A Critical Look at Upworthy Headlines

Tsui-Ping Cheng, Hitotsubashi University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Hooks, speaking task, peer feedback
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes
  • Activity time: 30–40 minutes
  • Materials: Handout, computer, internet connection, projector

Launched in 2013, the website Upworthy has generated discussions of social issues for the past couple of years. The site’s success has to do with its catchy headlines on videos such as: “Experience for 60 seconds how the world looks, sounds, and feels to someone who has Autism,” “Watch a teenager bring his class to tears just by saying a few words,” and “See why we have an absolutely ridiculous standard of beauty in just 37 seconds” (<http://www.upworthy.com>). Titles like these are so emotional and sensational that people can’t help but click on them and share them through social media. By analyzing Upworthy headlines in class, students will learn strategies that arouse an audience’s curiosity, and appeal to their emotions, and use such strategies in future presentations and essays.

Step 1: Ask students to decide on their topics and research them before class.
Step 2: Go to <http://www.upworthy.com>. Select 4–5 headlines that showcase a good range of hook strategies (see Appendix A for examples of strategies). Consider students’ interests, proficiency, and vocabulary level in the selection.
Step 3: Prepare a handout with the selected headlines (see Appendix B for an example). Make enough copies for students to read in pairs.

Step 1: Explain to students why it is important to hook an audience’s attention in the introduction to a presentation or essay. Write a couple of methods for accomplishing this on the board. Emphasize that the method has to be relevant to their topics. A list of common hook methods is available in Appendix A.
Step 2: On the screen, briefly introduce the Upworthy website.
Step 3: Distribute the handout. Explain how the first headline grabs the reader’s attention.
Step 4: Have students form pairs, analyze the remaining headlines, and discuss their ideas in English. Call on a few pairs to share their answers with the class. Write these on the board.
Step 5: Point out any hook strategy that was not commented on by students.
Step 6: Refer to the notes on the board and have students vote for the most effective headline. Elicit answers and reasons from a few pairs.
Step 7: Explain how the recurring strategies in Upworthy headlines can be used to create an effective introduction.
Step 8: Instruct students to brainstorm at least two different hooks for their own topics.
Step 9: Have students form new pairs, share their hook strategies, give each other feedback, and decide on the most effective strategy (or a combination of strategies).

For homework, have students go to the Upworthy or Upworthy generator <http://www.upworthygenerator.com> websites and choose one headline that attracts them the most. Have them share their choices in the following class.
Using Upworthy headlines as examples is a quick way to help students understand the key elements of an effective hook. This activity can raise students’ awareness of how to draw an audience’s attention right away. The awareness is reflected not only in how students plan their introduction, but also in how they evaluate each other’s hook methods.

Appendix A: Hook ideas for a presentation or essay

1.     Tell a story

2.     Ask a question

3.     Give a definition

4.     Give a quote

5.     Use numbers

6.     Describe a scene

7.     Use humor

8.     Play with language

9.     Use a prop (for presentation)

10.  Use compelling and appropriate images or videos (for presentation)

11.  Do something unexpected or startling (for presentation)

12.  Make an entrance (for presentation)

Appendix B: Upworthy headline handout

1.        She asks the little girl 3 questions about her life. Her answers are pretty devastating.

2.        He climbs on his desk, insults his teacher, and leaves the whole class speechless. Point made. 

3.        There’s racism buried in these 5 seemingly harmless questions. Can you see it?

4.        Why is a city that can barely keep its school open giving millions to a mega corporation?

5.        A customer walked into his pizza shop and changed Philadelphia with $1 and a single Post-it note.

Source: http://www.upworthy.com