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open-meetings laws : State and federal laws, often called sunshine laws, guaranteeing access to meetings of public officials. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Catherine Rahaim
History teacher
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Lesson Plans

A Tough Sell: Newspapers to Teens

The Ultimate Presidents’ Sale

The Ultimate Presidents’ Sale

Catherine Rahaim of Gardner High School in Gardner, Mass.

Catherine Rahaim
Gardner High School
Gardner, Mass.

Title: The Ultimate Presidents’ Sale

Description of School and Students

This lesson is intended for a high school honors U.S. history class. In Massachusetts, that would mean 11th-grade students, and, at Gardner High School, it means a group of 24-27 motivated students.

Generative Topic

  • What is an effective political advertisement?

Generative Objects

  • A campaign button
  • A campaign poster
  • A political bumper sticker
  • A taped radio political ad
  • A show-tune type TV political ad

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • How is a political ad different from a commercial?
    • How do the media affect voter participation?
    • In political advertising, what is more important — the medium or the message?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • What marketing techniques are used in political ads to motivate, excite, persuade, scare voters?
    • What is the marketing strategy in terms of targeting certain audiences?
    • Why might some political ads be considered a “turn-off?”
    • Can some political ads be classified as unethical or inappropriate for general audiences? Why?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

This unit is particularly appropriate in a presidential election year and can be one avenue of attention as students study the political process at work. Students will also be researching and examining the candidates’ background, policies and messages. But the saturation of television political advertising that permeates their channel surfing at this time lends itself to scrutiny, and, hopefully, this lesson can help them sort through the medium to see the method and message.

This type of unit would be especially meaningful in early October of an election year. Then both teacher and students could see the unfolding contest and the impact or the fall-out of the political ads as they occur.

Activity 1

Class views early campaign ads from 1948 to 1972. These could be edited from videos such as PBS’s “The Prime Time President.” A list could be generated showing the evolving techniques, and a class discussion could focus on the following:

  • Who were the targeted audiences?
  • What emotions were targeted? What emotional appeals are in the ads?
  • What ideals were matched to the candidates? To his opponent?

Conclude by asking students to compile a list of ten approaches and public persuasions they remember seeing and hearing in political ads since they became aware of them.

Activity 2

Depending on class size, try to cover one week of evening TV viewing to catch and tabulate information on presidential campaign ads one month before the election. If each student were responsible for a half-hour slot on one of the three major networks three times in one week, the hours of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. would be covered.

A teacher-prepared chart would include a checklist for number of ads per candidate, the time it ran, how long it lasted, what people appeared, what was the message (policy, rebuttal, personality), what metaphors were linked to the ad, what emotions were appealed to, student interpretation of effectiveness.

Make a wall-sized butcher-paper composite of results.

Activity 3

Students research on Internet or in library or available home and class resources (being careful to cite information) to ascertain money raised by each candidate, unusual stories related in some way to the sources of the financial backing, and, if possible, the amount of money each candidate is spending on advertising.

Parallel this information with reliable polls to see if the candidate’s rating is comparable to the monies raised and spent on advertising.

Activity 4

Divide the class into groups to promote the top three candidates for presidency. Each group will be responsible for developing and videotaping a political ad for his candidate which incorporates effective techniques examined during this unit.

Activity 5

As a culminating activity, assign an essay which evaluates the role of televised political campaign ads and its impact on voters who participate or not. Some possible questions to address include:

  • Do these ads make the political system into a sitcom?
  • Do these ads do more to alienate and turn off voters? Why? Why not?
  • Is there a better way for politicians to campaign through the media than the present method?


Assessment will be a composite of homework grades, class participation grades, and a rubric for the videotaped ad and final essay.

Resources Recommended

  • The New Political Fault Line chapter in "Going Negative: How Attack Ads Shrink and Polarize the Electorate," Stephen Ansolabehere and Shantao Iyengar
  • Television political campaign ads
  • PBS video, “The Prime Time President"



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