What Messages Are Out There?
Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 3 classes
Preparation Time: 1 hour to read lesson and to look at : http://www.mcewenindustries.com/pdfs/ChildrenArentWaterproof.pdf
Materials: Computer lab

Students will analyze public service announcements to identify how a message can be effectively communicated to an intended audience. Word choice, key phrases, and imagery will be examined as vehicles of persuasion. Students will analyze public service announcements to see if they are effective forms of communicating public health/environmental health messages.

Students will be able to:
1. Analyze a public service message to determine if it persuasively communicates ideas;
2. Identify words, phrases, and images that are key to delivering the message;
3. Determine the intended audience of a public service message.

National English Education Standards
Standard #4
Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions,
style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences for a variety of

Arizona State Standards
Viewing and Presenting
VP-P1. Analyze and evaluate visual media for language, subject matter, and visual
techniques used to influence attitudes, decision making, and cultural

Strand 1: Concept 4: Vocabulary
PO 3. Determine how the meaning of the text is affected by the writer’s word choice.
Strand 2: Concept 3: Persuasive Text
PO 1. Describe the central argument and its elements (e.g., argument by cause and effect, analogy, authority, emotion, logic) in persuasive text.
PO 2. Describe how persuasive techniques (e.g., repetition, sentence variety, understatement, overstatement) contribute to the power of persuasive text.

Teacher Background
It would be helpful to read through the accompanying social studies engage lesson for this learning cycle to see how campaigns/programs used to change human behavior in order to combat disease were carried out in times past.

Related and Resource Websites
http://www.mcewenindustries.com/pdfs/ChildrenArentWaterproof.pdf (The Children Aren’t Waterproof website originally created by Tucson Drowning Prevention Committee)



1. As a class, brainstorm what public service campaigns are being conducted in your community at the present time. Are some national and/or local campaigns targeted to specific situations or conditions that exist in your particular area? Make a list on the board. Some possible examples (that were current at the time of the writing of this lesson) include:

  • Not smoking
  • Not smoking when pregnant
  • Not taking drugs
  • Not trying crystal meth
  • Not drinking and driving
  • Avoiding identity theft
  • Getting help with domestic violence
  • Investing wisely
  • Letting older people get their flu shots first
  • Middle aged and older people getting tested for colon cancer
  • Getting tested for breast cancer
  • Washing hands and covering one’s nose and mouth when sneezing (especially during cold season)
  • Getting help if someone in the family is an alcoholic
  • Getting vaccinated against pertussis (DtaP shot)
  • Reducing water usage (especially in the Southwest)
  • Reducing neighborhood crime through getting to know your neighbors
  • Children exercising more
  • Taking care of asthma
  • Not exercising outdoors on days with high ozone concentrations
  • Wearing sunscreen and staying out of the sun from 10A.M. to 3P.M.
  • Watching children around pools
  • Getting rid of stagnant water in one’s yard to eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitoes, especially those that carry West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever
  • Speaking up when you encounter social injustice
  • Practicing safe sex

2. Have the class break up into small groups of two or three students. Each group will investigate a public service campaign that is health related. No two groups should do the same campaign. Most of these public service campaigns can be found on the Internet as well as on a second or third media source.

3. As a class, identify a list of factors that students should know in preparation for giving a 5 to 10 minute presentation before the class. As necessary, guide the class to include responses to the following questions within their presentation:

  • What is the message of the public service campaign?
  • What are visual images that are essential to the message?
  • Who is putting this public service message out?
  • What is their motivation?
  • Who is the targeted audience?
  • How is the public service campaign being publicized?
  • How effective is this public service campaign?
  • Could this public service campaign be improved? How?
    • How could the targeted audience be better reached?
    • Could a wider audience be reached?
    • Should more information be included?
    • How could the message be made more memorable?

4. One public service campaign could be used as an example that you go through with the class before the students begin working in their groups. The campaign to watch children around pools and spas is an especially vivid example of an effective public health campaign. The key concept is that an adult must always supervise children near any water source. As a way to help people remember the main concept, the key phrase “children are not waterproof”, is used. This campaign was begun in landlocked Arizona, which may be a surprise to some people. However, drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children under the age of five in the Southwest because many families have private pools or have access to public pools. When this message is on the radio the rather stunning auditory image is of a child laughing and splashing and then silence is used. The same message on television ads shows how easily a child can slip into a pool and go under, lured by an attractive toy or just the beautiful blue water. Even if a parent goes inside for just a minute to answer the telephone a tragedy can occur. This public service message can be found at: http://www.mcewenindustries.com/pdfs/ChildrenArentWaterproof.pdf

5. After the class has gone over the “Children Aren’t Waterproof” campaign, give the students the rest of the class period and the next class to select which public health service message their small group would like to present and to work on the analysis questions that will constitute their presentation. The third class should be used to give the presentations.

At the end of class reserve ten minutes or so to ask the students which public service messages were the most persuasive and the most memorable. Make a quick list on the board of the techniques, key phrases, and/or imagery that helped to make these public service messages effective. Keep this list for use in the apply lesson.

Students should continue looking for public service messages, especially those that deal with health issues, which are being promulgated in their area.

Embedded Assessment
The presentation that each small group gives should be used to assess the students’ engagement with the material of this lesson and how well they understood the objectives. Look at how thoroughly and accurately the students addressed each of the questions listed in part #2 of the lesson during their presentations and make sure that each student in each small group contributed equally to the work and to the presentation before the class.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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