Advertising Through the Ages

Advertisement to increase advertising in the newspaper

Advertisement from the Medford Mail Tribune, 1911.

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Students will utilize the Historic Oregon Newspapers website to study print advertisements from the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Contemporary advertisements from current newspapers will also be examined in order to compare and contrast the development of advertising styles, content, and strategy across history, thus bringing more awareness to advertising methods and developing further critical thinking skills.

Oregon Common Core State Standards

Language Arts Standards:

  • ELA.RI.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • ELA.RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, timelines, animations, or interactive elements on web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
  • ELA.RI.4.8 Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.

Social Studies Standards:

  • Historical Thinking 4.6: Create and evaluate timelines that show relationships among people, events, and movements in Oregon history.
  • Historical Thinking 4.7: Use primary and secondary sources to create or describe a narrative about events in Oregon history.
  • Economics 4.17: Analyze different buying choices and their opportunity costs while demonstrating the difference between needs and wants.


Key Vocabulary


  • Preparation: Assign students the homework of finding and bringing advertisements from recent newspapers and magazines that they find appealing.
  • Introduction: Start lesson with students presenting their advertisements and discussing the reasons for their appeal.
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • What drew you to this particular ad?
    • What strategies have the advertising professionals used to capture your attention and convince you to buy the product?
    • How accurately does it represent the product it was intended to sell?
    • How much does this matter?
  • Background on Advertising: Far from being a “modern” development, advertising has been an important part of the American economy from its earliest days. Newspaper and magazine publishers have long used the sale of advertising space in their pages in order to help make their ventures profitable. Businesses that make products and professionals who provide services to the community have always relied on some form of advertising to attract customers, and consumers have used ads to help them decide how to spend their money.
  • Activity: Students will use the Historic Oregon Newspapers website to explore past issues of periodical publications in order to study their advertising content. You may choose to have the entire class look in their local or regional newspaper, or individual students may be assigned different papers from throughout the state.
    • Instruct the class to examine issues of the paper from two different eras: 1870 and 1920.
    • The aim will be to compare the ways that print advertising style and strategy remained unchanged over this fifty-year period, and contrast the ways that ads evolved and changed between 1870 and 1920.
    • Provide students with a graphic organizer to organize the ideas that they find, as well as an activity sheet to guide their research. (Example provided in PDF Download.)
  • Discussion: Facilitate a class discussion about the findings of the class.
  • Some discussion questions to consider:
    • Were you surprised by the nature and quality of ads from yesteryear?
    • How do they look to our modern eyes?
    • How do you think they looked to people living back then?
    • What are the major ways that current advertisements have changed from those of the past?
    • How has the invention of modern communications technologies such as radio, television, and the Internet changed advertising?
    • What are the differences between a “good” and a “bad” advertisement?
    • Can you think of any “sneaky” ways that products get advertised without most people even realizing it?
    • How do you think advertising affects your life?

Extension Activity Ideas

Activities can be modified several different ways depending on grade level and focus of study. Listed are some activity ideas that can be adapted and extended to and for any grade level.

  • Compare and Contrast: Ask students to bring in a complete newspaper that was written during current times. Using this newspaper, have students fill out the activity sheet (provided in PDF Download). Then using the compare and contrast graphic organizer along with the questionnaire, have students compare and contrast the newspaper from 1870 with the newspaper from 2015.
    • Additionally, students may compare and contrast the newspaper from 1920 with the newspaper from 2015.
Posted in Common Core: English Language Arts Grade 4, Common Core: Social Science Grade 4, K-12 Lesson Plans
2 comments on “Advertising Through the Ages
  1. Carrie Stewart, UNLV Libraries says:

    Nevada is using this as a model to approach our K-12, thank you!

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