Thursday, November 17, 2016

Teach This Lesson Tomorrow - State Farm Ads

I'm going to start a new series here on the blog called "Teach This Lesson Tomorrow." It won't necessarily be in a regular rotation, but when I teach a great, low-prep-high-interest lesson that goes over well with my kids, I'm going to share it here with you.

Last week, my students finished up a narrative writing unit. Since we only have a few days before Thanksgiving break, I didn't want to dive into another writing unit, so I decided that we'd do a few different writer's notebook lessons to shake things up and expand the kids' creativity.

The lesson that I did on Wednesday, I first tried in July with our summer learning students. It was the idea of my brilliant friend and colleague who serves as our district's teaching and learning facilitator for ELA and it uses these two State Farm commercials:

What I love about this lesson is that it really shows how much context affects meaning. This is an essential lesson for young writers because they often forget to add enough detail and background for their reader to completely understand their story. So, not only was this lesson a hoot, but it addressed an important skill.

How I Taught It: 

1. I typed up the dialogue from the first commercial, "Jacked-Up" on a PowerPoint slide and shared it with the students. (Ask me if I can share the slide? Go ahead! Ask! Sheepishly, I will reply... "I can't. I forgot to save it." Shakes head in shame. But, there are only a few dozen words, so it won't take you more than a few minutes to do!!)

2. I asked kids what they thought was happening in the dialogue (surprisingly, not one kid recognized the lines at first!). We discuss their ideas.

3. I showed the commercial, "Jacked-Up."

4. We shared what we noticed. (Exact same words, different settings/context so therefore different meanings.)

5. Repeat steps 1-4 with the "Wild Mustangs" commercial.

6. I discussed with kids the importance of context on our understanding of words. We talked about how many times meaning can get lost because we don't understand the context (this often happens with texts and emails... difficult to infer tone).

7. We brainstormed some words and phrases that can mean different things when said in different contexts/tones. (For example, "shut up" can be spoken in a mean and nasty tone where the speaker wants someone to stop speaking or making noise. Or, the speaker can say "shut up" when someone is telling them something surprising or unbelievable.)

8. The kids worked in groups to write a short conversation that could have two different meanings depending on context.

 9. They performed their skits for the class.

This was such a fun (and meaningful!) lesson. The kids had a blast, their skits were hilarious, and they are now better at recognizing the importance of building sufficient background and context to help their reader better understand their piece.

Let me know if you try this lesson! I'd love to hear how it goes!

Happy Teaching!!


  1. In our school, last week, we had a full day of school on Monday and a half day schedule on Tuesday before getting out for Thanksgiving break. I did this lesson with my class on that Monday. I knew their minds were already on vacation, so any attempt at a formal lesson in grammar, writing or our novel would be futile! I really liked your suggestion with this lesson so I went for it!
    (I did add the newest commercial called "Furniture" with the girl who purchased the new couch and the robbers who steal said couch.) My students loved the lesson! I was nervous about the scripts/skits they would come up with, fearing they would be too much like the commercials, but they totally ROCKED it! I teach 3 reading/writing blocked classes throughout the day, so altogether I had 12 groups, and not one skit was like another! They really got into it, too!
    1. One example was a girls vs boys basketball game where the girls make the winning shot, and their elated comments were the exact comments that the boys uttered in complete defeat and disappointment.
    2. Another example was a girl finding her lost puppy and her excited statements are the same devastating statements of a boy who finds his puppy in the street, hit by a car. (I know it's super sad, but it totally fit the lesson!)
    3. A final example was two students sitting in chairs at a hair salon. One client is thrilled with her new hairdo, while the other is NOT!
    Overall, I was very pleased with the ideas, creativity and group efforts! The kids had a blast and learned something valuable on a day that none of us wanted to do much! I know this will help them as they create context in their future writings. Thank you so much for the fun idea!

  2. You don't happen to still have any of the scripts your students wrote do you? I love the idea of this lesson because I feel like I'm constantly asking for more detail. I just thought that by giving them an example of a skit would help clarify the task. I can always write one, but I love when I can show actual student's work.

  3. I'm thinking about doing something similar to teach the importance of stage directions in a script. Our kids tend to skip reading them but this is a fun way to show then they're so important. Instead of having them write their own scripts I'd have them write the stage directions (I might model one side then they can do the other).