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Eighth Graders Write Ad Campaigns for Colonies
Jan. 3, 2018 -- Middle schoolers are used to conducting research. But writing the lyrics to a jingle and performing it in front of their class…? Not so much.

But that’s just what Heights Middle School eighth graders in social studies teacher Dani Copeland’s class did. As a culmination of a unit on the development of the original 13 colonies, Ms. Copeland’s students worked alone or with a partner to research an assigned colony. They had to identify the usual facts, including those related to its location, natural resources, climate, and economy. But then they had to take that information and use it to create an advertisement enticing people to move to their colony. The advertisement included a slide with photos, facts and a slogan, plus an original jingle written and performed in front of their peers.
 
Colony ad text

“It’s easy for kids to go online and find facts about their colony,” said Ms. Copeland, of the first part of their project. “But then to actually figure out what would make people want to move to their colony and create a sales pitch around that made the assignment a DOK 4.” She was referring to Depth of Knowledge levels, which move from basic recall (Level 1) to the highest order of thinking, Level 4, which requires synthesis, creativity and critical thinking. 

Students studied current marketing techniques and drew from well-known slogans and jingles, such as Eric Adams’ slogan for Pennsylvania, said in his deepest voice: “We have the WHEATS.” Others used twists on the ubiquitous Just Do It ad from Nike or played on their state’s name, such as “Come to Maryland, where the land is always merry.” Students frequently referenced those things that are considered desirable in our modern world, such as racial and religious diversity, with one pair including the “coexist” image on their slide and another selling Pennsylvania as a “slave-free zone!”
 
Student presenting colony ad

Students agreed that they worked harder and learned more doing the project this way rather than as a traditional research project. “The idea of selling it, of having to persuade people to want to go to my colony, made me want to make it good,” said Ryan Coleman, who studied Maryland with her partner Graham. The project has even made her want to visit Maryland, a place she’s never been.

Miyah Coleman, who studied Virginia with Dasha Morton-Jackson, said, “It was more fun to do it like this. And because I felt more enthusiasm for this, the things I learned will stick with me.”

That pair pre-recorded their jingle using their district-issued iPads “because we knew we didn’t want to sing in front of our class,” said Dasha.

Ms. Copeland knew she was pushing children out of their comfort zones, but feels they learn best that way. “Many students were afraid of singing in front of their peers but I think just creating the jingle was the hardest part for them. Many got stuck on just using the colony name in their jingle and struggled with how to get other important information in the lyrics.”
Some were pretty simple, but managed to both rhyme and sound persuasive such as Keenan Williams’ “Come to Maryland, for all your needs. If you stay, you will succeed.” Others, like Eric Adams’, included more detailed information:

"Welcome to Pennsylvania,
Where we ship, build and grow wheat.
If you are a farmer,
You will love this colony.”

Ms. Copeland took the assignment one step further and had pairs of students compete against one another to determine whose sales pitch was the most effective. The rest of the class took notes using a rubric and chose the most persuasive ad out of each match-up. “I believe students really enjoyed the fact that I made this into a competition,” said Ms. Copeland. “It motivated them to work harder because they wanted to win.”

Another valuable by-product of this project was what Dasha Morton-Jackson said when reflecting on what she had learned, “I learned that Miyah and I work well together. And we’ll work together again in the future.”
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