Given my passion for reading all texts everywhere and my particular love of supermarket browsing, I am very into reading labels on store shelves before purchase and sometimes at home after purchase. literacy for calories and nutrients. As an English language arts professional, I notice the euphemisms on labels. Why nor have middle school students put their snacks literally on the tables for label literacy, a great CCSS exercise. Once the students do consumer label research, their text based question evaluation of claims could motivate knowledge base for vocabulary and informational writing.
Start your own project:
Go home yourself and take pictures of labels on your own pantry shelves or in your refrigerator that either blatantly exaggerate product benefits or have nothing to do with the product at all or contain contradictions about nutritional benefits or social rewards of purchase. Upload those pix to your Chromebook set of label literacy images. In this way, you are owning the project along with your students. As you know students love to learn trivia about your life outside the classroom so like paparazzi and the stars, they will love getting a peak into what you eat.
Ask the students to bring snack foods from their home stash. Specify that the researchers will not have class time to actually consume it during class. Have them set labels on their desks and photograph them for the Chromebook shared project images file.
Next have them take their charged Chromebooks and quickly either independently or in teams of two or three students tackle the following three steps.
Four Label Literacy Steps
Step One: Really Read the Label as an informational Document. List “just the facts-nothing but the facts.” Students can create a Google doc for the text and the actual facts – statements of measurable and quantifiable information the label contains.
The teacher may want to model this step by sharing the images of household labels already curated for this project and walking through with online narration what actual facts are part of their texts/
Have them categorize the “facts” on the label. This activates examination of background knowledge about a product. Skinny Water- a 0 calorie –flavored and artificially colored bottled water product includes textual factual excerpts on its label: nutrition facts, refrigeration instructions, expiration date for selling, weight in ounces/ml, percentage of various vitamins per serving, servings per container or package and email/snail addresses. Students should summarize these facts in a paragraph.
While the students may be very familiar with the products whose labels they have chosen to bring in, they will still have to do some research using Chrome and perhaps videos about the products ingredients and the various names these ingredients use. Some of the ingredients themselves may be controversial in that there is dispute whether the ingredients are natural or artificial.
They can do a document based short informational document research paper (CCSS writing). (an informational and functional document. They can also record other adult consumer’s comments about these products as well as interview via video peers in the school or at home and share their findings with these peers. This use of printed, online, expert and live person resources adds a primary and secondary source dimension to the product. Many went home to consider “just the facts” about acne, shampoo, facial cream, energy boosters, and tanning lotions. One male student sadly realized that his skin gel: [was a waste of] . . . money on something that clearly mislead me about being able to get rid of my zits. . . . I never really read the package at all, I just put out the bucks.” These videos and audio reflections can become part of the independent or student teams and also be curated and commented on privately by the teacher. The teacher can include in the Chromebook classroom community an adult consumer affairs reporter from a local newspaper or a city/local consumer affairs store or restaurant inspectors. These experts can speak to the Chromebook community informed consumer’s directors or react questions or comments from individual students
Step Two: “Truth in Labeling”
Once the students have tested their background knowledge versus actual facts (with new vocabulary words antioxidants, electrolytes, -all found among the ingredients of Skinny Water), they are list the data on their label/package which they did identify as non-factual. They categorize claims, slogans, images, and deliberate or contradictory statements on the labels they selected.
Water has zero calories anyway. Skinny Water –which styles itself as 0 guilt also pushes “Recycle-our planet needs to be skinny too.” Another nutrient enhanced water Glaceau vitaminwater Zero details how: “after extensive research, learned that no one likes to leave the comfort of, well, their comforter. . . we’re just reporting the (made up) facts, based on this data we created this drink.” Creating a drink based on “made up” facts is a questionable, premise. Have students discuss how internally contradictory statements are deliberate. Have them consider if customers who purchase nutrient enhanced water beverages realize they are paying for colored water. Challenge the students to fact “revise” the packaging and labels. They rework the label images and texts to make them factual. How would factual labeling affect sales? Students can develop effective thesis statements with supporting pro or con arguments. Truth in packaging added to cigarettes / other products has altered their market. Many consumers gravitate to products that have been shown to cause cancer and say so on their labels. They can reflect on this in an essay. They can also use the video, music, You Tube, and photos features on their Chromebooks to make their viewpoints on strictly factual labeling and packaging heard- using audio- say a podcast or appropriate music- or seen –video or read- online newsletter or shared group Google doc.
Step 3- Write Now for a Real Audience- Most products have a snail mail/post address, an email and a number to call. Students can share findings about truth in labeling with the product’s customer service division. This type of outreach involves them in authoring email or snail mail business letters. For the students, beyond practice in authoring complaint (argumentation) letters that will help them as consumers, this again connects use of vocabulary for a target real world business audience. Whatever response, that response demonstrates that the real world is reacting to a critical consumer issue. This classroom research yielded real world results. Many adult consumers never get refunds, rebates, replacement products or price adjustments, because they have not been trained to correctly fill out the document. In encouraging and supporting students to fill out online or mailed survey forms in detail, the students get immediate positive response from the company (a coupon or a sample of the product). They get relevant practice in working with functional documents in the real world using online consumer response forms and surveys and working through from filing to submission.
Step 4- Further Investigations
For example, as a result of examining vitamin water (the brand name is written as one word) and skinny water, students generated the following questions for further research: What are electrolytes?
What is meant by reverse osmosis water?
What is meant by the o with a u inside it on both products?
What do vitamins b5 and b6 do?
Which of the many nutrient enhanced beverages is really the best health choice for the consumer?
These questions lead students to science based investigations (multi-content vocabulary development). They motivate student interest in careers as actual product designers, researchers, advertising careers, and government oversight.
Set up the snack labels, packages, and wrappers for a broad menu buffet of knowledge, identified new vocabulary and critical research.
Charge your Chromebooks to document and to authenticate 21stcentury informed label reading and responding consumer activism. Whether your students try to force companies to be factual in their product labeling or label the companies for deliberately deviating from facts to create commercially captivating fictions, they will already be demonstrating their engagement with functional documents (labels) and informational texts plus getting bonus coupons, samples and company responses. Whether the labels speak to the truth about the product or not, the label literacy experience is genuine consumer of today action education with real right now consumer credits!!
Morrell, Ernest. (2004). Becoming Critical Researchers. Peter Lang Publishing.
Morrell, Ernest. (2004). Linking Literacy and Popular Culture. Norwood, MA: Christopher –Gordon Publishers.
Dr. Rose Reissman,
Academic and Grant Funding Director for Sector 5
About Sector 5,
Sector 5, Inc. (OTCQB: SFIV), is a Proud American Corporation, that sells, manufactures and develops new innovative consumer electronics under Sector 5 and other brands. The Company markets its partnership with Google approved Chromebooks to educational organizations, other B2B and B2C sales channels, with retail sales on Amazon. It is in development of several new products to serve the educational, business and retail markets. Follow the company on http://www.twitter.com/sectorfiveinc and http://www.facebook.com/sect5 and find further information at http://www.sector-five.com. For Sector 5’s Forward Looking Statements, click here.