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Back to Presidential Primaries Lesson Plan

Getting to Know the Candidates: Analyzing Their Campaign Ads



  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Social Studies
    --Current Events
    ----U.S. History


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12


Brief Description

Learn about the candidates' positions by analyzing their campaign ads.


Students will

  • learn about the role advertising plays in presidential campaigns.
  • analyze one candidate's campaign ads (provided in text format) for such elements as major issues and themes, postivitity or negativity, fact and opinion, and the power of the ad to sell voters on their candidacy.


campaign, advertisements, ads, medial literacy, president, election

Materials Needed[shopmaterials]

The following sites offer video of campaign ads launched during this year's presidential primaries.

Lesson Plan

This lesson requires Internet access. In the lesson, students review the candidates' campaign ads to learn what each candidate's main issues/themes seem to be.


This activity makes a good cooperative group activity; it can be completed in pairs or in small groups. It also could be completed by individual students.

Assign a candidate to each student/group or have students draw the name of a candidate from a hat. That will be the candidate whose campaign ads the students will review. The ads are available online. (See Materials Needed section above for links to campaign ads. Students will find additional resources on the site of the presidential candidate they are covering.) Decide in advance what you want students to analyze as they review the ads. Have them set up a chart with columns to fill in as they review the ads. Below are a few column headings they might use. If you are working on some special election or media literacy emphasis, you might want to include that among the ad elements/questions you ask students to consider as they review the ads.

Possible Column Headings

  • What theme(s) or issue(s) does this ad highlight?
  • In this ad, do you find more factual information or more opinion? (This question might be posed in two columns instead of one: What factual information do you find in the ad? What opinions do you find in the ad?)
  • What is the overall tone of the ad? Is it positive or negative?
  • Do you think this ad will help the candidate gain support? Why or why not?
  • Does the ad make the candidate seem presidential? If so, how? If not, why not?

When students have finished reviewing the ads of their assigned candidate, ask them to select the two ads they think best make the candidate appear presidential. Students then write a paragraph for each of the two ads; in the paragraph, they explain why they selected those ads. Use students' presentations as the starting point for a discussion about the candidates and the issues.

Additional Resources

  • Campaign Ad Critique (EducationWorld)
  • Analyzing Political Ads (PBS)
  • Campaign Advertising: Selling the Candidates (, see page 7)
  • Political Commercials: Leading or Misleading Voters (PBS)
  • Analysis of Campaign Advertising (Washington Post - see page 7)
  • Analyzing New in the Media: Political Ads (McDougall Little)
  • Analyzing Political Television Advertisements (Organization of American Historians)
  • Campaign 2008: The Role of Technology and the Internet (PBS)
  • Three Stages of Political Advertising (Center for Media Literacy)
  • Ten Classroom Approaches to Media Literacy (Center for Media Literacy)
  • TV Tool Teaches Election Basics (Center for Media Literacy)
  • Create a Political Ad (Scholastic)
  • Fighting The Horse Race: Creating Ads Which Explore 2008 Presidential Candidates & Issues (Media Literacy Clearinghouse)
  • It's an Ad Eats Ad World (New York Times)


    Students select two ads they think best convey the positions of their assigned candidate. They write a paragraph for each ad, explaining why they selected it.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    Submitted By

    Gary Hopkins

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
    NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-C.K-4.1 What Is Government?
    NSS-C.K-4.3 Principles of Democracy
    NSS-C.K-4.5 Roles of the Citizen
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NSS-C.5-8.1 Civic Life, Politics, and Government
    NSS-C.5-8.2 Foundations of the American Political System
    NSS-C.5-8.3 Principles of Democracy
    NSS-C.5-8.5 Roles of the Citizen
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NSS-C.9-12.1 Civic Life, Politics, and Government
    NSS-C.9-12.2 Foundations of the Political System
    NSS-C.9-12.3 Principles of Democracy
    NSS-C.9-12.5 Roles of the Citizen

    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-USH.K-4.3 The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage
    GRADES 5 - 12
    NSS-USH.5-12.10 Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the Present)

    GRADES K - 12
    NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
    NT.K-12.5 Technology Research Tools

    Find more activities for teaching about the presidential primaries in Education World's Primaries, Voting, Elections archive.

    You might find additional activities of value on our President's Day resources page.

    Click here to return to this week's Lesson Planning article, Electing a President: Lessons for Teaching About the Presidential Primaries.

    Updated 1/04/2012

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