Puppy For Sale!

poem by Katrina Swenson , illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

Learning Intention:

I am learning to identify persuasive devices from different time periods so that I can create my own persuasive text.


Success Criteria:

  • I can identify persuasive devices in texts from different time periods.
  • I can describe how a sales pitch demonstrates authority.
  • I can create a trade card using persuasive devices.


Essential knowledge:

For more information about the conventions of persuasion, see The School Magazine’s video on Argument.

For more information about the roles of the composer and the responder, see The School Magazine’s video on Authority.

A comprehensive exploration of trade cards can be found on the Weill Cornwell Medicine Samuel J Wood Library’s webpage The History of Drug Advertising.


Oral language and communication:

Introduce the song ‘With a Flair’ (from Bed knobs and Broomsticks) to the class. If you have access to the video, view it with the class. If not, read the lyrics. Pose the following questions to students:

- What do you think the song is about?

- Do you think the person singing the song is an honest person?

- What is the singer trying to do?

- What era do you think this song is set?

Ensure students understand that the song is about an olden-day salesman who is trying to trick people into buying his useless product. Ask students if they’ve ever come across a similar sales technique, either in real life or in books, movies or television. If the topic arises, discuss scams, such as email scams.


Understanding text:

Without showing the illustration, read Puppy for Sale! aloud to the class. Use different voices for the two characters. Ask students afterwards what is happening in the poem. Ensure students understand that the salesperson is trying to sell a crocodile as a dog. Allow students to view the illustration. Ask students what similarities they notice about this poem and the song With a Flair (such as showmanship, lies, confidence of the seller).

Return to the line from With a Flair:

First, I rattle off a ready stock of gibberish and poppycock.

Explain that this means the salesman says a bunch of nonsense that sounds real in order to portray authority over the subject. Ask students what part of Puppy for Sale! gives some authority to the salesperson (answer: he’s a hairless variety. He’s registered, groomed, and his nails have been clipped. He’ll never get lost, ‘cause he’s also been chipped.) Explain that this seemingly authentic language makes it seem like the sales pitch is genuine.

Read aloud the following extract from Weill Cornwell Medicine Samuel J Wood Library’s webpage The History of Drug Advertising:

During the 19th century, the cost of seeing a physician was more than many people could afford. Additionally, many feared the typical treatments provided by physicians of that time. Patent medication manufacturers jumped on the chance to provide alternative treatments for the American public. To sell their goods, these manufacturers developed advertisements based upon bold claims and flashy appeal. Drug makers used bright colours, creative language, and eye-catching designs to convince the public to buy, buy, buy!

Explain that these advertisements were often printed on trade cards, which were like little postcards with colourful illustrations and text. Ensure students understand that at this time in US history, anyone could sell anything, with no laws determining whether what they said was truthful. Read the next paragraph from the webpage (you can omit the names of the harmful drugs):

Typically, it was claimed that these medications contained some particularly effective secret or unusual ingredient. Perhaps it was a rare herb only known to Native Americans, or a highly purified component produced in a state-of-the-art laboratory. Many patent medications were claimed to be “cure-alls” or to cure multiple illnesses. However, in reality most of these medications contained nothing more than common substances such as alcohol, herbs, and plant oils. Some even contained ingredients we now know to be harmful.

The UCLA Library has a wide collection of digitised trade cards to explore. Click on the heading to see both front and back. Display an appropriate card for the class to analyse, such as Carter’s Little Nerve Pills. Read through the text with the class, asking the following questions:

- What is the product? (Carter’s Little Nerve Pills)

- What is the advertisement claiming the product can do? (Give you a good night’s rest)

- What phrase gives the sense that these pills are legitimate i.e. the seller’s so-called authority? (Sold by druggists everywhere)

- What are some phrases and sentences that are trying to persuade the reader to buy this product? (Sample answers include refreshing sleep, do not affect the bowels in any manner whatever, really handsome, good taste, cannot fail to benefit you)

- Would you buy these pills? What part of the text has or has not convinced you of this?


Creating text:

Explain that students will be creating their own trade cards for the “puppy” in Puppy for Sale! They can use information from the poem as well as their own creative additions. Ensure they include the following on their trade cards:

- An illustration

- Persuasive language

- Proof of authority

- Information from the poem

Students can refer to the Carter’s trade card, or other trade cards from the UCLA Library collection, for inspiration.


Assessment for/as learning:

After the lesson, do a gallery walk so students can see everyone else’s trade cards. Have a class vote on which trade card seemed most convincing and discuss what persuasive techniques worked best for that card.