Standard Lesson

Exploring Consumerism Where Ads and Art Intersect

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 60-minute sessions
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Surrounded by a barrage of images, your students are probably savvy consumers who think they know what advertisers are trying to accomplish. Challenge them to explore how aware they actually are by looking at the ways that both ads and art can manipulate viewers. In this lesson, students look at how advertisements use images and language to appeal to consumers. They then look at examples of art that use images from popular culture. Finally, students create their own artistic interpretations of advertisements, present them, and reflect upon the nature of consumerism in their lives. This lesson can be adapted for use in middle school classrooms.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Critical literacy encourages thoughtful and conscious readings of all texts: visual, written, musical, etc.
  • Visual "texts" that students create in English language arts classes are significant and carry messages that gesture toward the learner's beliefs. These "texts" can be read, interpreted, and critiqued as part of their learning.
  • Literacy is not simply the ability to read and write print-based text but involves also experience with visual art.
  • Using an approach to literacy that involves materials other than text helps students to "develop richer and more complex literacy practices and allows them to more thoughtfully and critically deal with the images and messages of popular culture."


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access
  • LCD projector (optional)
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Art supplies




1. To teach this lesson, you will want some background information about the Pop Art movement and Andy Warhol in particular. The The Andy Warhol Museum website is an excellent resource; you will find other books and websites on the Advertising and Pop Art Resources list. Bookmark the websites you find useful on your classroom computer and keep some of the books in your classroom so that students can consult them during the lesson. Bookmark also the following sites on your classroom computer:
2. If possible, arrange to use an LCD projector during Sessions 1 and 2.
3. Before teaching this lesson, you may want to discuss some of the strategies that are commonly used in creating advertisements. One way to do this would be to teach the lesson Identifying and Understanding the Fallacies Used in Advertising.
4. Your students will be looking at a variety of advertisements during this lesson. Tear, cut out, or print out magazine, newspaper, and online images from ads aimed at the age group you teach. Collect a range of advertisements including those with images of products and those with images of celebrities or athletes. Consider ads that are artistic or create a "mood" using strong background colors, interesting fonts, or eye-catching placement of images as well as those that sell a product as a lifestyle showing, for example, a model on a yacht or in a penthouse apartment.
  • Choose some ads to share with students in groups of three or four; make copies of these ads to distribute (see Session 1, Step 4).
  • Pick another ad to use as an example of marketing techniques during Session 2; this ad should ideally present the product in a way that speaks to the four aspects of marketing as outlined in Marketing: A Brief Overview.
  • Post the rest of the ads on the walls of your classroom in preparation for the first session.
5. You may also want to create a PowerPoint presentation aimed at illustrating the subliminal power that ads can have when viewed repeatedly. Your aim should be to integrate about 15 different ads aimed at the age group you are teaching. The PowerPoint should be self-running; each ad should be included as a slide and then should be repeated twice. Each time the program cycles through the ads, it should move a little more quickly, until by the third time each ad only flashes on the screen quite briefly. You might incorporate contemporary music into the PowerPoint presentation to add interest and to generate a mood or atmosphere. For more information about creating a PowerPoint presentation, see Chapter 5, "Inquiry Into Technology and Media-Rich Experience in the Teaching of English Language Arts" in Finding the Artist Within by Peggy Albers (International Reading Association, 2007). You will need this presentation ready and available on the computer in your classroom for Session 1.
6. Assemble crayons, colored markers, and pencil colors. You may also want to arrange for the use of a photocopier to make copies of the images students choose in Session 2. Because this lesson also involves the student creation of art projects, you may want to consult Managing Arts in the Classroom for tips on managing this kind of work.
7. Make one copy of the Critically Studying Advertisements handout for every four students in your class. Make one copy of Marketing: A Brief Overview; Understanding the Relationship Among the Consumer, the Product, the Promotion, and the Placement of Advertisements; and the Effects of Color Assignment Sheet for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Use spoken, written, and visual language to critically analyze advertisements and art
  • Learn to read and interpret visual "text" and apply these strategies as they create their own visual "text"
  • Read, interpret, and critically discuss explicit and implicit messages sent by companies about their products

Session 1

Before this session, post the ads you have chosen around your classroom (see Preparation, Step 4). You may choose to group ads for similar products together.

1. If you have chosen to create a PowerPoint (see Preparation, Step 5), open the session by showing it to students without comment.
2. Engage students in a discussion about advertising, referring to the PowerPoint presentation if appropriate. Ask them to point out particular images they remember; ask them to think about why they remember them. Questions for discussion include:
  • What ads appealed to you?
  • Why did they appeal to you?
  • What "characters" are the companies trying to create in their ads?
  • Are they successful? Why or why not?
  • Are they truthful? How can you tell?
  • Who do you think is the audience for these ads? Give examples to support your answer.
The goal of this discussion is for students to become aware of how advertisements influence how we view particular age groups, and how they are created to encourage consumers, especially the young and teens, to buy their products. You might choose to play the PowerPoint again during the discussion.
3. Tell students they will be studying how companies advertise their products in different magazines and on the Internet. Show students the website and ask them to talk about what they notice (e.g., images, text, animation) and why. Ask them if they think this site appeals to them (as the marketers hope) or if the marketers have missed their mark and in what way. If they do not say it themselves, you might ask them to consider how a whole website can be considered an advertising piece, and how, as they click on various links, they are psychologically, visually, and aesthetically "buying" into Nike's marketing.
4. Using the drop-down menu in the upper-right corner, choose one of the specific sports (basketball is a good site for this purpose). Once you arrive at the homepage for that sport, ask your students what links appeal to them or what they want to know more about. Click on the links accordingly. Questions for discussion include:
  • What do you notice about the people you see? What do they look like? What are they doing?
  • What are the settings?
  • What words are used?
  • How do these words work to influence how young children, teens, and adults view sports, ambition, life, and their possibilities?
  • Does the Nike site appeal to young children? Teens? Adults? Or does it appeal to an even more specific audience? How does it do so?
  • Does the website capture the audience it intends? And, how does the website define one's ability to "just do it"? Is it authentic and achievable?
5. Organize students into groups of no more than three or four students by numbering them off. Each group should be given one ad from those you have assembled (see Preparation, Step 4) and a copy of the Critically Studying Advertisements handout. Each group should fill out the handout and be prepared to share their analysis with the class. Since ads are meant to be read quickly, give students no more than five minutes to complete this activity; this limited time also helps students more clearly focus their attention on this engagement.
6. Have students do a gallery walk around the room to study the advertisements that you posted. They should study the advertisements with the questions from the Critically Studying Advertisements handout in mind. After this gallery walk, invite students to write a short reflection on what they noticed and what they believe these ads are attempting to communicate.
7. Conduct a whole-class discussion of students' responses to the advertisements they have looked at, including the website. Ask students to identify specific aspects of how marketers attract consumers to the products in the ads. For example, does the size of the product move their eye to a particular part of the page? Does the use of color invite viewers into a "mood?" Have students generate a statement about how advertisements sway consumers to buy their products. Examples might include:
  • Companies like Nike want to convince us to buy their product by appealing to our interest in video, expensive lifestyles, and being famous.
  • Fashion ads that feature teens are not necessarily selling clothes, but want us to buy into a life that might not look like our own.
  • Ads present products using color, famous people, and positive comments so that we want to buy products to look good or be popular.
8. Use short book talks to introduce the books on advertising and artists who critique consumerism that you have collected (see Preparation, Step 1). Invite students to examine these books throughout the lesson.
9. Invite students to write a reflection on the power of advertising on their own life and how the advertisements they view affect them. Collect these for assessment.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 2): Students should visit a library, bookstore, grocery store, newsstand or anyplace where a variety of magazines and newspapers are available. They can also look online. They should find examples of ads for a product that appear in two different places (the Got Milk? Campaign is a good example of this type of ad), photocopy, print out the ads, and/or bring the magazines to class, and indicate where they found each one. If some students do not have ready access to advertisements, ask your librarian, colleagues, and friends for magazines that they do not need. Place these in your classroom for students to check out and take home.

Session 2

1. Distribute Marketing: A Brief Overview to students; review and discuss. Pay special attention to the section on the Four Ps: Product, Pricing, Promotion, and Placement.
2. Use the ad you have chosen (see Preparation, Step 4) to illustrate the power of language and images to influence consumers. Ask students to respond to the language choice in the ad including the use of questions and declarative statements. How might the use of capital letters, font size, and color influence a consumer? Discuss the placement and size of objects in the ad. How do they encourage a consumer to buy this product? What other hidden or unspoken message does this ad convey?
3. Divide the class into groups of no more than three or four. These can be the same groups as in the previous session or you can organize them into new groups by numbering them off. Ask students to share the ads they found for homework and to discuss the Four Ps as they relate to their selected ads. Each student should fill out the grid on the bottom of Marketing: A Brief Overview and the Understanding the Relationship Among the Consumer, the Product, the Promotion, and the Placement of Advertisements handout for the ads he or she brought in. Have students also discuss in their groups.
4. Each group should report briefly on their discussions and share insights they gained about how products are described, designed, promoted, priced, and placed in various sources. Invite students to discuss both the visible messages conveyed in their ads and the invisible or unspoken messages conveyed.
5. Introduce students to the idea of Pop Artists by showing them the Pop Art PowerPoint. Discuss briefly and then project The Collection, Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans 1962 and read the text that appears on this page. Ask students what they think Andy Warhol was trying to communicate to his viewing audience about Campbell's Soup, in light of what they just studied about advertising, marketing, and targeting audiences. What do they think was the artist's intention?
6. Talk about how artists often take political stands against consumerism both directly and indirectly. Some people interpret Andy Warhol's work in this way. Discuss the use of multiplicity, or multiple representations of the same object. Multiplicity may invite passivity in a viewer or consumer because when images are viewed repeatedly the viewer thinks less critically about them. For example, Warhol's multiple use of a tomato soup can might suggest how Americans became "used to" this product, and now buy it without examining the ingredients because it is known and "trusted."
7. Invite students to examine their ads again, think about the websites they visited, and look around at the ads posted on the walls. Do they notice any ads that present a product or a person several times or in several settings? Why do they think the artists in these ads present the product more than once? How do the artists and designers who create the ads use color and images to convey messages about the products they are selling?
8. Tell students they will create their own multiple and colored artwork using the technique they have explored in Step 6. They will use an advertisement that includes a person or object. They should feel free to use one of the ads they found for homework, or they can find new ads as they choose. Share the Student Sample of Andy Warhol Technique.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 3): Once students have selected an ad, they can use the entire ad page or cut out the part of the ad they wish to feature (person or object) in their project. They should then paste or tape it to a piece of white paper, and make nine photocopies. Note that nine is the optimal number, but if cost is an issue, this assignment will work with six or even four copies.

Session 3

1. Review what you have been discussing for the last two sessions, making sure students understand the significance of content and placement in both advertising and Pop Art. Have a student record the shared insights on a large sheet of paper or the board; this list should be visible to students while they work throughout this session.
2. Distribute the Effects of Color Assignment Sheet and invite students to consider how color informs how an image is viewed. Review. Have students read and fill out the handout while they work (note that part of the handout is for a peer review). Note: For more information about using color, see Chapter 3, "Inquiry Into Color" in Finding the Artist Within by Peggy Albers (International Reading Association, 2007).
3. Students should use crayons, colored markers, or colored pencils to color in their nine photocopied images and then arrange the nine images in a way that appeals to them.
4. Once students have arranged their images, ask them to find one other person to study their arrangement and give them feedback. Based upon what was learned about color, this peer should comment on the overall feeling that is evoked in her or him when viewing this composition. If this feeling is in contrast to the student-artist's intention, he or she may decide to rearrange this composition again, focusing on the relationships between colors. Once students have decided on their final arrangements, they should turn over the images and tape them together so that the tape does not interfere with the artwork.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 4): Students should finish up their artwork at home if they didn't finish in class. They should also write a statement about their artwork that explains what they wanted to say to consumers about the products, people, or objects represented in them.

Session 4

1. Students should post their artwork around the classroom. Have students do a gallery walk among them, taking notes on how the artwork manipulates the original image or ad and how it effectively critiques the ad's intent. After this gallery walk, students should write notes that describe how they interpreted different visual compositions as well as write a statement of their overall impression of this gallery of student-created images.
2. Bring the class together and invite students to comment on each piece of art. After comments are made, give student-artists an opportunity to share their artistic statements with the class. Encourage each student to talk about the choices he or she made in terms of colors and arrangement of images. Talk also about the statements. How do the statements affect a viewer's interpretation of the visual composition? What insights did students glean after hearing their peers' statements?
3. Ask students to develop a collective statement on what they learned about consumerism, marketing, and advertising during the course of this lesson. Questions for discussion include:
  • Look across these visual compositions. What elements do the pieces share?
  • Which of these visual compositions stand out? Why?
  • What did you learn about consumerism from this project?
  • What artistic elements of these visual compositions encouraged you to think about consumerism and how visual elements play into what and how we choose products?
  • When you view all of these visual compositions together, what statement comes to mind about consumerism?


  • Conduct a class discussion of how advertisements can influence consumers in a negative way. Adbusters is a resource that offers articles you can use as a starting point (for a recent example, see "The Digital Pitch").
  • To intensify students' reflections, ask them to position themselves as the writers and advertisers and create their own paper or multimedia advertisements.
  • Invite students to consider how other texts, like short stories, movies, poems, artwork, and so on, also work to inform and influence viewers' or readers' perspectives.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Written reflection on the power of advertising—Your students’ written reflection from the end of Session 1 allows you to see to what extent students are reading and interpreting written and visual information. More specifically, you see which aspects of a visual and language text students attend to (e.g., color, bold words, objects), their interpretation of these texts, and whether they synthesize both the visual and language information presented. Further, such a written reflection allows you to assess whether students understand the advertisements’ subtext, or the messages not overtly conveyed.

    This written reflection is repeated in Session 4 during which students do a gallery walk of their own visual compositions and write reflective words, phrases, and statements about their interpretation of these visual texts. You can compare the two reflections to assess students’ learning over the course of the lesson.
  • Critically studying advertisements—Collect the Critically Studying Advertisements handouts that students fill out in Session 1 and the Marketing: A Brief Overview and Understanding the Relationship Among the Consumer, the Product, the Promotion, and the Placement of Advertisements handouts from Session 2. Their comments should offer you insight into which aspects of the visual and written text they attend to and how (and if) they can synthesize and interpret the messages marketers intend to send.
  • Effects of color—Informally observe students as they comment on each other’s work in Session 3 to see if they understand what effects the use of color can have on a viewer’s perceptions. Collect the Effects of Color Assignment Sheet and students’ statements and compare them with their final art projects. Contrast what students say about what they are trying to achieve with what they do in their projects. Their comments will help you understand the relationship between the artistic choices that students make and their ability to communicate their intended messages through these choices. You can also check students’ abilities to comment thoughtfully on each other’s work using the Effects of Color Assignment Sheets and your observations during the discussion in Session 4.
  • Extending the lesson to other genres—Consider presenting advertisements linked to other themes or topics in other lessons. For example, if students are reading “Romeo and Juliet,” consider introducing advertisements related to teen love. Invite students to critically analyze these advertisements in relation to the play. This encourages students to connect and synthesize. You can thus assess the application of students’ abilities to read, interpret, and apply their analytical skills to future texts.

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