traci's lists of ten

Traci's Lists of Ten:

Compiled from Lists of Ten posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk, and TEACH.

Advertisements have always provided me with successful writing assignments — partially because of my background teaching business writing to marketing majors, but also because students are so used to the content of ads. They come to advertisements with years of knowledge and exposure. They've seen, been influenced by, and derided hundreds and hundreds of ads. These assignments ask them either to write advertisements themselves or to think critically about the advertisements that they see in the media around them.

  1. From the English Language Activities List:
    [Own Your Own Word] For this assignment, you'll make a word your own. Choose a word that you find intriguing or interesting or mysterious. Examine what it means, where it came from, how it's meaning have evolved, when it's used, and who uses it. Become the world's authority on your word, but remember that you're examining the word — not the thing that the word represents. For instance, if your word is "basketball," I'd expect to read about Naismith and how the game was named, but I wouldn't expect to read about Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley.

    Once you've become an authority on your word, your project is to write a paper that explains everything you've learned about the word, to share the information you've found with others.

    ALTERNATIVES: If you'd like a less vanilla project, have your students write I-Search papers on their work to become word owners. If you're not sure what an I-Search paper is, take a look at Ken Macrorie's The I-Search Paper (a Revised Edition of his Searching Writing), Heinneman, 1988. Or you might have students work on a poster (or series of posters), an advertisement urging others to use the word, or even a series of web pages.

  2. From Grammar Exercises List:
    [Fragments & Sentences] This exercise has a homework assignment. You might skip the homework and bring your own collection of advertisements to class for students to use.

    Homework: Find a full-page advertisement that relies on fragments to sell a product or service. Type the text of the advertisement in an ASCII text file.

    Class Exercise: Paste the text of your advertisement in an ASCII text file; then skip down a few lines and write complete sentences that incorporate the fragments. Post your message to the class. Once all your group members have posted messages, read the messages and engage in a discussion of the difference between the fragmented version and your rewrite. As a group, sketch out some rules that seem to guide when and how to use fragments in advertisements, and consider how the rules for advertisements compare to the rules you would follow in your formal and informal writing.

  3. From the Critical Literacy & Technology Writing Assignments, Part Two List:
    Write a parody of an advertisement for a particular kind of computer, for a particular kind of software, or a particular Internet Service Provider (AOL, Compuserve, and AT&T Worldnet are Internet Service Providers). Think about the ways that the technology you're exploring are presented in typical advertisements. What kind of people are shown? Or are there people? What are the computers doing? What aren't they doing? Once you've thought about that way that advertisements are done, write a parody that makes a point about the way that way that computers and technology are presented. Remember not just to make fun of the advertisement, but to make a point about something like access to computers or about the reality of using computers.

  4. From the Critical Literacy & Technology Writing Assignments, Part One List:
    [Packaging & Advertising] Take a close look at an advertisement for a software product or the cover of a software box. What is pictured? What is the relationship between the pictures in the advertisement or on the box and what the product actually does? Are there seemingly irrelevant things pictured? Are there relevant capabilities that aren't included in the advertisement or on the box cover? Why have certain things been included and others excluded? What does the manufacturer want potential customers to think about the product? How close is the information that is included in the advertisement or on the box to the realities of the product and what it can do?

    Write an analytical paper that explains how the advertisement or product cover works. What group of potential customers is the software company attempting to attract? What are these customers interested in based on the advertisement of box cover? What issues are important to them? What conclusions can you draw about the things that are NOT pictured? What groups of customers does the company seem to be missing?

  5. From the Critical Literacy & Technology Writing Assignments, Part One List:
    [Getting Ahead in Business] Consider references to computer technology in non-computer products — how are businesses using the language of computer technology to attract customers? Think about television commercials featuring a new car's on-board computer. The commercials suggest that the computer can track even the most minor malfunction in a car, and in expensive cars, these computers are tied to satellites that can help a harried couple get to the hospital before their baby is born. Why are these companies focusing on the computer technology? Why draw potential customers' attention to the computer rather than to the cabin space, the anti-lock brakes, or the warranty?

    Find at least three advertisements that highlight computer technology as part of their appeal to potential customers. Remember you're looking for advertisements or commercials for non-computer products. Gather details on the things that the three advertisements have in common. How do they discuss computer technology? What details do they include? What features do they ignore as they focus on computer technology? Who do they show using the products? What kind of customers are they targeting? How do they imagine the discussion of computer technology will interest these potential customers? Write an analytical paper that explains your conclusions about the ways that the advertisers use information about computer technology in your three advertisements.

  6. From the Critical Literacy & Technology Writing Assignments, Part One List:
    [What's a 'User'?] Take a look at a television or print advertisement for an Internet Service Provider (or ISP). Frequently advertised ISPs include AOL, CompuServe, and AT&T WorldNet. What is shown in the advertisements? Who is shown using these Internet access tools? What are these computer users doing? What kinds of computer users are left out? What can you tell about the way that the company describes itself and portrays its customers? Write a paper that compares the Internet as the ISP defines it to what Internet users are really like.

    NOTE: You'll need to begin by doing some analysis of Internet users to compare to the ISP commercials.

  7. From the Using Old Magazines List
    (Also available with slight revisions in the Using Old Newspapers List):

    [Classification] Assume that you work for an advertising agency, and your job is to create a classification system that explains the kinds of advertisements in a particular magazine to help account executives determine whether their client's products would fit in the magazine. You need to explain what kinds of advertisements are normally included in the magazine, including some detail about how the advertisements present the product or service to readers. Here's a possible way that the document would be used: an account executive is placing ads for a new children's breakfast cereal that is targeting health-conscious parents. The executive would pull your document to see whether the ad would fit in the magazine that you've examined.

    To get started, pull all the advertisements from your magazine that take up a full-page or more (in other words, also pull ads that take up two or more pages). Now go through the advertisements, and create a classification system to organize them into piles. For example, you might use a classification system based on the kind of product, the persuasive appeal used in the advertisement, or the segments of the audience that the advertisement is targeting. Once you've created these large categories, look for sub-categories that fit the ads (for instance, use of color, amount of text, and so on). When you've divided all the ads, write a paper that explains your classification system.

    [TWO TIPS: (1) If you ask students to bring their own magazines to class for this assignment, be sure that they understand that they need to bring a magazine that they are willing to destroy. (2) This assignment can be adapted by asking students to do an analysis of the magazine readers based on the advertisements that they find in the magazine.]

  8. From the Audience Analysis List:
    [Paper as Advertisement] What if the medium were different? Think about the paper that you're working on and the ways that your knowledge of advertisements and stories on television and in newspapers and magazines can help you learn more about your readers.

    If you were writing an advertisement or public service announcement rather than a paper, where would the advertisement or announcement appear? What channel? During what shows? Or what magazine? Which section? And what would the advertisement or announcement look like? More importantly, WHY would it appear on those channels during those shows or in those sections of those particular magazines? How does the audience relate to the shows and magazines where the information would appear?

    Once you think about what you know about your readers based on where a similar advertisement or public service announcement would appear, think about similar things that you've seen. How do they get and keep the readers' attention? What techniques can you use?

  9. From the Red Ribbon Week List:
    [Analyze an Ad] Find four to five printed advertisements for alcohol or tobacco, and analyze the ads for the hidden messages they send out. How are they attempting to persuade people to use their products? What are the advertisers suggesting that you'll gain or have if you do as the people shown in their ads? What stereotypes are the ads exploiting (and why)? In what ways might their persuasive techniques apply to people your age? Are there aspects to the ads that seem to target teens? Write a paper that analyzes the ads that you've gathered with the goal of telling others how to read the ads — show them the hidden messages and unravel the underlying "lies" that appear there.

  10. From the Creative Writing Activities List:
    [Embellish An Ad - Inspired by an assignment described in the movie Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.] Choose an advertisement from the Classifieds section of a recent newspaper. Use the advertisement as the starting point for a short story that explores the people and situations behind the ad. Who wrote the ad? What was the writer's motivation (beyond buying or selling an item)? What kind of life does the writer have? What is the social setting behind the ad? What kind of family or community is involved? Using the advertisement as your starting point, create the story behind the ad that you've chosen. Here are a couple of example ads in case you have trouble finding one on your own:

    For Sale CLOTHING, UT apparel. Worn only a few times by former UT athlete.

    Wanted To Buy BICYCLE, free. Working poor. I'm married with 2 small children. Need bike and helmet to work nights. I use Capital Metro for day job-school.

    [NOTE: You could create a similar assignment where students take the facts in a newspaper story and write a fictionalized account of the people and situations referred to in the story.]

Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on May 12, 2000.