Last updated on: 2/27/2015 | Author:

Drug Ads over Time: Analyzing Historical Images – Lesson Plan Idea


Drug Ads over Time: Analyzing Historical Images – Overview


Use’s Gallery of Drug Ads to give students an opportunity to practice ad analysis and recognize how methods and messages have changed over time.

Grades: 4-12

The Activity


Use the rich visual resources available on, such as the “Drug Ads Gallery, 1800s-2014,” site, to create a “gallery walk” for students. Print out pictures of prescription drug ads from each decade in the 20th century and hang them in sets around your classroom. Beside each set of photos, hang a large piece of chart paper divided into sections. Each section should be labeled with a category for student’s observations about the photos. These can include what they notice about background, costumes, gender roles, age (and the treatment of children or the elderly), race, depiction of mental illness, target audience, cultural values, the nature or style of healing claims, the number of words and typefaces used (i.e., amount and style of “copy”), and/or the voice of authority.

Divide the class into groups and place one group at each set of pictures. Group members should confer about the ads and record their observations on the chart provided. Give each group a different colored marker to hold them accountable for high quality responses. After a specified period of time, have each group rotate to the next set of pictures. At the new set of pictures, groups should once again discuss and then add their notes to the ones already on the chart without any repetition. Repeat until all groups have seen all pictures and then ask students to return to their seats.

Go through the charts as a class, asking groups to elaborate on the particularly interesting responses. Finally, have each student write a short essay on how prescription drug ads have changed over the past century. They should address at least three of the categories you included on the chart. Alternatively, you may invite students to consider whether ads have improved (not just changed) over time.

——————————– Topic: Drug Ads Gallery, 1800s-2014

Subjects: History, Social Studies, Public Policy, Communication / Media Literacy

Common Core Anchor Standards: CCRA.R.7, CCRA.R.9, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCSA, SL.2

Common Core Content Standards: RI.1, RI.2, RI.4, R.7, W.1, W.4, RH.1, RH.6, RH.7


Make the lesson easier 

  • Have each student carry an individual response sheet with a section for each set of pictures.
  • Reduce the number of sets of photos (doing sets based on each 20 years) to make the changes over time more evident.

Make the lesson harder

  • Ask student to record their observations on how the prescription drug ads change over time, but do not provide categories to guide them.
  • Have students complete the gallery walk silently and complete the work individually.
  • Have students end the lesson by writing a persuasive essay that takes a stand about what regulations, if any, should exist for prescription drug ads.
Related Links


  1. Lesson Plan Ideas with Common Core Correlations
  2. Teachers’ Corner