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Nov 7, 2011

Persuasive writing

This week the blog is focusing on high school English resources. This is the first of three posts. There is a contest running this week associated with the content focus.

Spoof ad by Adbusters
Adbusters is an interesting magazine. I struggle with whether or not it is appropriate for school for a variety of reasons that I will not focus on in this post (although I'm happy to have the conversation in the comments section of this post) but I did use it in my classroom. I used it as a way to introduce and teach persuasive writing.

The artists at Adbusters create spoof ads to help get the magazine's message across and the ads are very powerful as a vehicle to force the reader to stop and think about the way advertising persuades us on a daily basis.
Real ad by Absolut Vodka
Many of the spoof ads look very similar to the actual advertisements one would see in a mainstream magazine. Showing students copies of each ad so they can compare, seeing how long it takes someone to ask: 'Is this a real ad?', and having a discussion about how students are reacting to each ad is a way to begin the discussion of persuasion and how to write in a persuasive voice.

Using these ads in my classroom was a way to engage students. At first, they always assumed they knew what they were looking at: the images were familiar, the alternate message is subtle, and the artwork is distracting. I could always tell, by watching my students' faces, when they realized they were not looking at a regular ad. It jarred them just enough to help them focus a little more and begin to ask questions of me and their classmates. These ads were concrete examples of persuasion and they helped shape and guide the discussion of how to write a persuasive essay. I used them as the anchor point: "if we go back to the ad how does this...?"

The usual topic for persuasive essays in a high school English class is for students to take one side or the other of a controversy. The conversation that begins by using Adbuster's spoof ads can help get students in the correct frame of mind to be introduced to an outline or graphic organizer for a persuasive essay, it can help demonstrate the subtleties of persuasion that can be so important in these types of arguments or, it can simply be a way to catch and hold student's attention at the beginning of, what can be, a tedious process.

How do you teach essay writing in your classroom?   

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