The Power of Mystery


“The less you reveal, the more people can wonder.”

-Emma Watson

Last week, I finally had the opportunity to meet Dave Burgess and see his presentation to our district staff. I first read Teach Like A Pirate a few years ago, and the book changed the way that I looked at instruction and student engagement. During the presentation, Dave shared the idea of the mystery hook, using the element of surprise to draw students into a lesson. Dave told a story about having a package delivered to his classroom that peaked his students’ curiosity. After deciding to NOT open the package, Dave had his students hooked!

This reminded me of a hook I tried with students when I was in the classroom. At the time, Lost was a very popular television show based on a shroud of mystery. It inspired meĀ  to try a similar strategy in my classroom. Each day, I would have someone deliver our learning objectives for the day. The idea was that an unknown person was providing each day’s assignments. The approach motivated students for about a week.

Looking back, I may have used the mystery hook too often in order to maintain interest and engagement. However, the lesson that I learned is that students are extremely motivated by mystery and curiosity. Try these strategies for engaging students using mystery in your classroom:

Mystery Package Delivery. Dave shared this idea during his presentation. A package would be delivered to his classroom with a note saying Do Not Open Until 10:15am. To say that student interest was piqued is an understatement. Students could not wait to open the package. Use this idea to create interest and motivation among students.

Mystery Envelope. Another idea from Dave. Hang an envelope with a giant question mark and a date to open just out of students’ reach. The curiosity will reach a fever pitch as the deadline for opening approaches.

Mystery Guest. The ultimate in mystery is piquing student interest with an unknown guest. Promote your mystery guest for a few weeks prior to his or her arrival. Keep students guessing and give them experiences that will prepare them to learn from the guest.

How do you employ mystery in the classroom? Share your best strategies in the comments section below.

Special thanks to Dave Burgess for his inspiration and motivation strategies!


Rich (@RACzyz)

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