How to Hook in Little Kids and Adolescents with a Centuries-Old Strategy


If you’re like me, you have memories of sharing content with your class of students, and many of them just looking at you and staring. Nothing’s happening.

You’re not sure if they even care what you are saying. OK, let’s say you did use “buy-in” strategies, so that area was addressed. Maybe you see that they just aren’t connecting to the content. Believe me, this has happened to the best of us.

There is a simple tool you can use to ensure this never, ever happens to you again.

The Research

Ask your students if they would ever like the thrill and kudos that come with discovering one the great elements of all time on the periodic table. Hands go up.

Here is the short story of oxygen…

Oxygen was actually discovered independently by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in 1773 (or earlier), but no one knows for sure the date. But he never got any credit for the discovery.


A year later, in 1774, Joseph Priestley not only made the discovery, but his work on his discovery was the first one published. Now this takes just a bit of imagination to turn it into the reason why one inventor became famous, and the other did not.

Was it because Priestley turned in his homework (publication) on time? Maybe, and that’s a cool connection to modern day school.

This story is a way to hook in the brain.

The majority of ALL successful television shows have a story (crime shows, drama and even sports). Your brain system ensures you are a story-maker. A pioneer in psychology showed many years ago that it is our stories and narratives that guide our lives (Cohler, 1982).

More recently, research has shown how this process works in adolescents (Hammack & Toolis, 2014). Your brain is designed to create a story or reason for the “why and how” something happens (Gazzaniga, 1998). This system is comprised of the activity in your verbal/language hemisphere (usually the left side) and the seamless activation of memories that support the narrative (your temporal lobes).

Let’s say something bad happens. You’ve heard another say, “That must have happened for a reason.” That’s almost true; it’s just backwards. The reason didn’t come first; the event came first. Then, we humans try to figure things out to make sense of a world, which is often random, chaotic and certainly not fair. But we are driven to do this.

Moviemakers all say, “I just want a good story.” A crime report by a local police department becomes fodder for a 20/20 segment on TV. A fancy high-tech sci-fi TV show has just the right STORY and it becomes the Star Wars trilogy (times 2) ! Now, how can you use this in your class? I promise you’ll have fewer disconnected students.

Classroom Applications

Many people go helpless and say, “I can’t tell stories. Some can do it, and others can not.” This is all about mindset. Have you heard that before? Stop focusing on what you can’t do. Do a short simple story, using a prop. I have done this dozens of times, in my case using a real brain as a prop. A prop gives you part of the story to talk about. What a great hook props are. There are many good websites with strategies on storytelling. For instance, check this one out:

How Do You Become a Storyteller?

  1. Read widely. Pick up as many different world folktales, fables, myths, and legends as you can.
  2. Watch professional storytellers and take notes about how they do it. Every storyteller is different, and you can learn something from them all.
  3. Build your confidence by reading your students picture books or chapter books with an interesting voice. Stop to ask questions. Make the book reading interactive. It will help you create a shared event with a story.
  4. Pick stories with small numbers of characters and repeating events, as these are easiest to remember. Having said that, pick any story you like — no, that you love! If it captivates you, it will captivate the younger ones, too.
  5. Write the stories down in a notebook. Writing helps you remember a story, and it models the same to the children.
  6. When you start “telling” your story, it’s OK to have the book nearby and to take a look at it if you forget a part. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You are a student again.
  7. Get yourself a “prop box” made of old bits of linen, and fill it with hats from charity shops and random objects that children can use imaginatively. I got a lot of my materials from recycling centers.

The content above is from Matthew James’ Why Storytelling in the Classroom Matters Visit his website at


In math, the story of how the value of Pi was discovered was straight out of a CSI forensics playbook. The Pi formula may have been devised around 250 BC by the Greek mathematician Archimedes. Then, around 150 AD, Greek-Roman scientist Ptolemy gave a more accurate value for Pi. But In 265 AD, the Wei Kingdom mathematician Liu Hui created a polygon-based iterative algorithm and used it with a 3,072-sided polygon to obtain a value of 3.1416, which was the best representation of Pi for the next 800 years.

There is a great detective story in this sequence. It is just waiting for a math teacher to create the learning hooks. It is a huge part of the progression of science, math and biology. There’s a great story here if you wanted to tell it with props, world maps and even end with a real pie to be shared after the math seatwork is done!

Best to you…

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

Cohler, B.J. (1982). Personal narrative and the life course. In P. Baltes & O.G. Brim (Eds.), Life span development and behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 205-241). New York: Academic Press.
Gazzaniga, MS, (1998). The Mind’s Past. Univ. of California Press, SF, CA.
Hammack, PL & Toolis, E. (2014). Narrative and the social construction of adulthood. New Dir. Child Adolesc Dev.145, 43-56.
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