Encouraging Children to Talk about Advertising

By Dunn, James | Practically Primary, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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Encouraging Children to Talk about Advertising

Dunn, James, Practically Primary

There are many varied views concerning the nature and purpose of advertising, which I believe lie on a spectrum. On one end, advertising is seen as an insidious, manipulative force that bends us to the whims of the corporate elite. On the other extreme, advertising is merely a means of providing consumers with information about products and services (a view often espoused, for those who watch ABC's 'The Gruen Transfer', by Russell Howcroft). Whilst the nature of advertising is still very much a contentious issue, what is clear is that children today are being exposed to significantly more advertising than ever before. In addition to television, radio and print-based media, the growth of the internet and multimedia modes of communication provides advertisers a greater and constantly changing playing field, offering increasing opportunities to convey their messages to children. As educators we should not be afraid of these advertising-laden online environments and what they 'do' to children. Instead, I think we should look to websites and online advertisements in terms of the rich opportunities they provide to assist children to develop critical reading practices in a contextually relevant way.


In order to explore this with Year Four students, I designed a series of lessons. These learning experiences were based around exploring advertising instances on two websites designed for children. The websites I used were www.kzone.com.au and www.totalgirl.com.au, both affiliated with their children's magazine counterparts (K-Zone and Total Girl). The websites are quite different from each other in terms of their layout, design, content and advertising. K-Zone favours a blue/green colour scheme and focuses on such themes as toys and sports. Total Girl favours a pink/purple colour scheme and focuses more on music and pop celebrities. Each website contained a range of advertisements, including overt 'banner ad' style advertisements, as well as subtler advertisements such as adver-games and film trailers. Due to the dynamic nature of online environments, the specific advertisements on these websites tend to change frequently, and this was evident over the course of my planning and reflecting. However, the abundance of advertising within the websites was unchanging, and this proved useful in designing lessons focused on engaging the children with opportunities for critical reading.

The lessons were adapted based on the needs of the students, and required students to read, write, talk and listen as they explored the advertising concepts.


Lesson One

Purpose: For the Year 4 children to explore the concept of advertising in an online environment.

Aims: For the children to:

--discuss their experiences of advertising

--attempt to identify instances of advertising present in K-Zone and Total Girl websites

Teaching and Learning Experiences:

* Introduce 'advertising': children reflected on their own understandings and experiences of advertising (KWL chart, brainstorm, focused discussion)

* Explore websites: children are provided an advertising focus with which to explore the websites. A navigation map required them to identify and record the number of advertisements observed on each page viewed and each advertisement's purpose.

* Examine elements of advertising within the website: children were given samples of advertising from both websites and were encouraged to consider these in terms of common features and differences.

What I Saw:

* The children described advertising as a manipulative force that makes you buy 'stuff' in order for businesses to make money.

* The children appeared to consider visual appeal as an essential advertising technique, they all described the use of colour and visual design to appeal to and 'tempt' consumers.

* The children were able to draw on a number of examples of advertisements they had seen (outside the classroom) to help them discuss 'advertising'.

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