Standard Lesson

Identifying and Understanding the Fallacies Used in Advertising

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four to five 40-minute sessions
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This lesson alerts students to the fallacies that surround them every day. The fallacies used in advertising are often overlooked without the tools needed to examine them critically. In this lesson, students deconstruct fallacious images and messages in advertisements and demonstrate their understanding of the fallacies through multimedia presentations. The presentations provide an anchor for shared understanding.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Teachers can support adolescents' literacy development by recognizing their competencies outside of school and transferring those competencies to academic contexts.

  • Many older readers struggle because they have difficulty grasping the importance of school literacy and subject matter learning. To avoid such disengagement, teachers may find value in looking first at students' experiences as a way to ground learning and give it a function and purpose.

  • Participatory classroom approaches are more effective for adolescent learners as they engage students in the flow of instruction.

  • Research suggests that students need strategies for finding information in varieties of sources (not only print texts) and for judging the accuracy and reliability of the sources they find.
  • Research supports that students who know how to critically analyze mass media text also recognize how it manipulates the public.

  • Media-literacy instruction can be used to improve students' comprehension, writing, text analysis, and critical-thinking skills.


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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 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.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Equipment and software for multimedia presentations (e.g., PowerPoint, video camera, media player, word processing program, projector)




Student Objectives

Students will

  • Recognize, identify, and deconstruct the fallacies used in advertising

  • Develop and present an understanding of the fallacies used in advertisements and an argument to support their findings through a multimedia presentation

Session 1: Introducing the Prevalence of Fallacies in Advertising

Note: Because of the myriad of high school schedules, this lesson does not indicate time requirements. Instead it is presented in sessions, leaving the breakdown of times for the individual teacher to determine.


1. Review The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Fallacies website and select a few fallacies for students to examine during the lesson. The 10 most frequently used fallacies are

1. Ad hominem (meaning "against the person")—attacks the person and not the issue

2. Appeal to emotions—manipulates people's emotions in order to get their attention away from an important issue

3. Bandwagon—creates the impression that everybody is doing it and so should you

4. False dilemma—limits the possible choices to avoid consideration of another choice

5. Appeal to the people—uses the views of the majority as a persuasive device

6. Scare tactic—creates fear in people as evidence to support a claim

7. False cause—wrongly assumes a cause and effect relationship

8. Hasty generalization (or jumping to conclusions)—draws a conclusion about a population based on a small sample

9. Red herring—presents an irrelevant topic to divert attention away from the original issue

10. Traditional wisdom—uses the logic that the way things used to be is better than they are now, ignoring any problems of the past

2. Select advertising materials from around your school or local community to illustrate fallacies in advertisements. You might choose to use school television programs (e.g., Channel One), donated team scoreboards or bulletin boards, vending machines, and personal clothing. Try to find an example of each of the fallacies students will examine during the first session.


The objectives of this session are to alert students to the fact that fallacies surround them and to help them recognize and identify fallacies in advertisements.

Instruction and activities

1. Present students with a few of the advertisements you have gathered from around your school or local community, and begin developing a list of the different advertisements they typically encounter in their lives.

2. Ask students to work in small groups to add other types of advertising to the list. Examples may include television commercials, billboards, sporting arenas, malls, magazines, movies, and clothing.

3. Still working in their small groups, ask students to brainstorm places where there are no advertisements. After about five minutes, have students share their ideas with the class and record them on chart paper. They should find that advertising is impossible to escape and ad-free zones rarely exist.

4. Ask students what the word fallacy means. [According to Webster's dictionary, a fallacy is an error in reasoning or a flawed argument. It's an argument that does not conform to the rules of logic, but appears to be sound.]

5. Introduce a few of the fallacies that you selected from the The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Fallacies website, and explore how the reasoning for each appears to be correct but is, in fact, flawed.

6. Focus on a few of the advertisements in the school or on the list students developed, and have students try to identify the type of fallacy in each ad. For example, after viewing a commercial on Channel One, ask students what technique the advertisement uses to persuade them to purchase a particular product or think or act in a certain way. Assist them in recognizing the fallacy that exists in the ad.

7. To further develop an understanding of fallacy and its purpose, engage the class in a discussion. This class discussion can be accomplished in numerous ways. Some students work better in small groups reporting back to the class, while others respond well to a teacher-lead discussion. Regardless of your approach, the purpose of the discussion is for students to become more aware of how prevalent advertising is in their environment and the persuasive influence it has on their thoughts and actions.

8. Noting how prevalent fallacies are in advertising, students should also be aware of their impact on the individual person and the larger community. Ask students:
  • What might be the impact of being told we are never pretty, handsome, rich, clean, or good enough?

  • What might the abundance of fallacious advertisements be saying about us?

  • What about political ads?
If you have a computer with Internet access that can be projected for the entire class to see, link to a news website like CNN, a radio or television station, or an army recruiting site to find specific examples for the class discussion.

Journal assignment or class discussion

Have students respond to the following question in a journal or as a class discussion:

What does the casual acceptance of surrounding ourselves with fallacies say about us?


Ask students to bring in three or more examples of advertisements from different media sources that use one of the fallacies discussed. The students' examples should not duplicate the examples already explored in class.

Session 2: Identifying Specific Fallacies in Advertising


In this session, students will explore a website on fallacies and determine how fallacies are used in the advertisements they see around them.

Instruction and activities

1. Review the fallacies discussed in Session 1 and how they were used in the advertisements students encounter in their school or local community. Make sure that students have seen an example of each of the 10 most frequently used fallacies. If they have questions about any of the fallacies, take time to show a few more examples or provide further explanation.

2. Divide the class into groups of three to four students each. Using three or four of the advertisements students brought in for homework (one from each student in the group), have them work together to identify the fallacies used in the different ads.

3. As students are working, allow them to access the The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Fallacies website to find more information about the 10 most frequently used fallacies and also information about other fallacies that may apply to the ads they are examining.

4. Have each group share their examples with the class and indicate which fallacy each ad is using and why. You may also want to encourage other students to express their opinions on the different ads. This would be a good opportunity for class discussion and possibly debate.


Provide students with the Finding the Fallacies That Surround You handout to complete as homework. On the handout, ask them to list the fallacies discussed in class and examples of where these fallacies are found in the advertisements they see around them. What is the intended message?

Session 3: Deconstructing the Fallacies in Advertisements


The objective of this session is for students to deconstruct the meaning of an advertisement and what it says about the audience.

Instruction and activities

1. In their journals, ask students to write for five minutes in response to the following question:
Where can you find an ad-free zone? Does one exist?
2. Have students discuss their journal responses together as a class.

3. Review the list of ads and fallacies that students created in Session 1, and have them add any new types of ads from the examples they examined in Sessions 1 and 2.

4. Divide the class into groups of two to three students each.

5. Have students get out the ads they brought in for homework and did not use for the activity in Session 2. If you are comfortable having students access the Internet, you may also allow them to find online ads to use for this activity. Websites of local schools, sporting teams, cultural symbols (e.g., The Simpsons or Disney), businesses (e.g., cosmetics companies or restaurants), authors, and musicians may be appropriate.

6. Ask students to identify the intended audience for each advertisement. The purpose of this exercise is to examine the messages and fallacies that are used to promote the product, idea, or image. Students will examine how the intended audience often impacts the type of fallacy used in an ad.

7. As students are examining the different ads, ask them to answer the following questions:
  • Who is the intended audience of the ad?

  • What fallacy is used to persuade this audience to purchase a product or think or act in a certain way?

  • Is the ad reflective of a stereotype?

  • Do you think the ad is successful? Explain why or why not.

  • Do you think the ad could be harmful in any way? Explain why or why not.
8. When students are finished, ask them to orally report what they found in each of the ads they examined. Who is the intended audience? What is the persuasive message, and how is the fallacy used to deliver the message? What connection is there between the fallacy and the target audience?

9. As students continue to explore a variety of ads and share their findings with one another, they will begin to recognize the common fallacies used in the ads directed at certain populations. A pattern to the messages will surface. Ask students to reflect on how they feel about the fallacies used in ads and how their message may impact the intended audience.

Journal assignment or class discussion

Have students respond to the following questions in a journal or as a class discussion:

  • How prevalent are fallacies in our environment?

  • How able are we to make up our own minds about a topic or belief?

Session 4: Logical Fallacies Project


1. Photocopy the Logical Fallacies Project handout, which outlines the requirements and expectations for the students' multimedia presentations.

2. Obtain appropriate media equipment (e.g., PowerPoint, video camera, media player, word processing program) to support student presentations.


The objectives of this session are for students to develop and present a personal understanding of the fallacies in a selection of advertisements and construct an argument that supports their conclusions. Students also have an opportunity to share information with one another to anchor understanding.

Instruction and activities

1. This project can be completed either as homework or in class. If your students are unable to complete the project at home or if you decide to have students work in groups, class time should be allotted. Determine with students the number of days needed to complete the assignment.

2. Distribute the Logical Fallacy Project handout to students and review the requirements and grading rubric for the assignment. Per the handout, students are to develop a multimedia presentation on fallacies. Students should be encouraged to choose any media they want for the presentation (e.g., PowerPoint, video, printed materials, portfolio) so long as the learning objectives can be demonstrated. Providing students with the rubric ahead of time eliminates confusion over your expectations for their work on the presentation.

3. Provide time either in or out of class for students to complete the project. It is often helpful to have students begin working on the project in class to answer any initial questions about the assignment. If a majority of the assignment is being completed outside of class, schedule times in class to periodically discuss students' progress, answer any questions, and provide assistance as necessary.

Multimedia presentations

Provide students the opportunity to present their projects, and use the rubric to guide your assessment of their work. The presentations should illustrate their understanding of logical fallacies and demonstrate an unshakeable argument for their choices and analysis.


  • Have students look at the evolution of the advertising of a product over time. Who is the intended audience? What fallacies are used? How has the message stayed the same? How has it changed?

  • In the film Mona Lisa Smile, a brief clip presents advertising directed at women in the 1950s. Have students find examples of advertising directed at a specific audience in a specific era and analyze the message.

  • Analyze the visual images of music videos. If you turned off the sound and just looked at the image, what is the message? Are fallacies being used? If so, who is the intended audience and what message is being delivered?

  • Select examples from literature or essays previously read and studied in class to illustrate fallacies in text. You might choose to use "Cinderella" by Ann Sexton as an example of an unreliable narrator.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Review students' journals and observe them during class discussions to ensure that they can identify the fallacies used in advertisements and are able to deconstruct their messages. Are students able to critically examine an ad? Can they identify the fallacies, and do they understand why these fallacies are being used?

  • Collect the completed Finding the Fallacies that Surround You handout to determine whether students are able to recognize the different fallacies used in advertising and can deconstruct the messages.

  • Use the rubric to assess students' Logical Fallacy Project multimedia presentations.