The connection between language and culture is very evident in TV ads, especially funny ones. What’s the humor? Is it funny to everyone? What exactly is the message and who is it intended for? These questions can lead to very thoughtful discussions.
There are a number of sources from which you can select appropriate commercials for your students. Here are just a few to get your search started:
What can you do with the ads? Follow-up speaking or writing activities balance the listening practice done when students view the ads.
1. Discuss the intended message. Work in infinitives of purpose or conditional clauses. Example: (Based on an Old Spice ad.) The man says that Old Spice can be used to attract ladies. If you use Old Spice, you’ll smell great and be more attractive.
2. Discuss the intended audience. Work in relative clauses. Example: (Based on an Eggo Waffles ad.) The audience can be anyone who loves breakfast. They want to convince people that their waffles are the kind of food (that) people love and fight over.
3. Discuss symbolism. Teach appropriate vocabulary: represents, stands for, signifies, symbolizes, suggests, reflects, or makes us think of. Example: (Based on Fed Ex ad.) I think the dominoes represent the idea of delivery. You send something at one point, and Fed Ex takes your package to another. The paths stand for all the possible routes. The music suggests an upbeat attitude, so the company wants us to believe they’re happy to do their work.
4. Write dialog when none exists. Review punctuation for direct speech and offer a short list of appropriate reporting verbs for the ads you select. Example: (Based on a Yorkie candy bar ad.) The man enters the the home, tired but proud. He announces, “I’m home.” His wife looks at him and then back at her magazine. “Can you take them to the kitchen, hon?” she says in a bored voice.
5. Do voiceovers or re-enact ads. Find an ad with a short text, such as this other Eggo Waffles ad. Have students work together to transcribe what the narrator says. Help them practice reading smoothly and at the right time and pace. You can have students take turns being the narrator as you play the video on mute. Another idea is to have them perform the dialog they wrote for a silent ad (see number 4 above).
Suggestions: You can select one video and base your lesson around that, or you can create a playlist of several videos which students should be able to access before and/or after the lesson. For example, if you practice using relatives clauses with one ad in class, you can assign additional videos to be watched outside of class for students to write about using relative clauses. Who is the intended audience for each ad? At the next lesson, ideas can be shared and additional work with those same ads can be done as a whole group.
1. You can work with more serious TV ads, but the good ones are hard to find. Here’s one about safe driving by Sussex Safer Roads. It would really prompt students to explain the action on the screen using the simple present and present progressive. The symbolism is clear and should touch on universal values.
2. Students can create their own ads. Infomercials promote collaboration. Click for more details.