power of persuasion

Words have the power to entertain, delight, reveal, inform, transport, inspire…I mean really now, I could go on all day. As a fellow PBS lover, I’m sure you could too. To me, there are few things in life that are as fun and liberating as playing with words.

But as much fun as words are, they can also be tricky little things. They get us to: laugh, cry, gain perspective, get angry, and yes, buy things. And oh boy, do they get us to buy things—products, ideas, regrettable “as seen on tv” impulse buys. Ahem. Today’s Adventure in Learning is a lesson to get kids thinking about how words are used to persuade them.

First, we should probably start with a little refresher. Do you remember Aristotle’s three methods of persuasion? If not, here’s a quick recap:

  • Ethos – an appeal to the moral character or experience of the speaker (Well if he/she says so, then I’m totally in!)
  • Pathos – an appeal to the emotional self (Aww, so touchy-feely)
  • Logos – an appeal to the logical reasons you should do something (Think Mr. Spock)

Most persuasive arguments generally fall into one of these three categories. The idea for today’s project is to see if the kids can spot the ways they’re being persuaded to do/think something on a day-to-day basis.

three techniques of persuasion

1. Start by going over Aristotle’s three methods of persuasion (e.g., getting people to do things). Ask the kids if they can sell you something using each one of the techniques. We were silly and argued why we should choose pie over other desserts. Here are some examples:

  • Ethos – As your child of nine years, you have seen me taste test pies for nearly a decade. I have sampled pies at picnics and Thanksgiving, and I say this is the best pie I’ve ever eaten. You will enjoy it.
  • Pathos – I spent all day cooking this pie. I worked so very hard on it. I know you’ll make the right choice in choosing it for dessert.
  • Logos – I know you’re a person concerned with health. Well this pie not only has less sugar than the other desserts, it is packed with antioxidant-rich blueberries.

2. After the kids have a decent handle on understanding the differences between the three methods, have them watch a few commercials and ask them to identify which technique advertisers used. You can also do this with magazines and newspapers. You can even do this with cereal boxes.

The ultimate lesson here is to get kids thinking critically about what they see, read, and hear. By thinking critically, they can make more informed decisions and spot when someone is trying to sell them something they don’t necessarily need.

Hey, before I go, a quick word. I apologize in advance if your kids start to spot your own persuasive techniques. Apparently, I use a fair amount of pathos. But in my defense, I only persuade because I love. Aww.

More Adventures In Learning

About Jennifer Cooper

Jennifer Cooper

Jennifer Cooper is the blogger behind Classic-Play.com, an online resource for creative families.  Her favorite past times include: dancing around her living room, watching the Pink Panther with her kids and daydreaming. She lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband, photographer Dave Cooper, and two children. 

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