Writing a Hook for the Introduction
Lesson 4 of 8
Objective: Students will be able to clearly introduce their history essay by by writing a hook and describing the historical context.
For September and October I gave my students bellwork packets. Each day has room four their journal as well as the daily Daily Grams. Somehow I miscounted days and I was short a day, so for today, we just did the Daily Grams portion. I might have chosen to do the journal, but quite frankly, I've been battling a cold this week and didn't have the energy to think of a stellar journal topic. If I'd had the energy, the journal topic might have been:
What is your thesis statement for your essay? How did yesterday's lesson help you write your thesis statement? Why is it important to have a clear and concise thesis statement for essays?
Dude, that was a good journal prompt! Where was this energy yesterday?
The thesis statement is the road map--the map that tells the reader where your essay is taking them. The hook is what makes the reader what to drive down the road in the first place. If the hook isn't effective, the reader will travel down a different road (read a different essay). It's critical that the hook is effective.
So, how can a writer get the reader's attention? How can a writer make the reader want to read the essay?
We reviewed the notes on introductions that we took two days ago on the hook. Writers can start with an interesting fact, vivid description, quotation, or thought-provoking question. Those are probably the most effective ways to start a historical analysis essay. I flat out told students to avoid the anecdote, imperative sentence, or exclamatory sentence. The anecdote works for a personal essay, but the exclamatory sentence? No. Just no.
For this essay, there's also an additional requirement. This essay is for social studies, for the National History Day project. Therefore, in addition to catching the reader's attention, students have to provide the historical context and explain the topic's importance.
I explained that they already have their thesis statement, so today, they'd be focusing on the hook, historical context, and historical importance. By the time they left class today, they'd be able to take their National History Day Essay Outline and write their introduction, which, by the way, was their homework.
Modeling the Hook
I reminded students that my essay was about the Little Rock Nine. My thesis was
The road trip I was taking them on was to see the discrimination from the governor (first body paragraph), white citizens (second body paragraph), and white students (third body paragraph). But why should they even read this essay? I need to hook them, catch their attention, so they want to read about this discrimination.
I do that by providing the historical context, importance, and hook. I decided to hook my reader by asking the to imagine if they (the reader) wasn't allowed to attend school.
I provided the historical context by identifying the who, what, when, and where.
I explained the importance of the topic by relating it back to the theme of rights and responsibilities. This covers the why.
Add the thesis to the above components, and bam! You've got a compelling introduction.
Writing Workshop: Hooks
I used brave, very brave students, to provide additional modeling for students as well as work-shopping the introduction. Essentially, all of the students had to be brave because we were still working in small groups so most students got help with their essay. In my co-taught classes, since there are still three teachers, every student got individual help. Having a student teacher is often awesome.
During first hour, I started with the hook, then the historical background, and ended with the topic's importance. It went okay, but it wasn't great. It felt a bit funky. Third hour (I have second hour prep), I started with the historical context, went on with the topic's importance, and ended with the hook. That went much better. Here's a transcript of the dialogue I had with students.
Me: "What's your topic?"
Student 1: "Native American boarding schools."
Me: "Who, what, when, where?"
Student: 1"Native Americans. boarding schools. In the 1860s."
Student 1: "All over."
Me: "Are you talking about boarding schools all over the U.S.? Are you focusing on boarding schools in Arizona?"
Student 1: "Arizona."
Me: "Okay. Native Americans, boarding schools, in the 1860s, in Arizona. There's your historical context. One sentence--go."
Me: "So what? Why does it matter?" This question often got me expressions of "Duh."
Student 1: "Because. . . they couldn't. . .they had to go to white schools. . . they couldn't. . .speak their language."
Me: "Ah! They were denied their rights! We should care because Native American students were denied their rights! There's your historical importance. Go!"
Me: "How can you get someone interested in the topic?"
Student 1: "Um..."
Me: "What's the most interesting fact about your topic?"
Student 1: "Um..."
Me: "Vivid description? What would it be like to. . ."
Student 2: "What about something like what would it be like to not be allowed to speak your own language?"
Student 1: "Oooohhh."
Me: "Yes, there's your hook. Go! Next? Who's brave?"
Hands up all over the place. How do I choose?
Me: "Show me with your thumbs how you feel about doing this on your own?" I selected a thumbs sideways or thumbs down kid.
Me: "What's your topic?"
Student 2: "Miranda rights."
Me: Who, what, when, where?"
Student 2: "Ernesto Miranda. 1966. Phoenix."
Me: "There's your historical context. So what? Why should anyone care?"
Student 2: "Because he had rights, but wasn't told those rights."
Me: "Boo yah! There's your importance. How can you get the reader's attention? Interesting fact? Thought-provoking question? Vivid description?"
Me: "Fact? Question?"
Student 2 shushes me because he's busy writing. I love that kid.
Me: "Who's brave?"
And on and on until we're out of time.
I reminded students that their homework was to write their new and improved introduction. They were to take what they had written for their hook, historical context, topic's importance, and three-prong thesis statement and rewrite it as one paragraph.
The best part? Every single class asked, "What if I want to change something?" Then do it! That's the revision process!
This isn't proper closure, per Madeline Hunter, but sometimes that's what happens in reality.