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Baiting the Hook

April 12, 2013

Jonathan K

Last week I started writing about my experience using the techniques outlined in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion.  That post focused on technique #35: Giving Props.  This week I want to talk about what I consider the single most important tool a teacher can implement: I/We/You.  (The majority of this post will focus only on the first step: “I”)

I/We/You is not a single technique, but a group of them that guides the structure and pacing of a lesson.  Basically, it says that students should be gradually released to independent work and supported throughout.  I understand it like this:

1.   “I” the teacher have the information.  Notes are given.  Things are explained.  Examples are shown.

2.  “We” the class work with the information once the new content and objectives have been explained.  The work is fairly evenly divided between student and teacher.  They have a dialog and ask each other questions until everyone feels comfortable.

3.   “You” the student master the information and can do it without assistance.

It’s just like learning to drive a car.  First you spend years as a passenger watching other people drive (the “I” step).  Then you get a learner’s permit and get in the driver’s seat but with an experienced driver there coaching and helping you (the “we” step).  Finally, you feel confident, pass your driving test and go out on the road alone (the “you” step).

That’s great!  But how do you make it happen consistently every day when there are seventy people in the room at varying ability levels?  How do you teach them all to ‘drive’ in 45 short minutes?  It’s no small thing, but friends, it’s possible.  My students are living proof.

The majority of work applying I/We/You needs to be done before you come to class, as you’re planning your lesson.  It seems basic, but before you start presenting information you should explain why is matters and why students should be interested to learn it.  (Yes, this can be really hard!)  This is Teach Like a Champion technique #12: The Hook.


This is what the Peace Corps 4-Mat lesson plan would call the “Motivation.”  It is the few minutes before notes when class is starting and you’re competing with cell phones, geography assignments, and people in the courtyard for attention.   A hook can be short or long, basic or showy.

Here’s a short simple hook I used recently: “Today we’re learning something very powerful.  Today we’re learning the Quadratic Formula.  By the end of class you will be able to use it to solve any quadratic equation.  It’s ugly, but don’t worry.  I will teach you a song so you will never forget.  Ready?  Let’s go.”

Here’s a longer, showier hook I used last semester.  I was teaching collecting like terms and I knew from last year that it would be really hard for them.  It happened to be citrus season and there were limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruit everywhere.  In Liberia they are all green and discernable only by their size.  I filled a bag with an assortment and took it to school.  I wrote the topic on the board then stopped.  “Excuse me.  I need your help with something before we start.”  I brought out my black plastic and held up some of the fruit.  “I have all this green fruit and it’s too much for me.  I want to sell it on the road after school.  What should I do?”

Dead silence.  All eyes on me.

“I know!  Can I pass around like this?”  I started circling the room, yelling and shaking my bag, “Check in my hand for your green somethings!  Greeeeen somethings!  Five-five!”

They died.  “No! No! No! “

“Oh!  They’ll think I’m crazy?   You don’t sell ‘green somethings’?  What should I do?”

“Ms. RB, it’s all chockla in that plastic.  You need a table.”

“Good idea.”  I emptied it on someone’s desk.  “Check on my table for your sweet something!  Greeeen somethings!

They died again.

“It’s not correct like that?  Wow.  Help me.  I beg.”

They helped me organize the fruit into piles of limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruit.  “So you’re telling me that they look the same but they aren’t?  Even though they’re all green and round I can’t put them together?  Jesus!  Well you just collected like terms.”  I started my notes.

I repeated different versions of this over the next few days, circulating the classroom and distributing “green somethings” and asking people to come up and collect themselves into piles of “like somethings.”  Then I walked down the line, took the fruit and gave each person a notecard with a term on it.  “This big big grapefruit is like x3 and this 2 is like the small lime.  Would you ever put a grapefruit in a pile with a lime and sell it?  No!  It’s not correct!  So, I beg, don’t put your x3 with your 2!”  As a result of this “don’t put your lemons with your oranges” became a popular saying in our class for a few weeks.

Both of these hooks worked, but obviously the second one took more preparation and planning.  (The second hook is also an example of technique #27: Vegas, which I’ll write about in a future post).


After your students are hooked you should move directly into notes.  I use the exact same structure for my notes every day.  This keeps my student’s notes organized and also helps them find things quickly.  It also reduces questions and the need for them to ask their neighbors for clarification (causing noise).  After a few introductory sentences I give them a “RULE.”  I was doing this even before I read Teach Like a Champion and it has been one of the most popular, successful things I have done with my students.

Here is an example of the rule I give my students when we factor quadratic trinomials into binomials:

Factor Rule Cropped

Just like the Hook, Name the Steps is going to sound embarrassingly easy, but the embarrassing truth is many teachers aren’t doing it.  Each time I plan a lesson I sit down with two pieces of paper.  I start solving a problem on one and on the other I record everything I do in the simplest, most direct English I can find.  What am I writing?  Where am I looking?  What am I thinking?  All of this then gets condensed into three to five steps that they can refer back to if they get lost, much like a recipe or formula.  It’s even better if you can make the steps memorable.  When I teach factoring trinomials into binomials I tell them, “Step #1: Open two biiiiig brackets!” then throw my arms up to make air brackets.  By the end of the lesson they’re excitedly joining in.

(Lemov calls these rules “scaffolding” which I love).

After I present the rule I take questions and move directly into examples.  I always divide the board into two halves so the rule is on one side and I can refer to it while I work the example.  While this is happening I ask them to stop writing and just watch and listen.  “Put your pen down and look up when you’re ready to go.”  This directly models for them what is happening at each step in the rule.  We repeat this two or three times until they’re ready to try independent practice.


Liberian students don’t have textbooks so good note taking is imperative—we are writing the textbook.  I write my notes on the board exactly how I expect them to appear in my students’ notes and take time to show answers how I expect to see them on homework, quizzes, and tests.  Technique #15: Circulate helps me monitor this.  (Again, this is going to sound obvious, but this technique requires you to lesson plan and do so seriously.)


Circulate is used during all phases of an I/We/You lesson, but it is often neglected or forgotten during the “I” step.  When possible I enter the room early (before school or at recess) and put my notes on the board.  This allows them to start copying the moment they enter and it frees me up to immediately move around the room greeting them, making quiet corrections, and checking for board=paper.  “Welcome back, I missed you!” or “Show me your math.  Geography won’t help you pass the math WAEC in May.”  Circulating also allows me to see how everyone is progressing and when I can move forward.  As I see them start finishing I start explaining what I wrote, often from the back of the room.  This allows me to make sure I’ve written clearly and that everyone can see from where they are sitting.

As with anything, if you do this consistently it will become normal.  It will just be something you do, associated with neither good nor bad behavior.  It also gives them the opportunity to quietly grab your arm and ask for help if they feel shy.

Liberian colleagues, I know what you’re saying.  “There are too many people.  I can’t pass between the desks.  I’ve never seen the back of my classroom.”  Sorry, but save your excuses.  If you want to go they will find a way for you to go.  Last year with 85 in my 12th grade I often felt like Moses parting the Red Sea.  I would just start going in and legs and bags would quickly move to make a path.  No, you’ll never be able to get directly to each of them, but you should be able to get within arm’s reach and usually that’s enough.  All you can do is try and the more you try the easier and better everything will become.

The Hook, Name the Steps, Board=Paper, and Circulate are powerful techniques in and of themselves.  Used together to deliver the “I” part of an I/We/You lesson, however, they are a knockout punch.  Students are excited about the new material and have the tools and support to start applying it independently.

Magnanimous reader, have you used any successful (or less successful) hooks?  Have you used similar techniques to help motivate and ‘scaffold’ your students?  Post them here so we can all benefit from your experience.

Next time I’ll write about how I negotiate the move from “I” to “We.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2013 8:16 pm

    You are AMAZING! I’m a Kindergarten teacher and do a lot of the techniques you have mentioned, but unfortunately, not always consistently. A great ‘hook’ activity for a unit on transportation I once did was to have the students make a cardboard car and then get from point A to point B as quickly as they could. They all crashed and there were many ‘accidents’. From there, we spend a good six week unit talking about different kinds of transportation and why we needed safety regulations. Keep up the good work, you are an inspiration!

    • April 12, 2013 9:21 pm

      Thank you, Sarah! I can just imagine all your kids running around wrecking their cars. Love it. I’m sure they thought of that often during your unit and perhaps even now driving around with their parents. I wish I could do something similar here with motorbikes! Many of my students run them after school like taxis and could use a safety brush-up. Thank you for sharing!

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