Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Act Now! China is On the Move!

Common Core has re-calibrated many teachers to consider their content alongside important reading, writing, and communication skills.  One of the standards for 8th graders covers persuasive writing.  I could ask the students to write persuasive essays, but a real world application of those persuasive communication skills would be more useful and more exciting for them.  Advertising is the best example of persuasive communication in action.  Students are exposed to it every day and are unconsciously familiar with advertisers' techniques.

My social studies classes were in the midst of a unit on technological and scientific advances in imperial China.  They were studying the impact of inventions like steel, the compass, movable type, and mechanical clocks.  When asked to imagine how life might be different without these inventions they realized their importance.  A great way to assess their understanding of the historical and social curriculum while working on the persuasive communication skills was to ask them to write and record a radio advertisement for a Song Dynasty invention.

Model (scale 1:48) for a Chinese astronomical clock from Asia for Educators

Chinese mariner's compass from Asia for Educators
Step 1:  I introduced the assignment after students had done some background reading on all of the inventions.  They received a handout with the requirements for the project.  This included the grading rubric so they knew where to focus their efforts throughout the research and writing process.

Step 2:  Find out how to make a great ad! Students learned about persuasive techniques that make a 60 second radio advertisement great.  Their source was an article written by a modern advertising executive.  Combining modern applications of this skill with the topic they are learning in history really piqued their interest.  I noted that their grading rubric was based on the standards set out in the marketing CEO's article.

Step 3: Pick a topic! Students were assigned to small groups of 4-5 and then they chose their topics.  A website that has great information on these inventions is Asia for Educators.  My students did a webquest of this site earlier in the unit to learn about the inventions.

Step 4: Make plans! Student read the advertising article and considered how they might incorporate the key elements of persuasion laid out by the CEO/author.  They recorded their group's thoughts so that I could check their progress.  Once they finished, they wrote a pitch for their radio ad.  The pitch had to be reviewed and accepted by me before they could move on to script writing.

Step 5: Write a script! Students started drafting and rehearsing their advertisements.  I also allowed them to download free sound effects apps to their mobile devices to help enhance their commercials.  This added another fun element to the project.  One of the most challenging aspects of the project was creating an add that ran exactly 60 seconds.  I stuck to the limit, though, because those are the constraints of real marketing professionals.

Step 6: Record!  I used portable audio recorders that our school technology department owns.  But you could certainly have students use a free audio recording app on their mobile devices as well.

Step 7: Blog!  Students had to upload their ads to their blogs and then reflect on the process.  Here are some examples.
  • Caroline's group chose steel as their topic.  She wrote about how this project fit into our unit, how her group developed their pitch, and wrote out the script.  Click here to listen to her radio ad.  The link is at the top of her blog post.
  • Eric's group chose the smallpox inoculation as their topic.  He talks about their approach to hook the listener and how sound effects were used to enhance the ad.  Click here to listen.
  • Emma's group chose the compass as their topic.  They did a nice job explaining how the compass could make shipping and traveling easier, but also showed that they understood how a compass works.  Click here to listen.
The project really accomplished two goals of all social studies teachers.  Students demonstrated an understanding of the societal impact of these innovations during the Song Dynasty, but they also incorporated real world persuasive communication techniques that fit Common Core standards.