by Nina


Jean Kilbourne - Killing Us Softly
 A while back one of the EnglishBrno FB page fans shared a very interesting documentary with us, called "Killing Us Softly". It is a 30-min talk on portrayal of women in advertising

As I was watching I realized I wanted to plan my next lesson around this topic. So I did :

Level : intermediate +
Time needed : 2+ hrs 

One week prior to the lesson email students the link to the documentary (with CZ subs), ask them to watch it and get ready to answer the following questions in class:

1) Which topic(s) does the presenter NOT pick in her lecture?
women as housewives
business women
women as sex symbols
teenage women

2) Do you agree with Jean Kilbourne´s view that “advertising dehumanizes both men and women”?

Here are some more questions I will be asking you in the lesson:
- what did you think of the documentary?
- what do you agree/disagree on?
- what´s your idea of a well-balanced ad?
- what are your favourite TV ads? why do you think you are/aren´t influenced by tv ads?
- do they have effects on you? how? do they influence your shopping habits? which products?
- do magazine ads influence you? which ones and how?
- in which stereotypical roles are women usually shown in magazine ads?

1. Who is Jean Kilbourne?

After presenting the topic, ask students to guess facts about the life and work of Jean Kilbourne, the author of the documentary (who is she, how old is she, is she famous, etc.). Then give each student an article about Mrs Kilbourne, which you can put together using internet resources, e.g. the Wikipedia entry. Students compare their guesses with the facts, hence learn more about who she is and why she fights against the fake portrayal of women in advertising. It´s a good lead-in activity.

2. Discussion about the documentary

Ask students to finish these sentences.

The most attractive thing about a woman is.......................
The most attractive thing about a man is .......................

Do they see these people in ads?
Then discuss the questions you emailed them earlier (see Pre-lesson task)

4. Double-meaning ads

Pick a few ads from the documentary, especially the double meaning ones and ask students:

What/who can you see in the ad?
What is the advertiser trying to tell us?

This brings up interesting discussions.

5. Magazine ads now and in the past

Ask students:
How would you describe a typical man/woman portrayed in ads today?
Do you think it´s different from, let´s say, 1950s?

Here is a short video that was made by several students as a school project. It compares the portrayal of men and women in the "Life" magazine in the 1950s and now. 

Before you play the video for the first time (only the section 0:50 - 2:55) a good listening-for-gist question to assign the students could be: 

How many students can you hear in the video and are they M/F?
Afterwards, check their answers and ask how much they understood (ask them for a short summary).

Before they watch for the second time, ask them to solve the following T/F statements. Then they check while watching for the second time.
- women usually had long blond hair and blue eyes - T/F
- the women were always smiling - T/F
- men´s hair was dark and had a messy look - T/F
- men always wore suits - T/F
- black people were portrayed in the same way as the white people - T/F
- most of the ads were illustrations, not photos - T/F
- the ads were all in dark colours - T/F
- ads were concentrating on women because they show lots of clothes and make-up - T/F
- the only ads that didn´t show the perfect family were alcohol and cigarettes - T/F
- most of the alcohol ads were for hard liquor - T/F

Check the answers in open class afterwards, have a short discussion on ads in the 1950s.

Now tell students to form two groups and ask the groups to note down answers for these questions as they are watching the rest of the video (ideally each of the groups will have access to separate computers):
What does a perfect woman look like in today´s ads?
What are today´s perfect values, is it still family?
Has the purpose of ads changed over time?
Do the men and women in ads have these characteristics in today's magazines? (ideally have some current magazines ready or ask each of the students to bring one to class)

Check the answers in open class afterwards.

Ask the students whether they think the girls did a good job with the project.

6. Follow-up project

Tell students it's now their turn to work on something independently. Ask them to form two groups and (outside of class) come up with their own ad for one of the following products
- shampoo
- fashionable jeans
- strong beer
- a lawnmower
- something you want to do

Tell students they will present the project in the next lesson. It should have photos/illustrations/graphics, etc... One of my groups created an amazing advertisement (Youtube link) which brought tears to my eyes because it was connected to my first lesson with them.

This could be a perfect match with a lesson on the language of ads.


Brad said...

Great lesson, Nina !

Glad to now count you among the members of my PLN since checking out the interview Sharon did. Look forward to sharing more, and have RSSed your blog. Cheers, Brad

Nina said...

Thank you Brad, it's an honour! Will be happy to join your PLN and look up your work!

Ginger said...

Hey Nina,

This lesson sounds great!

The video, "Killing us softly" reminded me of a few things that I'd seen online a few months ago (not that you need any more "stuff" for this lesson, but it's interesting, albeit infuriating at times, and could help generate some lively discussion):

Advertising from the 50s and 60s:

Photoshopping in advertising:


Frank said...

Hi Nina,
you've got some really cool lessons!
Do you have a PDF for this lesson? It would be great to be able to download one. I do that on my blog for each post. Thanks!

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