Teaching Implicit / Explicit Thinking via Smartphone Commercials (and prepping for the OSSLT)

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I was lucky enough to sit in on a terrific lesson this past Thursday. I was visiting a grade 8 classroom participating in a pilot program aiming to prep students for the grade 10 literacy test (OSSLT). Two grade eight teachers, a high school English teacher and a board rep combined to execute and observe a terrific lesson in critical literacy.

Here’s how it went:

The 90-minute lesson started with a review of explicit vs. implicit questions, e.g. “If I asked, ‘what colour is this projector?’, is the question explicit or implicit?” or “If I asked, ‘why did the company make the projector black instead of hot pink?’, is the question explicit or implicit?”

Students were seated in 6 groups of 4-5 students. Each group was given a laptop and a link to a smartphone commercial. Two groups looked at the iPhone. Two looked at Samsung. Two looked at Blackberry.

Students were asked to spend 5 minutes watching the short video clips and make a list of observations about their phone, both explicit and implicit. Instructors circulated checking for comprehension and noting a few misconceptions (e.g., “implicit means neutral, like how the projector was a neutral colour like black so it could fit into any room”).

Students then each sent a representative to the board to record their observations. The majority of observations were explicit. Students had some trouble communicating the more implicit messages: “Wow, this one can do anything (after a fast slideshow of functions).” “Yeah but let’s just say it has this camera and this screen size, like it says.”




The list of features were reviewed and teachers asked whether some were explicit or implicit. Students then worked watched all three videos, and instructors led a discussion about which videos relied on implicit details to sell their phone (cracks at other companies, target audiences, etc.) and which relied more on explicit features (stats, specs, etc.).

Each group then received a chart with phone specs, and students were tasked with determining which phone they would most like to own and explaining their decision.

Many terrific questions/observations came out of this part of the lesson, including:

  • “This chart doesn’t include price!”
  • “What about colour choice and bonus features?”
  • “This phone has a bigger screen, but the lowest pixel score.”
  • “Does it matter what plan I get for my phone?”
  • “The demo pictures aren’t the right size – this phone is supposed to have the biggest screen, but it looks smaller in the chart!”

The teachers followed up with some additional questions, challenging each group to answer one question and identify whether the question was explicit or implicit, e.g. “Which phone might be best for a gamer?” or “Which phone has the biggest screen?”

The lesson closed with an eight-question assessment about the critical process of choosing a phone. Students also needed to identify the questions as explicit or implicit, showing a marked comprehension improvement from the start of the lesson.

The lesson’s “real-world/relevant” focus on smartphones caught the interest on students, and it clearly communicated the concepts of explicit/implicit information, an important part of the curriculum and a frequent part of the OSSLT. It also tied into class’s ongoing lessons in paragraph writing and informational analysis.

All in all, a fun and productive afternoon!

  • Justin Greene

    I am actually planning to teach explicit/implicit messages and this lesson sounds perfect. I was wondering if you could email me the chart you used with the specs for each phone.