Sensible Consumers

As children use digital media with increasing frequency, advertisers who work with digital platforms continue to understand kids as an ideal target audience. Among other things, this means it is important to help children learn to read online ads sensibly and critically.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Read digital advertisements critically
  • Identify signs of stereotypes and bias in an online marketplace
  • Determine strategies for becoming a critical consumer of digital media
Essential Questions
  • How can we be critical consumers online?
  • What forms of stereotype and bias are present in online advertisements?

“Ads on the Internet” handout 

(This handout requires planning. Visit websites relevant to your students and take screenshots of ads that appear to target young audiences. Provide a diverse range of examples on a single handout.)


advertisement [ad ver tayz mehnt] (noun) a notice that promotes a particular product, event or service to the public or a subset of the public

bias (verb) to judge something or someone unfairly

consumer [kuhn soo mer] (noun) a person who purchases or can purchase products and services to use

stereotype [steh ree oh tayp] (noun) a fixed and oversimplified idea about a particular group of people and how they behave


Series Overview

As technology advances and the social landscape shifts, it is crucial for students to become digitally literate citizens. In this series, elementary students will learn the ins and outs of media literacy, from choosing reliable sources and understanding online searches to navigating online security and participating in digital communities.


Lesson Overview

As children use digital media with increasing frequency, advertisers who work with digital platforms continue to understand kids as an ideal target audience. Among other things, this means it is important to help children learn to read online ads sensibly and critically.

This lesson starts by showing children some of the kinds of advertisements they might run into online and helping them analyze these ads with a critical eye. Your students will think about the purpose behind the ads as well as the way they affect young consumers.

Then, kids will think about the different kinds of stereotypes and biases that are conveyed via the ads they see in an online environment. Students will make their own manifestos about how they will read and respond to the consumer market they see in digital environments in the future.



Kids Are Consumers

1. Begin by asking your students to think about a time they felt influenced by an advertisement or an ad made them want to do something. You can explain that advertisements include commercials, signs in stores and previews before movies. Maybe the ad made them want to buy something, go somewhere or try a new activity. Maybe the ad made them feel angry or excited. Ask students to write in journals about a time an ad had an influence on them, and give anyone who wants to a chance to share their reflection and narrative. Use the following questions to scaffold students’ reflective writing:

  • What is the ad you are writing about? Where and when did you see it? What was it advertising?
  • What did this ad make you think about? Why?
  • How did this ad make you feel? Why?

2. Show students the “Ads on the Internet” handout. Explain that the handout shows a few ads or websites containing ads from sites that kids frequent a lot. Break kids into groups and ask them to discuss the following questions with regard to each of the images on the handout:

  • What do you see in this image? What is being advertised? How do you know?
  • What do you think the advertisers are trying to make you feel and think?
  • What are the advertisers doing to make sure kids like the ad?
  • What other ads does this one remind you of?
  • What questions does this ad raise for you?

Circulate and make note of general themes from the small group discussions. If your time is limited—or if this kind of questioning is very new to students—give each group only one ad to think about, instead of the whole set of images.

3. Bring the groups back together and ask them to share out the most salient themes and questions from their discussions. Chart commonalities as students talk.


Stereotypes in Advertisements

1. Next, explain that sometimes advertisements use stereotypes. Some stereotypes kids might find in online advertisements include racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, ability stereotypes or stereotypes about kids.

If the concept of a stereotype is new to your students, begin by providing a definition of the term. Students might need a few examples of stereotypes in order to process the concept. You can explain that a stereotype could be “all girls like pink” or “all African Americans are good at basketball.”

Ask students to think of examples of stereotypes they have seen in advertising on digital media or—if they have little experience with that—elsewhere. For students who are new to the concept of stereotypes, offer them examples instead of asking them to generate them. For instance, you might share that advertisements sometimes perpetuate the stereotypes “all boys are rough” or “all moms love to cook.” Ask students to think of examples of these or other stereotypes in advertisements they have seen.

2. Return to the “Ads on the Internet” handout. Have kids work with partners to identify two to three different stereotypes about kids that these ads perpetuate. They might find the stereotypes “kids always love video games” or “kids will not eat healthy unless you bribe them to.” Give your students a chance to articulate how these stereotypes about their age group make them feel.


Critical Consumer Manifesto

1. Finally, explain to your students that as they use the internet, it is their job to be critical consumers. This means reading advertisements carefully, recognizing the purpose and slant of their authors and remaining alert to stereotypes and bias.

2. As a class, develop a critical consumer manifesto with tenets students agree to follow when they see advertisements on the internet. Their manifesto should include a list of five to 10 promises they agree as a group to try their best to follow when they see ads online. For instance, students may agree to think twice before deciding that they want something, to try to stay alert to stereotypes in advertisements, to look for the different ads on websites they are using, etc. Try to let the ideas for this manifesto come from kids directly, but offer guidance as needed.


Do Something

Kids might find themselves getting really angry about some of the stereotyping they see online. They can develop their voices by letting companies know how ads targeting children feel to real kid audiences. Encourage students to write letters or editorials describing the way they think kids might be affected by the digital economy, and why. Once everyone has a letter, send them as a bundle to a local newspaper or website. Make sure to keep kids apprised of any responses you receive. If you do not get a response, you can also make a display of their letters in the hallway of your school so that others can learn from them.    


Alignment to Common Core State Standards


Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.


Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.


Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.


Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.


Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.