Snake Oil — Ads as Mentor Texts

Teaching this week at the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) Young Writers’ Camp, I used ads as mentor texts to teach 4th and 5th graders about argument/opinion writing. We began the day with a prompt by TA Michele, who had kids write about a time when they had to convince someone else to see things their way, or convince someone to give them something they wanted, or take them someplace they wanted to go.

Then we examined ads as mentor texts. We copied ads from magazines, comic books and the internet and gave one to each pair of students and had them examine the ads to identify audience, what the ad was persuading us to do, how the ad made us feel, and what persuasive techniques the ad author used.

We moved on to the great game Snake Oil In Snake Oil, players divide into one “character” and two or more product inventors/salespeople. “Characters” draw a character card — examples:  vampire, prom queen, cowboy, general, plumber. They become the market for the product the other players will create. Then other players each draw six object cards. From those 6 cards, they choose two cards to combine to make a product the character would want to buy. Then they create a verbal product pitch for that product.   After each player as pitched their product to the character, the character decides which one he/she would like to buy. One character was  a Ninja, and she chose to buy a Pump Ladder, created from the cards pump and ladder, to help her cushion when she climbs and leaps in the dark.

After students played four rounds of Snake Oil, they worked as a group to create a print ad and a product pitch as a group for one product.  Here are some of the results!

After a break, my teaching partner, Laura, had students create ads for a real audience — university students — showing the best way to spend $3 in the campus food court.

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