Reading Ads with a Social Justice Lens

Children are surrounded – and targeted – by advertisements: on television, the computer, even on their journeys to and from school. Children need specific strategies for reading and talking about advertisements and their impact.  Reading Ads with a Social Justice Lens is a series of 13 multidisciplinary mini-lessons that provide such strategies and build critical literacy. The lessons are designed for students in grades K-5 and include suggestions for simple adaptations. These lessons open up important conversations about the relationship between advertisements and social justice. Children will see that they have the power to decide how media will influence them. They will also engage in social justice projects that address some of the unfair messages they find in advertising.
Grade Level


Some of the key social justice concepts addressed by these lessons include

  • the meaning and impact of stereotypes;
  • the impact of unequal representation and access;
  • the effect of biased messages about how to view ourselves and others; and
  • the importance of developing independent voices as activists.

Some of the key language arts skills addressed by these lessons include

  • using oral and written language to express a point of view;
  • putting words and images together to comprehend a cohesive message;
  • considering an author or a creator’s purpose in conceiving a specific text; and
  • synthesizing information from a variety of sources.
Essential Questions

Each lesson addresses three specific essential questions. In addition to these, the series asks students

  • What is the purpose of advertising?
  • How can we ‘read’ advertisements actively and critically?
  • What are stereotypes, and how can we work to fight against them?
  • What is representation, and why is it important?
  • What is the relationship between advertisements and fairness or justice, and how can we play a role in this relationship?


Part One:  Introduction

Lesson 1: What’s for Sale?

Students discuss the purpose of advertisements and their relationship to social justice.

Lesson 2: Reading Advertisements

Students construct strategies for reading advertisements critically to use in other lessons.


Part Two: Advertising and Stereotypes

Lesson 3: Stereotypes in Advertising

Students learn about stereotypes and examine how advertising can influence them.

Lesson 4: How Advertising Perpetuates Stereotypes

Students analyze advertisements that perpetuate stereotypes.  

Lesson 5: How Advertising Fights Stereotypes

Students will create advertisements that fight against commonly held stereotypes.


Part Three: The Issue of Representation

Lesson 6: Representation in Advertising

Students discus representation and why it matters in advertisements.

Lesson 7: Who Is There?

Students analyze how some groups are over-represented in advertisements (and how some are excluded). 

Lesson 8: How Are We ‘Supposed’ to Be

Students consider how advertisements represent families.

Lesson 9:  Showing More of Us

Students debate diversity in advertisements.


Part Four:  Bias in Advertising

Lesson 10:  The Impact of Bias in Advertising

Students examine the messages advertisements send about people who are different.

Lesson 11: Minimizing the Impact of Biases

Students develop strategies to view advertisements without succumbing to biased messages.


Part Five:  Advertising Activism

Lesson 12: Talking Back

Students write letters to advertisers.

Lesson 13: Advertisements of Our Own

Students design and create a social justice advertising campaign.

These activities address the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

CCSS: R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.5, R.6, R.7, R.8, R.9