“Don’t tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me when I use it.”

Leo Burnett (1891 – 1971), American advertising executive
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This free ESL lesson plan on adverts has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Buy! Buy! Buy! There used to be a time in the past when an advert would simply inform about what a product could help us with, but these days, adverts don’t sell products, they sell desires and experiences. Think of the adverts for a popular fizzy drinks company: it doesn’t sell bottles of refreshing beverages; it sells the idea that if you have one of these bottles in your hand, you’ll have a great group of friends. Then there’s the perfume adverts: they don’t sell something to cover up the smell of sweat after you’ve finished in the gym; they sell attractiveness. Use their perfume and men and women will find you irresistible. Of course, once you’ve bought the product, there’s the inevitable realisation that what you have is not a great group of friends or a sexy body, but just a bottle of pop and a tiny bottle of scented water you paid over $100 for. In this ESL lesson plan on advertising, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as their favourite adverts, the effectiveness of advertising, and how advertisements affect society.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for Black Friday / Buy Nothing Day, which takes place in November. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

BBC | Ban on advertising unhealthy food to children considered

The article looks at a proposed ban on advertising aimed at children promoting unhealthy food in a bid to combat childhood obesity. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “The Clever Tricks of Advertising” by The School of Life which looks at the changing nature of adverts, and how they began to sell desires instead of products.


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including where the students usually see adverts, how adverts grab our attention, and what stereotype are used in advertising.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with advertisements such as prime time, commercial break and word of mouth. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about adverts. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as the emotional experiences adverts sell, whether advertising can be trusted, and how advertisements might have contributed to social problems.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of adverts. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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