Hook Students with QR Codes

Adding movement and layered technology into lessons can promote engaged critical thinking.

December 15, 2014
Rae Owens
Co-Director UC Merced Writing Project

CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Tools

Capturing students' attention in this age of realistic graphic computer games, instant messaging, and a stream of constant stimuli is a real art for any classroom teacher. The age-old method of imparting information about a process, a subject, or a curriculum through direct instruction often fails to generate the involvement necessary to get students’ attention so that they will master the process, subject, or curriculum. Just like a good piece of writing, a good lesson must have a hook. Fortunately, we have access to a plethora of useful apps and websites designed to do just that. One of my favorites is the QR Droid app. 

Just like a good piece of writing, a good lesson must have a hook.

Upon entering the room, my students see a number of large QR codes smartly displayed on the walls. The mysterious codes immediately heighten their curiosity. I'm careful to not reveal the purpose of the strange wall decorations. What I like to do with the content of the day’s lesson is conceal it in a QR code and then have the students go on a QR code scavenger hunt. After all, what student doesn't love a scavenger hunt? This activity serves two purposes: It gets students out of their seats interacting with one another, and it presents the material in a way that can actually enhance the learning process through movement. In "Moving with the Brain in Mind," Eric Jensen states that "the brain forms maps, not only on the basis of the scenery, but also from the body’s relationship to the scenery. More locations provide more unique learning addresses" -- thus the theoretical basis for moving around, collecting information, and performing tasks during the scavenger hunt.

The QR code creates a virtual classroom within the classroom, lending itself to small-group work. It allows me to embed content and activities from other apps or websites that I frequently use when building lessons. Instructional videos such as those on Shmoop, TedEd, and LearnZillion can provide the direct instruction component for the lesson. Note that many of the videos on these sites are short, which is necessary for keeping students engaged and the lesson moving along. Here’s how I build a QR code scavenger hunt.

QR Code Scavenger Hunt: The Hero's Journey







  • Understanding: My first QR code station provides the information for understanding the concept, necessary to successfully complete the scavenger hunt. For this lesson, I embed the Shmoop video Epic Hero and the TedEd video What Makes a Hero.
  • Applying: As students move to the next station, they may encounter an embedded video, picture, graphic, or text to which they will apply their new knowledge. For this lesson, students read the poem “The Hero’s Journey” by Tony Hoagland. The activity QR code for this station is a prompt: Who are the real heroes according to the author, and why does he imply they are heroes? Incorporate your knowledge about heroes into your response. Be sure to put your names on your response. Students will then go to the compose portion of the QR Droid app and write their response to the prompt, making it into a QR code. They then email me the code. As a follow-up to the lesson, I print the response codes and post them for students to see how others responded. Note: Teachers can add this poem to their Curriculet library and add annotations for the classical references.
  • Creating: I like to have students create something as the final station in the scavenger hunt. For this lesson, students compose a short poem about how this activity was a Hero’s Journey for them. They compose their poem in Google Drive and use the URL to create a QR code, emailing me their code. I post the codes for all to review.


  • Teaming: This process works best with a team of three to four students. Each team needs only one device. In order to avoid a backlog at any one station, I create separate QR code stations for each team.
  • Color-coding: I print a set of QR codes on colored paper, assigning each team a color.
  • Displaying: I do not post each team’s station (1, 2, or 3) in the same area of the classroom. I randomly spread them out so that one team’s conversation does not interfere with or influence another team's conversation. Absent students can access the lesson easily by scanning the QR codes.

I find this process of using movement and layers of technology to be a successful way to bait and hook students into becoming engaged learners and critical thinkers.

Hoagland, T. (2012). The Hero's Journey. The New Yorker. Retrieved from
Jensen, E. (2000). Moving with the Brain in Mind. Educational Leadersthip, 58(3), 34-37. Retrieved from