Public Service Announcements: A How-To Guide for Teachers

One of the ways I like to give my students voice to share their opinions is to have them create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about something they are passionate about.

Even though Public Service Announcements usually don’t require a lot of script writing, they do require students to tell a persuasive story. PSAs are often visual stories that provide information to an audience, evoke an emotion, and often have a call to action.

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When I first think of Public Service Announcements, I always think of NBC’s, “The More You Know” PSAs from the 1980s. They were PSAs created by NBC to spread awareness about various topics. I mostly remember these from when I was a kid, but I think they still run today.  Do you remember these? It would usually be a celebrity talking about a topic (i.e. literacy, abuse, education) and then a shooting star would shimmer across the screen and say, “the more you know.” Even though this is what I instantly think of, Public Service Announcements can be so much more.

There are all types of PSAs, but really effective ones evoke a strong emotion in the audience. They usually encourage the viewer want to take some kind of action (I.e. spaying or neutering pets, donating money or switching to reusable baggies). Basically, a successful PSA is very persuasive.

6 Steps to Create a Persuasive Public Service Announcements in Your Classroom Tomorrow

Step 1: Brainstorm problems & select topic

First you need to decide if you are going to leave it open, or give students parameters (like Environmental Issues or School Issues). As a class, brainstorm problems that students want to bring attention to. For instance, if you are going to do this for Earth Day, brainstorm environmental topics. For example, your list might look like this:

  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic water bottles
  • Endangered species (I would have students narrow this down to a specific species)
  • wasting water
  • Deforestation
  • Global warming

I like to have kids brainstorm ideas before I show them sample PSAs, or else they only want to choose topics that they see in the videos. They want to copy what they see, so be sure to brainstorm first.

Step 2: Show sample PSAs and critique

Many students might have never heard of or seen a Public Service Announcement. I explain that the person creating these has a strong opinion about something and they want to persuade you to take an action. Start by showing students a few samples. Check out YouTube for a ton of Public Service Announcement samples. Make sure you preview them to be sure they are appropriate for your grade level.

Have students find what is good and what needs improvement in the PSAs (mood, music, words, story) - I have a checklist in my Writing a PSA Freebie for students to rate each aspect of four different PSAs. This gives students ideas about what they want to include in their own.

Point out some important features of PSAs:

  • They don’t need spoken words to be powerful
  • Often have very dramatic camera angles
  • Often have mood-evoking music
  • Are usually are around 60 seconds or less
  • Problem/Solution
  • Have a call to action

Step 3: Research, take notes, and plan

Have students come up with 3 questions that they want to know about their topic (more are okay, but three minimum). For instance if their topic is plastics in the ocean, they might ask, 1. Why is plastic in the ocean a problem? 2. What can be done to help solve the problem of plastics in the ocean? 3. How much plastic is in the ocean?

Try to guide them to ask about “why” this is a problem. Most students assume they know, but they often don’t fully understand the root of the problem.

Give students time to research the answers to their questions. They might be surprised to learn some other surprising facts along the way.

(CLICK HERE to snag my PSA planning guide in my Writing a PSA Freebie). I like to have all students fill out the planner, just to be sure they are doing their research and generating ideas, but when we do the next phase, that is when students can go in their creative directions.

Step 4: Storyboard

This is my favorite step and most kids enjoy this process as well. This is when students get to sketch how their film will look, frame by frame. They should include any text, spoken words, music, and/or video hints that they plan to use in their film. I tell them that they don’t need to do amazing artwork, but a quick sketch will suffice.

Once they finish their storyboard, they have to present it to me and verbally walk me through their PSA story. This is when I can try to catch any hiccups before they start creating, (for instance if the film is going to be way too long, a little confusing, or if they forgot to cite sources). This is a good time to make any helpful suggestions.

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Step 5: Filming/Creating & Editing

This part really depends on your technology tools. I’m going to talk mostly about iPads because I use them in my classroom. There are a few different apps your students could use to create their Public Service Announcements:

  • iMovie
  • Clips (by Apple)

If you are sharing one filming device (either an iPad or a video camera) between all groups, limit how much filming time they have. If each group has their storyboard finished, they should be able to film it all in an hour. We are very fortunate and have one-to-one iPads, so all students can be filming and editing at the same time. My favorite tools for creating PSAs on an iPad are iMovie and the Clips App. Both are free apps with the iPad and very user-friendly.

Finding Images

Many groups will want to find images for their Public Service Announcements. Images are sometimes more powerful than video. However, you can’t just let kids search the internet for images (this is a good time to teach about copyright). If they can, I highly recommend taking their own photographs. Sometimes this is difficult (especially if they choose a topic such as plastics in the ocean). A couple image sites I recommend that have Creative Commons images are:

Pics4learning.com

Photosforclass.com

Pixabay.com (This one is AWESOME with the amount of images, however be advised that it is not for children, so it could have images that are inappropriate. It usually blacks out an image and says that it is “Adult Content” and they would have to click on it to even see the image. If you trust your students, this site has a huge variety of images).

Step 6: Share and Publish

Wow! Once you make it to this stage, you and your students have so much to celebrate! A few ways to publish the PSAs so that they are shared beyond the classroom include:

  • SeeSaw - an awesome digital portfolio site (awesome for elementary school)
  • Padlet.com - Padlet is a web-based digital collaborative board. You can add notes (like digital post-it notes) along with pictures and videos. Create a PSA Padlet board and have all your kids add their videos. You can share the web-address with parents so they have access to all the class’s PSAs.
  • Class Blog - If you have a class blog or webpage, post the PSAs to share easily.
  • Class YouTube, TeacherTube, or Vimeo - Create a class YouTube Channel (you can make it private and just share the link with parents) and share the link to the PSAs.
  • Enter it in a Student Film Festival. You might be surprised, but there are lots of film festivals out there that support student-created films. Check out Film Freeway.
  • Classroom Film Screening - Invite parents, roll out the red carpet and have a movie screening of all the student videos. This is super fun! I used to do this for Open House and it was a hit!

If you have never created a Public Service Announcement with your students before, be sure to download my FREEBIE: Writing a Public Service Announcement. It has a PSA Planning Page, Storyboard, and Rubric. Creating a PSA is an engaging learning activity for the kids and you can tie in so many standards. Please let me know if you make a PSA with your students by leaving a comment below. I'd love to hear how it goes!


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I’m Whitney Ebert, founder of ElementaryWritingCoach.com. As you may have guessed, teaching young authors to develop their craft and feel confident in their writing skills is kind of my thing. 

I have 10+ years teaching experience in elementary education, and I've taught every grade level from kindergarten to sixth grade (except first). My teaching passions include interest-based learning, creative technology, project based learning, and building confident writers. Additionally, I have my M.S. in Instructional Media, so I frequently incorporate digital flare into projects and writing assignments.

 I live in a sunny beach town with my husband, preschooler and baby. When I'm not teaching, blogging, or designing new lesson plans, you can find me at the beach with the family.

Find out more about The Elementary Writing Coach at www.elementarywritingcoach.com.