Saturday, February 16, 2013

Teaching Persuasion

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I LOVE teaching persuasive writing.  Here are some of the activities I've used:

I opened our unit on persuasion with a clip from the movie The Lorax, found on  In this clip, the characters are pitching their idea of bottled air to their boss.  This clip is familiar to the students but is also a great example of persuasion, so it serves as an effective hook for the unit.

Teaching Target Audience Through Common Products
For this activity, you'll need to gather several examples of one category of product marketed to specific audiences.  For example, you could gather body sprays, shampoos, and soaps for women, men, and kids.  Or you could use cereals: kids' cereal, cereal for extra fiber, cereal for those on a diet.  Regardless of what kind of product you pick, make sure a clear, specific audience is being targeted.  I used health and beauty products.

Label each product with a number.  Use one product as an example and talk about how companies use colors, shapes, characters, fonts, word choices, etc to reach the very specific audience they are trying to reach.  Women's products often use curvy lines, soft or feminine colors, and far more adjectives than you would think a shampoo would warrant.  Men's products often use bold colors, solid shapes, and even use picture directions instead of words (seriously!).  Kids' products are marketed not only at kids (typically using bright colors and familiar characters), but also at their parents (using terms that denote their product as safe, healthy, etc).  

I arranged students into groups of 2-4 and gave each group a product.  I also created an "assignment" with the same number as the product on our MyBigCampus page (similar to edmodo or other virtual classroom platforms).  You could have students hand-write their answers on paper or even just discuss aloud.  Students sought to answer these questions by examining the products together:
1) What is the target audience for this product?
2) What elements of the physical packaging attract that audience?
3) What word choices reach that audience?

When the students realized the men's body spray I brought actually used picture directions, they burst into laughter.  They also thought the overly-dramatic and descriptive language on the women's products was excessive.

This is a great, easy way to teach target audience!

Using Emotion to Persuade
For this lesson, I pulled some favorite commercials off Youtube.  One was an example of using comedy, one was an example of getting the audience to feel a need to help, and one was an infomercial (masters of persuasion!).  Here are the videos I used:
After watching all three videos, we discussed how they were different yet equally effective and memorable and what lessons from each we could apply to our own writing.  This tends to be a springboard for helping students understand that it's harder to keep someone's attention or make them feel an emotion in WRITING than it is in person or via video. This gets them to start expanding their writing beyond the basics.

Students are naturally good persuaders.  They try to talk Mom and Dad into letting them do things all the time!  These simple, engaging lessons are a way to tap into that natural ability and guide them to a more academic use for their powers of persuasion.  Consider following these activities with a real-world persuasive assignment like having them persuade you how to spend your classroom funds, to persuade the principal or school board to make a change, to write letters to the editor of the local newspaper, or to write to a government official about an issue they care about.

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