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Information Literacy: Building Observation and Questioning Skills with Newspaper Ads

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As we were designing our series of posts on information literacy we were drawn to the American Association of School Librarians “Standards for the 21st Century Learner.” These standards focus on the importance of students being effective readers, not just of printed text but also of images, video and sound recordings. The standards also note that “reading goes beyond decoding and comprehension to interpretation and the development of new understandings.” In addition the standards indicate the need for students to be able to gather and use information and learn how to select, evaluate and use information appropriately and effectively. These are life skills that students will be able to use now and in the future as professionals and scholars. And these are skills that can be developed and used in every subject area and throughout a person’s life.

Advertisement from the Los Angeles Herald, November 14, 1897

Using primary sources can help students gain the skills they need to manage the abundance of information they receive through various media streams and to ask questions that will help them determine the validity of the information they need. The Library’s primary source analysis tool can help students gain these necessary skills.

Advertisements provide excellent opportunities for students to ask questions about point of view, persuasive techniques, and the sources and validity of information.


Provide students with one of the following newspaper ads from Chronicling America:
Chiropractic Medicine
Electric Belt

Ask them to read the ad, using the primary source analysis tool to jot down what they observe and what questions they have about it.

Advertisement from The Liberal Democrat, March 16, 1917
  • Consider what point of view is being provided about the item for sale.
  • Based on just the information provided, would they try the item or particular treatment?
  • Ask students what information is used to sway the reader.
  • What additional information would they want to know after reading about the topic in question? How would they find the information?

Want to review the other posts on information literacy? Learn how the news media reported on the Titanic disaster and how perceptions can be shaped by a photographer and his or her photograph.


  1. I might be asking my class this: why do these ads seem so similar to many of today’s “miracle cure” ads? Maybe it’s magnets these days instead of electricity, but still. I do have to wonder if anyone managed to stun themselves with that belt!

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