Standard Lesson

Propaganda Techniques in Literature and Online Political Ads

Grades
9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
Publisher
NCTE
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Overview

After reading or viewing a text, students are introduced to propaganda techniques and then identify examples in the text. Students discuss these examples, and then explore the use of propaganda in popular culture by looking at examples in the media. Students identify examples of propaganda techniques used in clips of online political advertisements and explain how the techniques are used to persuade voters. Next, students explore the similarities of the propaganda techniques used in the literary text and in the online political ads to explain the commentary the text is making about contemporary society. Finally, students write a persuasive essay in support of a given statement.

In this lesson, some specific references are made to Brave New World as examples. A text list suggests additional novels, short stories, plays, and movies that will also work for this activity.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In the NCTE publication Lesson Plans for Creating Media-Rich Classrooms, editor Scott Sullivan notes that by "making students aware of the ways information is used and manipulated, we allow them to begin making wiser, more informed choices" (176). Students benefit doubly, then, by studying the concept of propaganda in a traditional literary context and in real-world applications pulled from multimedia sources. Their understanding of the literary text is enriched and enhanced and they are encouraged to "become more informed and conscientious citizens" (174). In this lesson, which encourages students to explore "the intrinsic relationships between content, product [or candidate], and profit [or power], they begin to see that what may once have seemed an objective enterprise [a political campaign] is, in fact, subject to a variety of influences, some subtle, some not" (175).

Further Reading

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • A literary text featuring propaganda techniques (see booklist for ideas)

Printouts

Websites

Preparation

  1. Students should have read or viewed the text that you've chosen for this lesson. Several of the books on the list (and some appropriate Young Adult novels) are featured in the Text Messages podcast episode Teen Time Travel.
  2. Make copies of the handouts: Propaganda Techniques Used in Literature, Analyzing Propaganda in Print Ads and Commercials, Propaganda Techniques Used in Online Political Ads , and Persuasive Writing Scoring Guide.
  3. If desired, make copies or an overhead transparency of the Persuasive Essay Assignment.
  4. Read the background information related to online political advertisements.
  5. Test the 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.

Student Objectives

Students will:

  • analyze texts to identify different types of propaganda techniques.
  • identify and explain the goal of propaganda techniques used in a work of literature and an example of non-print media.
  • compare and contrast examples of propaganda techniques used in a work of literature and visual media.
  • identify and gather evidence from a secondary source.
  • use visual literacy skills to analyze, interpret, and explain non-print media.
  • participate in a class discussion, gather information, and write a persuasive essay that synthesizes information from their explorations of propaganda.

Session One

  1. In this session, students will move toward a definition of propaganda by responding in writing or verbally to the question, "What is propaganda?"
  2. Have students discuss their thoughts and opinions of propaganda as you share information from the Wikipedia definition of propaganda and/or the What is Propaganda? definition with the class.
  3. Ask students if they have ever seen or heard propaganda used. If so, have students share what they saw or heard and what effect it had on them. Depending on their knowledge of propaganda, the effect may have been the same as or different from what the propagandist intended. Ask them to think about the reasons leaders and organizations often employ propaganda.
  4. Discuss how propaganda is a powerful tool when combined with mass media.
  5. Review examples of propaganda and discuss the ideas and examples with the students.
  6. In pairs or small groups, have the students fill out the Propaganda Techniques Used in Literature chart.
    • Identify an example of each type of propaganda technique used in the text you've chosen.
    • Explain what goal each technique is trying to accomplish.
    • Consider why the propaganda in the text is not challenged by most people in the society.
    • Identify any characters who seem to question the propaganda in the text (e.g., John the Savage, Helmholtz, and Bernard in Brave New World) and explore the possible reasons for their questioning.

Session Two

  1. As you move to a discussion of propaganda in literature in this session, have the students share the types of propaganda they have found in the text they examined in the first session.
  2. As students present their ideas, draw attention to whether students identify the same propaganda techniques. If there are any differences among the examples or techniques, ask students to consider whether more than one applies.
  3. Using the answers from the Propaganda Techniques Used in Literature chart, invite the students to discuss the following questions:
    • Why is the propaganda in the text not challenged by most people in the society?
    • Which characters do question the propaganda and what causes their questioning?
  4. To provide students the opportunity to make connections to propaganda in their own lives, assign Analyzing Propaganda in Print Ads and Commercials for homework. This activity asks students to look for examples of propaganda in their world. Online video clip sites such as YouTube are useful resources for students to explore. Invite students also to bring in the ads they use for their assignment or video clips from television or movies.
  5. Before the next session, select two or three political election advertisements from the Internet to show to students during the next session. If you cannot easily project the ads, students can also view the advertisements at home or at a public computer. If students will explore the advertisements on their own, be sure to allow enough time between this and the following session for students to complete the viewing.

Session Three

  1. Begin this session, focusing on identifying propaganda in cotemporary and historical political advertisements, by reviewing the Analyzing Propaganda in Print Ads and Commercials sheet that students completed for homework. Allow students to share any examples they brought with them.
  2. Show students the two political advertisements you've chosen for the session.
  3. Use the Propaganda Techniques Used in Online Political Ads handout to help students respond to the following questions, using the two selected political advertisements:
    • Who are the members of the target audience—women, men, young voters, baby boomers, senior citizens?
    • Is the political ad trying to sell a message (tough/soft on crime, cut/raise taxes, strong/weak defense, clean up the mess in Washington) or the candidate (has experience, creates new ideas, tells the truth, tells lies, is a loving family member)?
    • How does the political ad use production elements (sound effects, music, camera angles and movement, black and white or in color, special effects, graphics) to sell the message?
    • What kind of propaganda techniques are used in the advertisement?
    • What facts are being used in the ads? Who's providing the facts and where did they get them?
    • Is the political advertising effective? Did it get the message across? Will voters vote for the candidate? Are you convinced? Explain each of your answers.
    • Explain the connections between propaganda used in the political ad and propaganda used in the literary text you explored in earlier sessions.
  4. Using links to Websites from the online political campaign sites or from historical sites (see Resources section), assign the students the task of evaluating online political advertisements, using the Propaganda Techniques Used in Online Political Ads sheet as a guide.
  5. After completing their work with online ads, invite students to discuss the following questions:
    • What facts are being used in the ads?
    • Who is providing the facts and where did they get them?
    • Is the political advertising effective? Did it get the message across? Will voters vote for the candidate? Are you convinced? Explain each of your answers.
    • Explain any connections between the propaganda used in the political ad and propaganda used in the literary text you explored in earlier sessions.

Session Four

  1. After students have completed their investigation of propaganda techniques in the various texts, ask them to apply their new learning by writing a persuasive essay:
    Using specific examples of propaganda techniques from the piece of literature you've explored and the online political advertisements, write a well-organized essay that argues in support or against the following statement:
    "It is essential in a democratic society that young people and adults learn how to think, learn how to make up their minds. They must learn how to think independently, and they must learn how to think together. They must come to conclusions, but at the same time they must recognize the right of other men to come to opposite conclusions. So far as individuals are concerned, the art of democracy is the art of thinking and discussing independently together." (Institute for Propaganda Analysis. The Fine Art of Propaganda. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939)
  2. In their persuasive essay, students should
    • structure ideas and arguments in a sustained and logical fashion.
    • use specific rhetorical devices to support assertions (e.g., appeal to logic through reasoning; appeal to emotion or ethical belief; personal anecdote, case study, or analogy).
    • clarify and defend positions with precise and relevant evidence, including facts, expert opinions, quotations, and/or expressions of commonly accepted beliefs and logical reasoning.
    • address readers' concerns, counterclaims, biases, and/or expectations.
  3. Share the Persuasive Writing Scoring Guide to explore the requirements of the assignment in more detail.
  4. Demonstrate the Persuasion Map and work through a sample topic to show students how to use the tool to structure their essays.
  5. Allow students the remainder of class to work with the Persuasion Map as a brainstorming tool and to guide them through work on their papers.
  6. Encourage students to share their thoughts and drafts with the class as they work for feedback and support.

Extensions

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • As students discuss propaganda and the issues in text, listen for specific evidence from the story that connects to the information students have researched. The connections they make between the details in the novel and the details they choose as the supporting reasons for their position will reveal their understanding and engagement with the text.
  • Monitor student interaction and progress during group work to assess social skills and assist any students having problems with the project.
  • Use the Persuasive Writing Scoring Guide to assess students’ papers.
  • In addition to the specific feedback on the persuasive essay that students write, you can pay attention to the following indications of student involvement in the project:
    • Student participation in all activities and completion of homework assignments
    • Quality of student responses to in-class and homework activities
Lauricia Matuska
K-12 Teacher
This is the second unit plan written by Junius Wright that I have used, and both work excellently. Each lesson holds the interest of the students and presents its objectives in a way that students can relate to and understand. Additionally, neither lesson is not too long - they are not projects that take weeks. Rather, they teach their respective points and drive them home in a manner of days. In the future, I plan to begin my searches for lesson plans and story-related materials among the other lessons developed by Mr. Wright.
Lauricia Matuska
K-12 Teacher
This is the second unit plan written by Junius Wright that I have used, and both work excellently. Each lesson holds the interest of the students and presents its objectives in a way that students can relate to and understand. Additionally, neither lesson is not too long - they are not projects that take weeks. Rather, they teach their respective points and drive them home in a manner of days. In the future, I plan to begin my searches for lesson plans and story-related materials among the other lessons developed by Mr. Wright.
Lauricia Matuska
K-12 Teacher
This is the second unit plan written by Junius Wright that I have used, and both work excellently. Each lesson holds the interest of the students and presents its objectives in a way that students can relate to and understand. Additionally, neither lesson is not too long - they are not projects that take weeks. Rather, they teach their respective points and drive them home in a manner of days. In the future, I plan to begin my searches for lesson plans and story-related materials among the other lessons developed by Mr. Wright.

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