Teaching our students to be critical thinkers is more important than ever.  One (fun!) way to do this is to teach about how propaganda is used in popular culture.  Examples abound!Teach critical thinking skills by using propaganda from commercials.

Start with propaganda they know


Your students may be surprised to realize how pervasive propaganda is in their lives.

Just by asking them to match the company and jingle or slogan will help them start noticing language and influences around them.

Here are some you might want to use:

  • “I’m lovin’ it” (McDonalds)
  • “Is it in you?” (Gatorade)
  • “Expect more, pay less” (Target)
  • “It’s waaay better than fast food.” (Wendy’s)
  • “Snap, crackle, pop!” (Rice Crispies)
  • “Just do it” (Nike)
  • “Eat fresh” (Subway)

Or, you can play them this YouTube video to get started:

What does it mean?

If your students can match companies and slogans easily and perfectly, what does that mean?  Put this question to your students.  But not only just, what does it mean?  but how do you feel about it?  How does this influence you (often without even knowing you’re influenced), and what do you want to do in response?

We are ALL bombarded with advertisements.  The goal of studying propaganda is to help students see through propaganda and develop critical thinking skills in response to it.

Defining terms

There are tons of categories of propaganda.  Choose 6-10 that you want your students learn.  Some of the most common include:

  • bandwagon
  • card stacking
  • glittering generalities
  • loaded terms
  • name calling & ad hominem
  • plain folks
  • testimonial
  • transfer

Provide students with a short definition for each, and encourage them to be on the lookout for examples of these that they’ll see every day!

Gather your own examples of propaganda

It isn’t hard to discover a wide range of propaganda techniques when you start looking for them!

Commercials and political ads will provide a great range of possibilities.  Ask your students to help you gather examples as well.  You can build a library of great examples this way!

Often, you’ll find more than one technique used — and that’s to be expected!  Marketers and speech writers aren’t following a set of rules beyond trying to persuade the audience.Teach critical thinking skills by using propaganda from commercials.

Once you begin sharing examples, ask your students to analyze by rating how effective the commercial are and why.  This helps build their critical thinking skills and provides an avenue for discussion.

Not all of your students will agree on what is and isn’t persuasive.  This is a great opportunity for your students to practice clarifying what they think, why, and how to verbalize their thoughts.

Or use my slideshow-

You can use this Prezi to provide your students with 8 techniques, definitions and examples:

8 Propaganda Techniques

Using commercials to teach propaganda

Alright, alright, alright!  We all love Matthew McConaughey, but his Lincoln commercials border on the surreal!  Middle school students especially love analyzing commercials like this.  What does this ad really have to do with a car?  Students love discussing that question!



Classic commercials also provide wonderful opportunities to examine persuasive techniques — and YouTube has them aplenty!

Practicing analysis & critical thinking

Once students are familiar with different propaganda techniques, extend the learning by asking them to do at least three things:

  1. Dig in with analysis questions:
  • what do they notice about the language used?
  • the images?
  • what is their eye drawn to?
  • how would they describe the music used?
  • what are the primary colors?
  • where is the placement of the logo or the slogan?
  • how does the ad try to assure that you’ll remember it?

2.  Use evidence to support their responses.

3.  Defend whether or not they believe the propaganda is effective.

You can do this with a classroom or small group discussion, journal response, exit cards, or quick write activity.  These quick activities can be used as an assessment of learning as well.

Continue to encourage your students to find examples in speeches, billboards, TV shows…even the news.  Opportunities to practice critical thinking are all around us!

Need more help?

You can use the link below to find a student workbook on propaganda at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.Teach critical thinking skills with a propaganda workbook.

Workbook: A Look at Propaganda

Let me know what you think?  How do you teach critical thinking and propaganda to your students?

With gratitude,

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