​ their​ images​ of​ war​ with​ their peers. A lot of them were embarrassed to do this, assuming their artistic ability (or lack of it) would be mocked. Despite this, all ended up​ explaining​ what​ thoughts,​ emotions​ or​ imaginings​ they​ were​ trying​ to​ communicate/elicit​ with​ their​ image​ of​ war.​

I overheard one of my students saying, ‘I love this class’ during this lesson. I hope it was because he was pushed to think critically about war and representation of war, but maybe it was just because he got to listen to Metallica whilst painting a picture of a tank and a bleeding soldier. Either way, this was a successful hook lesson that I think my students will remember for a while. As they worked on their own images of war, I went and looked at their Post-It note comments on the Gallery of War images… their comments were honest, insightful and sensible. I was very impressed with their ideas.

Even though Friday was an exhausting day starting at 6.30am and not slowing down until after lunch, I was totally content with the success of these two lesson. Yay me!

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19 thoughts on “Toilets and Tanks: My successful ‘hook lessons’

  1. Very impressive for the end of the first week back, Bianca. I certainly didn’t have this energy by Friday! They sound great though, and I imagine your students were really enthused. Yay you!!

  2. How wonderful to hear of such inspiring lessons at the other end of school from which I work. I am an early childhood teacher and I think the walk would work equally well with any year level. Well done. Yay you! Lucky students!

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