But If You Act Now! Teaching Persuasion in the Classroom

Teaching English Composition can be…tedious… at times, for both the professor and the student. No matter what book you use in your courses, teaching the same techniques every semester can become dull. A couple of terms back, I decided to try something new. For their persuasive essay, I have students compose their own infomercial and write a script for their product.

First, they have to come up with a product on their own. It can be something completely fanciful or a way to improve upon an existing product. Humor is encouraged, but I stress that all portions of the argument must be in place. Those elements include providing a response to a problem, focusing on the future, and centering on a particular audience.

In responding to a problem, the team of 3-4 students must show how the need or problem affects its targeted audience. They must explain why the need is significant. They must say why the competition’s solution does not measure up.

The presentation itself must include both before and after evidence. They must stress the urgency of acting now and include extras to sweeten the deal.

I offer the students a lot of freedom in composing their infomerical. They can either film the entire thing (I’m continually amazed at how proficient they are with movie-making programs. Even those on their iPhones often turn our very well), they can do a “live action/audience interaction” performance, or blend both film and live action. Although they may ad-lib during their presentations, a script must be provided to me beforehand, and they must identify the parts of the argument each line is addressing in the margins.

The infomericals should run from about 7-10 minutes. Depending on the size of your class and the length of your sessions, you may need  a couple of days to get them all done. I have 50-minute classes and we usually take two days.

To get them started, I show them two classic infomericals. One is a “real,” “The Hawaiian Chair,” and one is a parody from Saturday Night Live, “The Bass-o-matic.”

Without question, this is the most fun we have all term. Here is one my classes created just a few weeks ago.  Not only is it hysterical, but they manage to cover all the points of argument admirably. Give it a try and see how creative your own students can be.