Archive for January 31, 2012

Ad Analysis: Historical Ads and Literature

The best way to help students truly understand a time period is to place them in the midst of the time period.  Many teachers do this through lecturing about the history, showing videos that capture the context, or asking students to examine images taken from the time period.  While all of these are great, another way to disseminate information to students is through primary sources in the form of print advertisements.  The Duke University Library has an excellent and easy-to-navigate database of advertisements through a variety of time periods.  This is an excellent resource, especially when teaching a novel representative of an era.  However, students are saturated with Read more

Ad Analysis: Overview



People are sick of hearing me complain about my tedious daily commute, which I understand.  I get it.  I can’t complain about something I choose for myself.  So, in an effort to maintain what is most likely a ridiculous New Year’s resolution, I’m going to be upbeat and spin my commute in a positive manner. 


One of the best things about being in a car roughly 2.5 hours a day is that I get to take in a variety of advertisements.  Ads on billboards.  Ads on buses.  Ads on the radio.  While we write often about the power of the media and image analysis, this week we are going to focus primarily on how to use print advertisements in the classroom in a variety of ways.  Advertisement analysis isn’t new to the classroom; however, it is often limited to the ad itself and doesn’t encourage students to really push their understanding and consider the larger significance by connecting it to literature and their own lives.


Many of us ask students to evaluate the argument of the advertisement, consider who the intended audience is, and then evaluate the effectiveness of the advertisement in reaching that audience.   These are excellent activities and ones I would certainly use prior to implementing the advertisement suggested this week.  However, students need to have a deep understanding of the advertisement and what it suggests about human nature or our country.  This week we will be suggesting new applications of advertisements and providing extensions to traditional advertisement analysis.

Week in Review: Good Magazine

           Friday Dialogue from                What does Emily say?

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to analyze the nature of what truly is good.  Angelina Jolie or Parks and Rec?  

1.  Is it difficult to teach students to be global citizens?

Emily:  I think you are correct in your post this week when you say that we expect a lot out of students.  I know I was not even remotely as globally aware What does Emily say?as the students are now.  However, I think there is also something to be said for the relatively quiet period in which I grew up.  The only major thing that happened when I was growing up was the Gulf War.  Then, a bit later, was the Bill Clinton scandal, which, let’s be honest, most adults didn’t even fully understand at the time because of the semantic firestorm.  Maybe it is also because I was raised in a Republican household (go Mitt!).  Also, technology has made knowledge so much more accessible and relevant to students.  One of my favorite things this week was having students tell me they were reading tweets while watching the State of the Union….yeah, that’s a good sign for education!

Aubrey: I think that I wasn’t aware because nobody held me accountable for that type of knowledge.  While I do think technology makes it easier for students to access information I would disagree that this makes them more knowledgeable.  They know more then I did at their age, but not by much.  Unless of course we’re talking about cable television programming.  They seem to know quite a bit about that.  

2. Do you believe it’s important  tests like the SAT and AP expect students to marshal knowledge from a variety of sources?

Emily:  Yes.  But what frustrates me is that it seems as though the evidence they are looking for now isn’t literary or historical examples.  I know that using Angelina Jolie as an example for philanthropy is great, but c’mon.  Angie?  Whatever happened to Rockefeller?
Is Aubrey right?
This actually doesn’t bother me.  Don’t get me wrong I would prefer Ida B. Wells or Kate Chopin as examples.  However, I have read some very thoughtful essays that discuss reality television stars and how their behavior reflects social norms.  Okay so I made up the “social norms” bit but they did “sort of” talk about cultural significance.  

3.  In Tuesday’s post the lesson focused on having students define the idea of “good” in a variety of ways.  Identify what you consider to be “good.”  Explain whether or not you think individuals have the responsibility to do good.

Emily:  I think it is pivotal for students to understand “good” humor.  For example, I am funny.  Parks and Recreation is funny.  Wearing brightly colored shoes without tying the laces is funny. Boys wearing skinny jeans are funny, not cool.  This is an important lesson for them to learn to better the lives of those who have to look at them.

Aubrey:I like that you’ve skipped answering the heavy “does the individual need to do good” bit of the question.  If I were grading your response it would be a 4.5 out of nine for only answering half the prompt.  And now, after my rebuke, I would like to not answer the question by saying the following:  it is important for students to understand what is NOT good.  Racer back tank tops in January with no cardigan/hoodie, band-aid skirts and telling me how this “is the worst book [they’ve] ever read.”  As if.

Good Magazine: Infographics

The argument for using infographics is simple.  They’re cool.  Data and statistics never looked so good.  That’s what they said, anyway, and by “they” I mean people between the ages of 14-18. The glorious part of the infograph is that it can serve as a multi-layered argument as well as supplemental text.

Infographics are a bright idea for building student knowledge.

One of the best resources for introducing infographics in class comes from The Learning Network at The New York Times.  Their blog post from August of 2010 is a valuable resource when introducing infographics to students.  We’ve also discussed implementing infographics when partnering Transcendentalism with Occupy Wall Street.  They are powerful classroom resources that engage students and teach them critical thinking.

One of the best features about Good Magazine is their incredible collection of infographics, both static and animated.  Teach novels about war like The Things They Carried?  Create a modern tie-in by using an infographic about Women & Combat Readiness.  Teach the American dream via The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye?  Use an infographic entitled “The United States of Unhappy Campers.”  Infographics easily partner with core texts and can also supplement student knowledge for those pesky writing prompts that require outside information.

Below are some of the most useful infographics from Good Magazine along with some ideas for how to implement them.

Infographics to teach explicit/implicit argument

Life on Less than $2 a day

Good infographic to implement when teaching current events or A Long Way Gone.  You can also use it when teaching a prompt about the moral or ethical debate about charity, such as questions three on the 2005 AP Language and Composition exam.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • What is the implicit argument about poverty and tourism?
  • Identify two trends you see in the infographic based on the data.
  • Explain what data you would be interested to see linked to the infographic’s discussion of poverty and explain your reasoning. Think education, jobs, skills, disease, etc. 

Educating The Future

Good infographic to use when asking students to argue about the responsibility of education. You might consider pairing this with novels like The Catcher in the Rye.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • Identify two implicit arguments about education over the last forty years.
  • Construct an argument about the two highest and lowest wage earning fields based on the data.
  • Explain what data you would be interested to see linked to the information provided.  Think personal satisfaction, money earning potential, hours per week worked, etc.

Animated Infograpics

Using animated infographics will require students to watch and pause the material several times.  You may decide to do this together as a class or have them do it individually on their smartphones, itouches, etc. with headphones.

Many of the SAT/AP prompts ask students to consider the moral “responsibilities” of the individual.  An infographic of this nature can help “grow” their knowledge base.

“The Volunteers”

The Volunteers from on Vimeo.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • Identify one argument each about the following categories: age, type of volunteering, number of individuals involved.
  • What data would like you to see included?  Explain how this information would enhance understanding.    Think specific types of volunteering examples, number of hours worked, etc.

Good Magazine: The Daily Good

There are days when all I’m really looking for is something that will spark 10-15 minutes of solid classroom discussion.  In a perfect world that “perfect” discussion would always be followed with students constructing short written arguments.

The Daily Good is a daily email you have to read.

Now, I’m well aware that I don’t live in a perfect world.  Instead, I teach Puritan literature, help students prep for SAT tests, grade museum projects, and read weak writing.  It’s easy to feel trapped with no new ideas in sight.

But what if each day you could open your inbox and find a story that might actually spark that perfect discussion?  Moreover, what if you could almost ensure that you could turn these emails into those “perfect” written responses?  Interested?  In need?  Desperate for a better way to engage students in critical thought, persuasive writing, evidence building?

Each day Good Magazine sends email subscribers what they call The Daily Good, their “one good thing a day.”  It seems like such a small thing.  Email can easily be lost and forgotten in your inbox.  But there’s just something about these emails.  The stories aren’t about dysfunctional politicians or economic recession.  They are little reminders of the human condition.

Past Examples of The Daily Good

A 375-year-old French Bank Forgives Debts of Paris’ Poorest

  • What does the article imply about the quality of life and societal institutions?
  • Why is this story like this of such interest in today’s society?

Answer the following prompt in your journal:

Prompt: Do societal institutions have the responsibility to care for the social welfare of their clients?  Use specific evidence from your knowledge, reading, observation, etc.

Snoball Links Life’s Passions to Charitable Micro-Gifts

  • Is charitable giving something that people need to tie to other experiences in their daily lives?
  • What is the article implying about social media, charitable giving and the individual?

Answer the following prompt in your journal:

Prompt: In what way should technology and social media influence charitable giving?  Does this diminish the purpose of donating?  Use specific evidence from your knowledge, reading, observation, etc.

“Letters in the Mail” Turns your Favorite Author Into Your Pen Pal

  • What art is necessary in writing a good letter, email or (dare I say) text?  Why do we desire personal communication?
  • Define what a good, old-fashioned letter should be.  Is it ethical to pay a monthly “subscription” fee for letters?  What is significant about the fact that these letters will come from writers?

Answer the following prompt in your journals:

Prompt:  In the age of social media, 4G networks, and Skype does the role of letter writing still have any worth?  Use specific evidence from your knowledge, reading observation, etc.

How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts*

  • What responsibility do prison inmates have in “giving back” to their communities?
  • What argument is made about “enlightenment” or learning as it relates to knitting?

Answer the following prompt in your journals:

Prompt: Is it the responsibility of the individual to give back to society regardless of where their life has taken them?

* Knitting Behind Bars was also highlighted on the Kojo Nnamdi show if you are interested in extending the actual class discussion or including a podcast.

Consider collecting several over the course of the week and making them part of classroom writing/discussion.  Perhaps even give students their choice depending upon varying interests.  While you can always have students SOAPSTone the articles and write précis paragraphs, you might also consider having students identify implicit arguments in each and then argue the pros and cons of these big picture perspectives.  They can become excellent practice for persuasive writing.  Use the questions above as a flexible guideline for how students might discuss and compose their writing.

Good Magazine: Writing Prompt

Persuasive writing often demands that students consider a series of moral/ethical dilemmas.  In the past, the AP Language and Composition test has asked students to determine the valueof Peter Singer’s argument about

Posing moral or ethical dilemmas to students requires scaffolding.

donating all money not used for necessities to global charities, examine the ethics of incentives for charitable giving and consider the implications of a buy nothing day.  The SAT prompts from December 2011 ask students to consider the role of small groups in creating lasting societal change and whether or not idealists can be successful.  As I said yesterday, students have opinions about these topics but frequently struggle to marshal specific evidence when they answer these questions.  That’s where Good Media Company and Magazine come into play.

Before jumping into the variety of resources Good Magazine has to offer, it seems appropriate to offer students a bit of background.  Interviewed in 2007 on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Ben Goldhirsh discusses the purpose of the company itself.  The story seems very much like Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth. Child of well-to do parents with philanthropic tendencies receives trust fund and the responsibility of a foundation that funds brain cancer research.  Trust fund can only be used to create start-up business.  Child launches a magazine for “people who give a damn.”

It’s an interesting concept.  Have students start with the concept of good itself.   Treat them to an “impromptu” version of a persuasive essay.  I’m sure they’ll love it.

Example: As a member of society, do individuals have the responsibility to do “good” works?

Have students construct written responses to the questions below or use them to scaffold the beginning of a larger essay.

  • Define the concept of good.

This is easy enough to do in broad clichéd terms.  Have them think smaller.   So start with categories like:

  • List three ingredients necessary for good food.
  • What makes good music?
  • What action qualify as doing good?

Give specific examples from your own extensive experience and knowledge. 

Then ask students to review the actual About page for Good Magazine.  Consider asking them a range of questions about the purpose of this type of mission statement.   Areas of focus could include rhetorical analysis and argument analysis.

Possible choices

  • In the context of Good’s mission statement what might “give a damn” include?  Why is this the way in which they choose to phrase their argument?
  • Examine informal language, sentence fragments and listing.  What effect does this style have on the company’s argument about itself?
  • What do they imply about modern society?  What do they imply about you if you landed on their about page?
  • Is what the company stands for possible? Would it be possible for any company?  Explain.

Now, this might be as far as you want to take Good Magazine in your classroom and that would be okay.   However, as I hinted on Monday, Good can be used as a useful classroom tool to build knowledge.  And so, tomorrow we’ll talk The Daily Good.

Good Magazine: Overview

One of the greatest difficulties I face as an educator is determining student knowledge.  Sure, they might have opinions, very, very strong opinions, but they seem to lack the ability to back them up with any kind of specific evidence.  It’s frustrating.  They are certain that by repeating their argument with varied vocabulary that their logic is infallible.  I am convinced that they are without original thought, unaware or even worse unconcerned with current events and that the fate of this country is danger.*

As much as it pains me to say this, both perspectives are flawed.  Professional writers repeat themselves all the time and we laud them.  The difference is that they usually have some data, prior knowledge, or anecdote to back them up.   Everyone struggles with originality.  Adults, hopefully, have had greater exposure to “professional models” and are more patient with revision.  As for current events, how much did you understand “globally” between the ages of 14-18?  I’m fairly confident I spent most of my time listening to The Cranberries and driving to the Dairy Queen.  While both were important to my development, there is very little use for either as valuable evidence in a timed persuasive piece of writing.

We spend much of our time as educators trying to determine how to get our students to be aware of local, national, and global issues.  We want them to have evidence to use in their writing, to have empathy for others, to understand their own country.  It isn’t easy.

This week’s focus is on one publication: Good.  From infographics to videos, from articles to projects this website/magazine is one of several that we will be profiling in the next month.   It is a valuable resource for classroom use that can be used to challenge students and build knowledge.  Good, with its far ranging projects and topics, is one of many resources we hope to add to your arsenal in the coming weeks because it always necessary to have a war chest.

*It is in the moment when I speak these words aloud that I know I have become a truly old person.  A really, really crotchety old person.

Argument Analysis: GRE Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to analyze the nature of high-stakes testing. 

1.)  A lot of the “Analyze an Issue” prompts are about education.  How would you respond to the below prompt if you encountered it on the GRE exam:   

“Educators should take students’ interests into account when planning the content of the courses they teach.” 

: Student interest/engagement should be a significant consideration in how an educator plans their course.  However, it is idealistic to believe that all lessons and coursework will always be high interest.  Good education demands rapport between teachers and students more than lesson plans that focus solely on “hooks” and novelties.  Note: It seems especially important to remember this in light of my painful experience teaching The Jungle this past week.
Emily:  Oh…The Jungle.  I know it is good but man is that an energy suck!  Every time I had to teach it I felt like I lost part of my soul by Chapter 6.  Great writing, Sinclair, but you sure know how to kill a smile.

2.)  The premise of this week is the GRE exam writing section; however, it brings up questions about the validity of standardized testing.  What is your position on whether or not testing reflects ability?
Aubrey: I would like to qualify.  I think student responses to essay questions reflect ability.  Good writing is good writing.  While I would like them to have more time to write I still think written responses are able to clearly reflect complexity and sophistication of student thought.  However, I’m not always sure that multiple choice is a fair assessment. There are times when multiple choice feels more like a “game” than an accurate understanding of student ability.
Emily:  Maybe it is because I’m bad at multiple choice tests (which makes me hate testing in any form), but I agree.  I feel like universities requiring the GRE for admission into a graduate education program is contradictory and silly. Yeah, I said it:  silly.  I understand that there is a certain degree of intelligence needed to thrive in a collegiate setting (thus necessitating the ACT, SAT, GRE, etc), but I feel like it should have minimal weight on the overall application.

3.)  GRE.  ACT.  SAT.  The acronyms extend beyond standarized testing to the classroom too.  Between SOAPSTone and DIDLS it’s clear the education world loves acronyms just as much.  I task you to create your own acronym that symbolizes your teaching or your classroom.
Aubrey: It is unfortunate that the acronym for Stop Bothering Me Immediately (SBMI) isn’t prettier to say.  Instead it sounds like a way to measure someone’s weight or tell them they have high cholesterol. It’s the best I have to offer in light of the fact that we’ve had no snow days or delays and it’s the end of quarter.
Emily:  I think “SBMI” rolls off the tongue, Aubrey.  It’s a great acronym.  And I kind of like that it sounds like a perverse BMI reading.  It adds to the creepiness of the statement, which will produce the same weird look from your students.

Argument Analysis: Literature Connections

While the GRE prompts and suggestions for this week are great for an AP English Language class because of the focus on argument, these prompts could also work really well when partnered with literature. The pool of “Analyze an Issue” prompts tend to work better when pairing with literature because of the nature of the prompts and the brevity of the statements.  The beauty of these prompts is that they could be used at any point within a novel; however, I think they serve as an excellent way to introduce the text.  Similar to what was stated yesterday, I struggle to write my own quality statements for anticipation guides; they tend to be generic and fairly short-sighted.  Now I just use GRE prompts because they are complex enough to generate really meaningful discussion.

Consider using some of the suggestions on Tuesday and Wednesday to incorporate the below prompts as a form of an anticipation guide or use some of the suggestions from our week on anticipation guides.  You could have the students thoroughly analyze or debate one of the below issues or compile multiple statements into for students to consider the extent to which they agree with each.

TEXTS WITH MAN v. SOCIETY CONFLICT-like The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, Pygmalion, and Crime and Punishment

  • People’s behavior is largely determined by forces not of their own making.
  • Claim: The best way to understand the character of a society is to examine the character of the men and women that the society chooses as its heroes or its role models. Reason: Heroes and role models reveal a society’s highest ideals.
  • The increasingly rapid pace of life today causes more problems than it solves.

TEXTS WITH MAN v. SELF CONFLICT-like Death of a Salesman, Catcher in the Rye, Hamlet, and Lord of the Flies

  • Unfortunately, in contemporary society, creating an appealing image has become more important than the reality or truth behind that image.
  • As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more complex and mysterious.
  • It is primarily through our identification with social groups that we define ourselves.
  • The luxuries and conveniences of contemporary life prevent people from developing into truly strong and independent individuals.

TEXTS WITH MAN V MAN CONFLICT-like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, and To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Claim: We can usually learn much more from people whose views we share than from those whose views contradict our own.  Reason: Disagreement can cause stress and inhibit learning.
  • In any situation, progress requires discussion among people who have contrasting points of view.
  • Scandals are useful because they focus our attention on problems in ways that no speaker or reformer ever could.

TEXTS WITH POLITICAL UNDERCURRENTS: like All the King’s Men, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, and Julius Caesar

  • The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority.
  • Governments should not fund any scientific research whose consequences are unclear.
  • Leaders are created by the demands that are placed on them.
  • Claim: In any field—business, politics, education, government—those in power should step down after five years.  Reason: The surest path to success for any enterprise is revitalization through new leadership.
  • Some people believe that in order to be effective, political leaders must yield to public opinion and abandon principle for the sake of compromise. Others believe that the most essential quality of an effective leader is the ability to remain consistently committed to particular principles and objectives.

Argument Analysis: Analyze the Outcome

One thing I struggle with as an AP teacher is relying too heavily on the released exam prompts.  When I do, I find that I run out of viable prompts for students to use during timed writings and that I end up teaching too much to the test and not the variety of skills needed for strong argument analysis.  The materials that I create on my own are good and interesting but do not generate as much discussion as the AP-released materials.  This is another reason why I love incorporating the GRE prompts into my classroom.  The prompts are complex enough and the arguments intricate enough to adequately replace the AP prompts and still challenge my students to think about the minute details associated with argument analysis.  Read more