Many writers (both native English speakers and English learners) agree that beginning the essay is often the most difficult part. For English proficiency exams such as TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge FCE and CAE, this is certainly the case!

Take a look at this sample TOEFL Agree/Disagree statement. How would you begin an essay? (For tips on TOEFL Agree/Disagree, check out our article that contains useful hints.)

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Learn more TOEFL Writing Tips (and how to construct an Agree/Disagree essay) on the CISL Blog.

Writing Prompt:

Do you agree or disagree with the statement below?

There is nothing that younger people can teach older people. 

Use specific examples to support your arguments. 

Would you know how to begin an essay on this topic? Learn how to write a great “hook” (first sentence) and you will not have this problem again!

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A strongly written essay will also include conjunctions: learn about how to use them effectively in our article about Coordinating Conjunctions.

Using the hook in writing

A “hook” is given its name because it hooks the reader. It’s the first sentence, and it entices the reader to continue through the paragraph and essay.

There are many types of hooks. Let’s look at a few.

Hook 1: A Question

Begin your essay by posing a question to your reader. It gets them thinking!

Example 1: Have you ever had a teacher who was younger than you?

Example 2: We become wiser as we get older . . . but can we learn from those who have experienced less of life?

Example 3: Have you ever had a teacher who was younger than you?

Hook 2: An anecdote

An anecdote is a personal story. Writing sections of proficiency exams ask you to use specific examples to support your opinion: with an anecdote, you are beginning with one!

Example 1: I will never forget walking into the classroom and seeing Vlad: even with his kind face, I thought to myself, “How can I teach someone who is significantly older than me?.” It turns out, I could.

Example 2: I’ve learned so much from my teachers and professors in elementary school, high school, and college . . . but I may have learned the most from my experience as teaching assistant to small children.

Example 3: Can the students be the teacher? I certainly think so after volunteering at a local elementary school.

Hook 3: A fact

In a test setting, it might be difficult to remember an exact fact or statistic. However, this is useful if you are writing research essays at home and can access a library or a computer. Even without a computer, this can still be a possible hook: check out some of these examples.

Example 1: You must complete four years of college and two years of additional training to become a high school teacher.

Example 2: Most companies ask for “2-5 years experience” from applicants.

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Familiarize yourself with the many prompts you can get in TOEFL with our article on the Types of TOEFL Writing Prompts.

Hook 4: Set a scene

Grab their attention: tell a story! The reader will continue reading just to hear your ending!

Example 1: Jason watched as George slowly typed on the computer keyboard, carefully pushing one key at a time while looking confused and dismayed. “Can I help you?” Jason asked. “Sure,” George replied. “I’m trying to email my daughter a photo, but I don’t know how to attach it. This email thing is so confusing to me.”

Example 2: Looking around the classroom, Anna completed her lecture. “And that is how you publish your own webpage. Any questions?” A student in the back, a middle-aged gentleman with wire-rimmed glasses, raised his hand. “Just one question,” he said. “How did you learn all of this before learning how to drive?” The class laughed, and so did Anna. “Well,” Anna said, “I studied programming in high school and was well-versed in coding before I entered college last year.”

Hook 5: A quote

Without access to a computer, it might be difficult to remember exact quotes from famous individuals. However, your quote does not have to be from someone famous.

Example: “Yoga until you’re 90,” Sindhu kept saying during our yoga teacher training. With this in mind, we learned the best ways to practice yoga without putting strain on our bodies. Little did I know, in a few months my students would actually be near 90: I was soon to take a volunteer position as a yoga teacher for a retirement community in my town.

Hook 6: Your thesis!

Your thesis is the main idea of your paper. If you don’t feel like writing a catchy or creative hook, then begin your paper with your thesis. This direct approach is often very effective!

To write a powerful and concise thesis, check out our article on How to Write a Thesis with Predictors.

Example 1: I am a firm believer that everyone has something to offer, regardless of age; therefore, it is my opinion that the young have much to offer the elderly in regard to education.

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Do you know how to write a thesis? Check out our article Writing a Thesis with Predictors for tips!

Hook 7: A misconception

Example 1: Many believe that the youth of today are misguided, self-centered, and irresponsible, and therefore have little to offer in regard to educating the wiser elderly population.

For more information on CISL’s intensive TOEFL, IELTS, and Cambridge CAE and FCE classes, check out CISL’s website.