September 12

Hook Vs. Launch: What’s the Difference?


When I work with teachers to design their PBL units, some talk about having a video for a “hook” or discuss reading client letters in the “launch.” Both seem to connect to the first day of the unit, and both are important elements to include in a PBL unit. But is there a difference between a hook and a launch? Can you have one without the other? What are the components of each that make them useful or even necessary to include?

First, let's take a look at the “hook” and my understanding of the term:

  • Hooks are meant to increase engagement and motivation.
  • Hooks inspire student curiosity and a desire to know more.
  • Hooks have an element of student relevance.
  • Hooks do not have to be lengthy.
  • Hooks can be a puzzling phenomenon, a skit, a video, a demonstration, or any number of engaging events.
  • Hooks can be at the start of the unit, but could even be used to start a lesson within a unit.

A hook then, in a sense, is like an appetizer, or like the smell of waffle cones baking at an ice cream shop. It's meant to draw us in, but if there's not more to it, we might leave feeling empty or disappointed.

That takes us to the launch, which is an often-overlooked aspect of instruction within a unit. Because our time is so limited, we often start a unit by giving a pretest, providing some sort of hook, and then dive right in to the learning. However, by doing so, we miss an important opportunity to frame the unit in a way that involves all learners, intrigues all learners, and honors all learners. Let's break down the elements of a launch of a PBL unit:

  • Launches include a hook (perhaps a specific event, stories, photos, demonstration, videos, etc.).
  • Launches set forth a problem students will be working on or thinking about.
  • Launches get students right into the work of thinking about the problem with whatever background students start with.
  • Launches provide students with a challenge that has specific parameters for a specific audience (even if students get to choose some aspects of this).
  • Launches give students a chance to identify their knows and need to knows.
  • Launches leave students with a clear sense of where they are going and why they are doing this work (even if they aren't quite sure how they'll get there yet)
  • Launches leave students wanting to work more on the problem.

Notice that both hooks and launches are highly engaging and that both increase motivation. Launches have the added layer of getting students into the work of the problem and/or uncovering students' prior knowledge in a social setting. Launches also zero in on the problem students will work on, and help students consider the learning that needs to take place for students to complete the project. Finally, just as a ship launches and everyone who is on board is in that voyage together, fully launching a project gives the students the sense that “we're all in this together.” It brings about a cohesiveness that a pretest kickoff won't.

As you plan your PBL units, consider how you'll build out a full launch. Think about where to embed hooks and how to expand your repertoire for both hooks and launches. Once you begin a unit with a full launch, you'll find the final product will reflect the intentionality with which you started the unit.

Happy planning!


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