This writing activity was inspired by Barry Lane's book, 51 Wacky We-Search Reports. In Nevada, Barry's book has been teaching us to help students think deeply about learned content as they learn to put ideas in their own words.
Overview of this Wacky Writing Activity:
Mudslinging is what they called negative ad campaigns way back when. Today, they are often called smear campaigns, and elections seem to be the event that brings them out in full force. A smear campaign is an intentional, premeditated effort to undermine an individual's or group's reputation, credibility, and character. Although they are not very popular or well-liked, they are very common. For this assignment, students imagine that two persons, places, or things are running against each other in a wacky election, and they create a campaign (poster, print media, and/or radio commercial) for both sides, asking, "How would these two 'candidates' smear each other for votes?"
Ask students if they have ever paid attention to the types of campaigns candidates for office sometimes run.
While some candidates are honorable, quite a few use smear techniques, which means they try to win votes by making their opponent seem untrustworthy. Rather than play on their own strengths, candidates use smear campaigns to focus voters on bad things associated with the opponent.
Create two imaginary students who are running against each other for student council president or some other student-friendly office. Explain how both are very honorable and both would make excellent candidates, but like everyone else, they might have made mistakes in the past. After all, everyone does. Ask, "What's a small mistake even the most honorable student might make?" Brainstorm small mistakes like cheating on a quiz once, rough-housing in the hallway, talking during an assembly, taking one puff off a cigarette years ago, etc.
Demonstrate how small actions--when taken out of their original context--can be used against an honorable person during a smear campaign.
"Suzy Smith claims she's honest, but can you trust a student who cheated on a quiz?"
"Suzy Smith says student safety is an important issue, but have you ever seen her rough-housing in the hallways? We have."
"Suzy Smith wants us to think that she cares about what other students have to say, but how can that be true if she talks during assemblies."
(Click on the image above to view/print it in larger form.)
Pretend that two concepts you have been studying about are running in a wacky election against each other, and they have resorted to a smear campaign.
Persons: If Lee Harvey Oswald was running against John Wilkes Booth in the "Most Important American Assassin" election, how might they ruin one other's credibility with voters. What posters might they publish to hang around.
Places: How would the Hawaiian Isles smear each other in a "Vote for the best Island" campaign? What would a televised campaign ad look and sound like?
Things: If fractions were running against decimals, what radio ad might each create to make their opponent sound like a lesser number candidate.
A Funny Tip:
Come up with silly ideas for elections for this one. Make them sound more like Oscar races than elections, if need be. The race for the Best Geometric Shape or a campaign for Smelliest or Strongest Animal takes the political feel out of this wacky little writing assignment.
If students have edited and revised their writing before placing it on "campaign posters," have them post the posters all around the school...perhaps even during a real school election. You'll make everyone wonder!
A Teacher-Made Sample: (Click on this sample to view/print it in larger form)