Talking Back

This is the twelfth lesson in the Reading Ads with a Social Justice Lens series.As children learn about justice and injustice, and become increasingly aware of stereotypes and bias in the world around them, it is crucial for them to develop a sense of agency and power in confronting these issues. By responding in writing to some of the issues that arise in their critical viewing of advertisements, students have a chance to work on communication skills while striving for greater social justice and performing civic activism.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • recall and follow steps to the writing process.
  • synthesize information for the purpose of proving a thesis.
  • use persuasive language skills to work for social justice.
Essential Questions
  • What is justice?
  • What is activism?
  • How can we take action to show support toward socially inclusive, fair advertisements?
  • How can we take action to show our disapproval toward some of the unfairness we have discovered in advertisements?


  1. Remind students that over the course of this series they have talked about a number of themes in relation to advertisements. They have talked about stereotypes, issues in representation, advertisers that make an effort to be fair and combat stereotypes, and specific biases. Have students talk with a classmate to share one positive aspect of advertising in relation to social justice, and / or one negative aspect that really stands out to them from what they have discovered.
  2. Explain that what they learned about fairness (justice) and unfairness (injustice) might lead them to want to advocate for more fairness. Tell students that taking an active role in recognizing fairness or fighting for justice is called activism. Writing can play an important role in activism. Alternatively, students might want to commend or encourage advertisers who already do a good job keeping issues of justice in mind.
  3. Have students work in pairs to write letters to advertisers. Encourage students to recognize advertisers who explicitly work to reduce stereotypes or present accurate representation of people, by expressing gratitude or pointing out the power of such messages, for example. Likewise, encourage students to stand up to advertisers whose injustices—in terms of stereotypes, representation or contribution to biases—really stand out to them as unfair. Preliterate students may dictate a short letter and do an accompanying illustration. Students at different age levels will write letters of different complexity, which is fine—you can gauge your expectations accordingly. They should follow the same steps of the writing process that you use in class. Encourage all students to use as much specific evidence as possible—they may reference work they did individually or as a class during previous lessons in the series.
  4. Give students a chance to share and respond to one another’s letters. When the letters are polished and complete, help students research addresses where they can actually send (or type and e-mail) their letters. Make sure that anyone who gets a response shares that with the class.



Letter writing can be a powerful way of taking action against injustice. Writing also can help students feel that their voices and opinions are heard in genuine ways. Invite students to practice their persuasive and activist writing skills at home by writing or dictating similar letters to another advertiser. Encourage them to focus on a different theme from the one they worked on in school. Give students a chance to talk about what was different about working on this independently instead of collaboratively, and to share the letters they wrote and the issues they hoped to address. You may even create a gallery of these letters on a bulletin board in your school to spark activism among other students as well.