Persuading Readers with Endorsement Letters
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In this lesson, students explore the genre of commercial endorsements, reading a government document that outlines the guidelines for such advertisements in the United States. Once the characteristics and requirements for the genre are established, each student composes an endorsement of a product, service, company, or industry. Students create a class checklist and rubric for the project and complete a peer review session before publishing their finished letters.
This lesson specifies that students write letters for their endorsements; however, the activity can be adapted to a Web page, podcast or audio recording, or a video.
Persuasion Map: This interactive graphic organizer enables students to map out their arguments for a persuasive essay or debate.
Endorsement Letters Worksheet: This handout guides students in planning an endorsement letter.
From Theory to Practice
Art Peterson, reporting on research on the relationship between writing assignments and the success of student writers, explains that the most effective writing assignments ask students to address "an authentic group of readers regarding a topic on which the writer was an expert." By writing a letter of endorsement in this activity, "students can work as experts by choosing a product or service that they use and then . . . persuad[ing] readers to buy the same product or service for themselves" (45).
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.
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.
- 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).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 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.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 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).
includes a letter in Spanish
- Gather some example endorsements to share with the class. A range of online testimonial letters is linked in the Websites section. If you have Internet access in the classroom, you might share video and Web page examples such as Queen Latifah’s Jenny Craig commercial, the Celebrity Spotlight page on the Proactiv Solution site, or information on Jared Fogle on the Subway Website. You can also find endorsements in print newspapers and magazines. Be sure to review the endorsements you plan to use for appropriateness.
- Make copies of the FTC Guides, Endorsement Letters Worksheet, Persuasion Map Planning Sheet, and Endorsement Letter Peer Review Questions for each student.
- Review the characteristics of an effective testimonial in the article Six Key Elements for a Testimonial Letter.
- Test the Letter Generator and Persuasion Map on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- use technical reading strategies.
- review letter-writing conventions.
- review and discuss persuasive writing strategies.
- analyze a product or service and its related audience.
- compose, edit, and publish persuasive letters.
- Introduce endorsement and testimonals by sharing a television commercial or magazine advertisement that features a celebrity students will recognize. Suggestions are included in the Resources section.
- After sharing examples, ask students to brainstorm a list of other endorsements that they are familiar with. Note their responses on the board or chart paper. Save the list so that students can return to it in later sessions for models for their own endorsement letters.
- Once you have a list of endorsements to choose among, ask students to review the list and discuss their perception of the success of the different testimonials. Encourage students to talk about which testimonials are believable and persuasive and which are not.
- To supplement students’ discussion, you can review the Celebrity Endorsements blog entry, which outlines some of the challenges advertisers have when matching a celebrity to a product or service.
- Ask the class to brainstorm a list of characteristics of a good endorsement. Have students consider the match between product and the person who endorses it, the details in the endorsement, and the way the endorsement is presented.
- Share copies of the FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising; either pass out copies or point students to the guidelines online.
- Explain what the FTC (the Federal Trade Commission) is and what the agency’s role is in the United States. The FTC’s About Us page provides the basic details to share with students.
- Ensure that students understand the definitions of words endorsement and testimonial. Point to the first section of the FTC Guides, which explain that the words are considered identical within the guidelines.
- Point to the document’s list of sections, and explain the organizational structure. Be sure that any students who are unfamiliar with the section numbers understand that the list functions as a basic table of contents.
- Also ensure that students understand the numbering system used for the sections. Students used to basic outlining strategies may be confused by the fact that the numbering starts with zero rather than one.
- Read through the section listing and discuss generally how the sections will differ. If desired, you might return to the class list of endorsements and sort them into the three categories (e.g., endorsements by consumers, by experts, and by organizations), or if the categories are not all represented, challenge students to think of examples to add to the class list.
- Explain that notation such as “Authority: 38 Stat. 717, as amended; 15 U.S.C. 41 – 58” under the section listing and later in the document such as “[Guide 1] [45 FR 3872, Jan. 18, 1980]” provides information pointing readers to the related laws and regulations that the document explains. Since students are not tracing the sources of the FTC Guides, they don’t need to worry about interpreting the notation further.
- Read through the first section of the document with the class, modeling how to navigate the document.
- Show students how to use context clues and, if necessary, the dictionary to determine the meaning of any unfamiliar words.
- Since the document uses complex language and legal terminology in places, stop at the end of each paragraph and demonstrate how to summarize the key information.
- Ensure that students understand the information in each paragraph before moving on to the next. The first section provides the definition of endorsements, so it’s crucial to the assignment. Students will return to the basic characteristics outlined in the document as they create their own endorsements.
- Work through each of the example scenarios with students, making connections to the information in 255.0.a-c so that students understand how to apply the definitions to the examples. Because later sections of this document use the same structure, it’s important that students understand how to read this kind of text.
- For homework, ask students to read Section 255.1 of the FTC Guides, using the reading strategies that you have demonstrated. Explain at the beginning of the next session, the class will discuss and share their readings.
- Get students started on their homework by looking at 255.1.a. Draw students’ attention to the sentence enclosed in square brackets: “See Example 2 to Guide 3 (§255.3) illustrating that a valid endorsement may constitute all or part of an advertiser’s substantiation.”
- Demonstrate how to understand the pointer to another place in the document. This notation is used elsewhere in the document so it’s important that students understand how to read and decode it.
- Briefly review the information on endorsements covered in the previous session.
- Return to the FTC Guides, and ask students to share any general comments on Section 255.1.
- Arrange the class in four groups. Assign passages in the FTC Guides to groups as follows:
- Group 1—Section 255.1.a
- Group 2—Section 255.1.b
- Group 3—Section 255.1.c, Example 1
- Group 4—Section 255.1.c, Example 2
- Group 1—Section 255.1.a
- In their small groups, ask students to work through the assigned passage and come up with a group summary of what the passage means and how it relates to the rest of the document that they have read so far. Because students read the section for homework, allow only 5–10 minutes for them to gather their ideas.
- As students work, circulate through the room providing feedback and support.
- Once students have their summaries and comments ready, gather the class and ask each group to share information on the assigned passage. Allow for class discussion and expansion on the issues as appropriate.
- After all four groups have gone, explain that each group will read an assigned section of the FTC Guides and prepare to present and explain it to the rest of the class at the end of the next class session. Explain that each group’s goal will be to teach the class about the section group members have read.
- To get started, walk through the rest of the document with the class. Point out the text structures that the class has already encountered in Sections 255.0–1. Students should notice that each section begins with guidelines and details and then includes examples.
- Assign each group one of the remaining sections of the FTC Guides. An example distribution is shown below:
- Group 1—Section 255.2
- Group 2—Section 255.3
- Group 3—Section 255.4
- Group 4—Section 255.5
- Group 1—Section 255.2
- Have groups work together to begin reading their assigned passages. Encourage students to rely on the reading strategies modeled in the previous session by having a group member read a passage aloud, pausing for discussion as appropriate.
- Provide dictionaries and other resources for students to use when they encounter new vocabulary words (e.g., substantiation and efficacy in Section 255.2).
- Circulate through the room providing feedback and support while groups work.
- At the end of the session, ask students to finish reading their assigned section for homework. They should come to the next session ready to prepare their presentation to the class.
- Answer any questions that students have about their assignment, and allow them to get to work on their presentations immediately. Remind students that they have only 15–20 minutes to finish their presentations and that each group will have 5–10 minutes to present.
- Check in with each group to answer any questions that have come up as they worked through their passage together and independently. Provide feedback and support as you work with each group.
- Once students have had time to ready their presentations, gather the class and ask the groups to present their passages, using the order in the document (e.g., 255.2, then 255.3).
- When each group finishes presenting, ask the class to identify commercial endorsements on your list from the first class session that fit the guidelines described in the section. Add endorsements to the class list as appropriate.
- After all the groups have finished, return to the list of characteristics of a good endorsement from the first class session and ask students to add characteristics based on the FTC Guides.
- With a full list of characteristics completed, ask students to shape the list into a rubric and checklist. Be sure that students include attention to the match between product and the person who endorses it, the details in the endorsement, and the way the endorsement is presented.
- Choose one of the example testimonial letters used in previous sessions, and as a class compare the letter to the class rubric.
- Review the basic parts of a letter as you work through the letter.
- Make any modifications to the rubric and checklist that evolve after applying it to an example.
- End the session by passing out the Endorsement Letters Worksheet and explaining that students will be writing their own letters of endorsement for a product or service that they use.
- For homework, ask students to choose a product or service that they can endorse within the FTC Guides. Ask students to complete the Endorsement Letters Worksheet before the beginning of the next session.
- Arrange students in small groups. If desired, use the same four groups from previous sessions.
- Referring to their responses on the Endorsement Letters Worksheet, ask group members to explain the products or services that they have chosen, why they have chosen them, and the points they have brainstormed to support their positions.
- Have group members suggest any additional details about the products or services and ideas for one another’s endorsement letters.
- Circulate through the class providing feedback and support while groups share their ideas.
- When all groups have finished sharing, pass out copies of the Persuasion Map Planning Sheet, and use the information to analyze one of the example testimonial letters used in previous sessions. As you work through the letter, also refer to the class checklist and rubric.
- Demonstrate how to use the Persuasion Map to begin gathering and organizing ideas for the endorsement letters, drawing attention to the details on the Persuasion Map Planning Sheet.
- Allow students the rest of the session to continue working on their letters by gathering details with the Persuasion Map.
- For homework, ask students to compose a first draft of their letters. Explain that the letters will be exchanged for peer review during the next session.
- Review the criteria for endorsement letters that students created during previous sessions, and answer any questions that students have about the project or their drafts.
- Pass out copies of the Endorsement Letter Peer Review Questions.
- Display an overhead transparency of an example testimonial letter not used in a previous session, or pass out copies of the example.
- Read through the letter and use the Endorsement Letter Peer Review Questions and class rubric to assess the letter and discuss any changes the class suggests.
- After you are certain that students understand the peer review activity, arrange them in pairs, and ask partners to exchange and read each other’s drafts.
- After reading the drafts, have them fill out the Endorsement Letter Peer Review Questions to provide feedback.
- After students have shared and received feedback, allow time for the students to work on changes to their drafts.
- For homework, ask students to revise their letters, based on the feedback that they have received. Explain that students will type their final drafts during the next class session.
- Review the criteria for effective letters that students created, and answer any questions that students have about the project or their drafts.
- Focus students’ attention on reading their drafts for minor errors before they move to type their letters.
- Demonstrate the Letter Generator, which students will use to publish their letters.
- Allow the rest of the session for students to type and print their letters.
- Collect students’ letters, worksheets, and drafts at the end of the session.
- If desired, ask students to print two copies of their letters, and display one copy of each letter in the school library or bulletin board.
- Rather than asking students to write endorsements for products and services that they use, have them choose a character from a recent reading and write an endorsement letter from that character’s perspective. This activity works well as a book report alternative.
- If classroom and school resources allow, expand the project by offering students the opportunity to create audio endorsements (like podcasts) or video endorsements (like those available on YouTube). Be sure to check your district’s acceptable use policy and review the technology before asking students to work in these other formats.
- Political endorsements often include many of the same qualities as product and service endorsements, though they do not fall under the FTC Guides. Share Chuck Norris’s endorsement of Mike Huckabee to get started on a discussion of these political endorsements, and move on to consider the different kinds of political endorsements (e.g., by celebrities, by other politicians, by newspapers, by labor unions, by professional associations or member organizations).
Student Assessment / Reflections
Check drafts and worksheets for completion and effort. Look in particular for indications of improvement over the series of drafts that students complete for the assignment. Assess students’ final drafts using the criteria for endorsement letters that students created in class. If you prefer a more formal rubric, use the Endorsement Letter Rubric.