Jumping Off the Bandwagon

Teach your class to be critical consumers by studying persuasion in advertising.

By Elijah Ammen

"As Seen On TV" advertisement

A frustrating factor in English education is not that our students are unfamiliar with persuasion, or lack persuasive skills themselves; it is that they are not able to identify reasonable persuasion from propaganda. Young children can average 28-32 hours a week in front of the TV, which means they are exposed to an incredible amount of advertising from a very early age.

As technology grows, so do the innovations in advertising. As people become immune to advertising, the messages have to be broadcast in newer, louder, catchier ways: advertisements in video games, product placement, mobile ads, pre-ads for streaming video. This is without even mentioning billboards, radio, mailers, and e-mail.

Youngsters have the exposure to persuasion without the filter to understand it. As teachers, it’s our job to instruct students to be educated, discerning citizens. Here are some strategies and lesson plans to help.


Know the Methods

You can’t fight something until you name it and know why it’s wrong. Students need to understand the irresponsible ways that snob appeal, loaded words, glittering generalities, and bandwagon appeal try to persuade the viewer. Here is a great handout that uses these terms and more.

When you teach these, try to let the class reach its own conclusion. For your initial examples, use over-the-top, humorous examples that make these methods very clear. Younger grades especially may not understand why it’s negative, so highlight some of the false claims that might be made, and ask them to compare what is being said with reality. High schoolers might be more ready to be critical of advertisers, so this would be a good grouping activity.

Create Your Own Propaganda

As we all know, creation is a high level on Bloom’s Taxonomy. When someone can deliberately use a persuasive device, he or she is more likely to be able to identify it later. Analyze advertisements, and then try to create an ad for an important issue, which avoids negative forms of persuasion.

On the other hand, here is a lesson that uses creating propaganda as an instructional tool to help promote discernment. Both methods are useful, and if you use both, it can create a healthy class discussion on which style is more ethical or more persuasive.

There’s a Poetry to It

Persuasion is not the only standard that can be taught through advertisements. Nearly every poetic device can be found in ads. Teach hyperbole and imagery, as well as similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and many others. You will also find many useful persuasive speeches. Once your class has a grasp on advertising, they can move to longer, text-based forms of persuasion. It’s an easy scaffold up, once you have set the foundation of rhetorical devices. Use this lesson plan to branch into persuasive speeches, both from famous movies and historical events.

Hopefully you'll see the rewards of this lesson far beyond your formative assessments. Kids latch onto ideas that they see in their everday life. By showing them how to be critical consumers, you are taking abstract knowledge and making it a continually analytical frame of mind.