3. Using adverts to encourage critical thinking

Advertisements on billboards, radio, television and computer screens, in newspapers and magazines, at the supermarket or in ‘junk mail’ in our letter boxes, try to get us to act in particular ways – usually to spend money. It is important for you and your pupils to understand how advertisements try to do this so that you and your pupils read them critically and also appreciate how clever some advertisements are.

Pupils’ responses to the Key Activity will show you whether or not they have begun to understand how to read advertisements critically.

Case Study 3: Learning to read advertisements critically

When Mrs Stella Mapuga participated in a teacher development programme, she was fascinated by the programme’s critical literacy activities. She and her colleagues compared advertisements for the same product in magazines for different readerships (younger or older, or from different ‘racial’ or socio-economic groups). They discovered that the pictures and words used to advertise a product were different in different magazines and that some products were advertised in only one of the magazines. The teachers looked at the language used by the advertisers. They also looked at photographs or drawings in advertisements. A friend of Stella’s complained that all the women were young and had perfect figures! Finally, they discussed how the advertisers combined words and pictures on the page and what they (the teachers) noticed first when they looked at the advertisements.

When their lecturer asked what they had learned, the teachers said they would look at advertisements much more critically in future. They had learned that designers of advertisements choose words and pictures to encourage readers to buy the product. These designers also choose different sizes of words and pictures and place them on the page in ways that encourage readers to notice some words or pictures more than others. Some teachers said they looked forward to showing their pupils how advertisements try to persuade readers to take some action – very often the action of buying – and encouraging them to be selective.

Key Activity: Reading advertisements critically

Prepare for this activity and introduce it to pupils by following the steps in Resource 3: Critical reading of advertisements. You need to collect together advertisements or write out some that you have seen in the local shop or market.

Give the advertisements to the groups and ask them to discuss the following questions:

  • what is being advertised?
  • who do the advertisers hope will buy this product or service?
  • how do they try to ‘sell’ the product or service? Refer to the list on the chalkboard for ideas.
  • who is being left out of this advertisement?
  • what questions would you like to ask the advertisers?

After 15 minutes or so, ask a few groups to feed back their answers.

For homework, ask pupils to find an advertisement, place it in their exercise books and write answers to the same questions (1–5) about it.

After you have assessed their homework, plan and teach another lesson in which pupils design and make their own advertisements. See Resource 4: Designing advertisements for suggestions about how to do the assessment and planning.

2. Writing from different perspectives

Resources 1: Asking questions – to encourage pupils to think critically about a story