Helping Students Become Critical Consumers of Advertising

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Media Literacy
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Advertising.  It is all around us- online, in print, on buses, on billboards, on signs- everywhere. How can we help our students navigate their way through it all? Media Literacy lessons using advertising are engaging, fun, and provide real-world experience. They can also prepare students to be better-informed voters and consumers.

Media Literacy lessons about advertising can be incorporated into just about any subject from history to art to ESL to English to science and to everything in between. Advertising is aimed at children of all age levels. There are commercials on all the television and radio networks, ads in apps they are using on their tablets, ads in online videos they are watching; there are even sponsors advertised at events they attend. Advertising is not necessarily a bad thing – for example, it benefits the economy, it can help people find products they need, and it can be used to produce public service announcements. Our students must learn to be critical consumers of advertising. Students in early elementary school can be taught to analyze online ads critically. Upper elementary students can be taught to differentiate between advertising content and general content online. Middle school students can begin to be aware of persuasive techniques and the prevalence of advertising. High school students can study advertising in depth as a career path or by creating different types of ads.

An engaging way to introduce the subject is through interactive activities. Younger students can learn about food marketing through Co-Co’s Adversmarts, an interactive unit which teaches students to recognize the marketing techniques used on commercial websites that target children, create a quick advertisement using the advertising game, or explore gender in advertising (TeachersFirst review). The Federal Trade Commission developed YouAreHere (TeachersFirst review) to teach students to be smart consumers and Admongo (TeachersFirst review) to teach students about advertising in general. Both sites have components that can be used with older and younger students as well as lesson plans, handouts, and information for parents.

Advertising is all around us. Let us strive to give our students the tools that they need to become critical consumers of advertisements. Be sure to check out the TeachersFirst media literacy/advertising resources like the Media Literacy special topic collection and previous blog posts Media Messages Matter and Media Literacy in a Presidential Election.


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