In this lesson, students will consider how language is used in advertising to frame products in a positive light.
The lesson begins with a brief introduction to the concepts of synonyms and connotations, illustrating how deliberate language choice helps advertisers refine and craft their meaning. Through a class discussion, students will develop an understanding of ‘weasel words’, which are words that companies can use to create a specific impression of their products. Working in pairs, students will find a print advertisement that uses weasel words, and, with the help of a set of prompts, perform an analysis of how those weasel words influence our interpretations. The lesson concludes with the opportunity for students to reflect on their changed understanding of weasel words.
We’ve taken elements of this lesson and adapted them for remote learning. You can find this activity here.
- understand how word choices can create meaning in an advertisement
- describe how meaning is created through word choices
- identify weasel words and explain the meaning they create
Lesson guides and printables
- Student Worksheets – one copy per student
- Article: ‘Healthwashing – 6 weasel words food companies use to fool you’ – printed, one copy per student
- Device capable of presenting a webpage to the class
- Class set of magazines – ideally magazines targeted to a female audience issued on a weekly basis, or even those that feature advertising of food products (optional)
These lessons were developed in partnership with SugarByHalf and the Australian Dental Association. Guardians of the Gums was written by Bee Healthy Stories; if you would like to see more of their stories, head to beehealthystories.com.au.
SugarByHalf (https://www.sugarbyhalf.com/) promotes action to reduce sugar-related diseases so that we can live better, stronger and healthier lives.
Their message is simple: to reduce added sugar consumption by half. Eating too much added sugar is a key driver of serious health problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, dementia and mental health conditions. A poor diet also puts children behind their peers, affecting brain development, sleep and ability to learn. Poor diet choices ultimately mean that this generation of children could be the first in modern history to live shorter lives than their parents.
Much of the added sugar in our diet comes from the processed foods and drinks we consume. On average, we consume 14-16 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Teenagers consume more than 20 teaspoons per day. The World Health Organisation says we should limit our daily added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons for good health. To put that in perspective, there are 4 grams of sugar in one teaspoon. If something has 20 grams of sugar, that's 5 teaspoons of sugar.
This English lesson focuses on developing the skills and knowledge students need to critically consider messages about food and drink they are exposed to, thereby equipping them to be able to make healthy choices.
Talking about health
- Be mindful of students who may experience weight stigma. Some students may be sensitive to conversations around weight, body size or shape. Terms including obesity, weight issues, weight-problem and fat can be stigmatising for some people because they assign blame. It is important to note individual preferences around language vary. Research has shown using the terms ‘weight’, ‘weight gain’, ‘healthy weight’, ‘unhealthy weight’, and ‘high BMI’ are preferred as better alternatives.
- Be mindful about how you use the word ‘diet’. We recommend focussing students on the positive impacts of healthy nutrition and healthy lifestyles which help us to have stronger bodies and minds, feel good and sleep well.
- Steer students away from any focus on appearances by communicating that appearance does not determine your worth. We recommend the fact sheets from the Butterfly Foundation on body image tips at
- Avoid using labels such as obese or diabetic. Refer to people living with diabetes, people living with cancer, people with high BMI etc.