Purple Cows And Pirates

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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How can we increase pupil engagement?

Teaching definitely needs more pink elephants, blue bananas and yellow blackbirds. It needs more ‘remarkable’.

Teaching has to stick out in order for learning to stick. We can take lessons from the world of marketing to illustrate this.

According to Seth Godin boring stuff is invisible and the equivalent of a brown cow. He says,

“Something remarkable is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting. It’s a Purple Cow.”

Not every lesson can be remarkable and outstanding but every lesson can stand out by containing something remarkable.

If we have a brown cow lesson, at least give it some purple spots to make it unforgettable.

Teach Like A Pirate

So how can we raise the bar and make our lessons purple?

In his book, Dave Burgess suggests that we Teach Like A Pirate by using presentational hooks to capture attention and he lists over 30 of them so that we don’t just teach a lesson but create an uncommon experience.

The idea is that we hook children into a state of engagement and deliver the content at the peak of their interest.


Avast Ye

From Dave’s toolbox of strategies, there is plenty to inspire everyone. My top 7 ‘Avast ye’ hooks are:

1. The Costume Hook

If you can dress up as an astronaut then do it! Think about what outfit or accessory you can wear to enhance your content. Create a character or become a superhero.

2. The Safari Hook

Get outside and as often as you can – it is energising and naturally enhances achievement.  Mucky leaners are plucky learners and nature is a powerful resource to tap into for magic memories.

3. The People Prop Hook

No one should be sat at a desk for too long. Use children as props to explain concepts. Give them a role or responsibility, create a human graph or equation and ‘play big’.

4. The Picasso Hook

Make it visual and wow them. Images, illustrations, photographs, videos, paintings, drawings, posters, cartoons, unusual objects, odd artefacts, props…they can all widen eyes and be memory tattoos.

5. The Mystery Hook

Hide something! Have a closed box, parcel or envelope to invite intrigue. We are naturally curious about things we can’t see. Wrap something up, have a mystery bag and build suspense.

6. The Interior Design Hook

Create a different atmosphere and transform your classroom by changing the lighting, rearranging the furniture, cover the walls, adding decorations…change the look and alter the mood.

7. The Mime Hook

Use the power of silence to spark interest. Use gestures, mime techniques, codes, charades, Pictionary-type activities and written messages.

Hook, Line and Thinker

If we can make our content and ourselves ‘purple’ then we can avoid brown lessons and help children take notice, take an interest and remark at the end of the day, “You’ll never guess what happened in school today!”

Be more visible. Be a purple pirate and don’t let pupils off the hook.

2 thoughts on “Purple Cows And Pirates

  1. Wow – cool hooks! And I read Seth Godin’s book – highly recommended.

    Loving Hook #2 in particular – “The Safari Hook” – and I’m so pleased you picked this out as a top pick John! Nature is indeed a powerful resource to tap into. That’s why I’d highly recommend taking part in Outdoor Classroom Day (www.outdoorclassroomday.com), and use this as an excuse to create a brilliant “Pirate lesson” for your class(es) – making it a school day your children will never forget!

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