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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Chocolate War

It was bound to happen.

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Chocolate comes in all different shapes, sizes, and flavors. Milk or dark. Salty or sweet. With identity issues and sexual confusion or…oh wait. That’s The Chocolate War. And Shmoop can break down its nutritional value better than the FDA.

In this guide you will find

  • activities on sports and drama and high school. Familiar stuff.
  • discussion questions exploring friendship, manipulation, and sexuality. More familiar stuff.
  • references to related works, like A Separate Peace and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

This teaching guide is like a delicious chocolate bar we’re willing to share. You can’t have our Snickers, though.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
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Instructions for You

Objective: The students of Trinity are bombarded daily with subtle—and not so subtle—messages that encourage them to keep their heads down, toe the line, sell the chocolates, complete their assignments, and accept the status quo without question. Likewise, your students are bombarded by the second with advertisements—subtle and not so subtle—that encourage them to behave in a particular manner or purchase particular products.

This activity will encourage students to think more objectively about communications by having them first examine the methods of manipulation used both in The Chocolate War and everyday advertising, and then asking them to use what they've learned to create their own ad campaigns for a fake product.

The activity can be done while students are reading the book or after they have finished it, and it should take 2-3 class periods, not necessarily consecutive. The first class period will be used to prep the students and give them their assignment. The second (and possibly third) class period(s) will be used for them to present their work. The presentation day(s) could take place a day or a week later.

Materials Needed: Computer/Internet access to share one or more of the following links with students in class:

  • What Does Advertising Do? [From Psychology Today, this article addresses "affective conditioning"—the advertising tactic that creates a good feeling about a product simply by surrounding it with things people like. One example given in the article: scientists found that people regularly chose a pen they knew was an inferior product when it was associated with other positive item.]
  • The Sneaky Psychology of Advertising [This is a fantastic poster-like blog entry that summarizes how psychology originally came to be used in advertising and all of the sneaky techniques advertisers use to make their products more attractive.]

Step 1: Lead a class discussion about the similarities between the way advertisers manipulate their audiences and the way that Archie Costello manipulates his classmates. Share one or more of the links above to help explain advertising techniques and make these connections. You may also want to refer to these Shmoop themes and quotes sections for specific examples of manipulation in The Chocolate War.

Step 2: Once your students have a good handle on the psychological manipulation that occurs in the book and the way advertisements use psychology to manipulate people's emotions, you can give them their assignment: create an ad that will convince people to buy an unpopular product, and then present that ad to the class. (The assignment is explained in depth in the Student Instructions below.)

Give students any remaining class time to ask any questions about the assignment and get started brainstorming to come up with their fake products. Also, be sure to give them their deadline—the day they will be presenting their ads to the class.

Step 3: One day, two days, or a week later—whatever you decide—use the follow-up class period(s) to let students present their work. Give each student a few minutes to describe their product, show their ad, and explain the techniques they employed to sell it. Encourage everyone to jot down notes as they listen to the presentations so they will remember which products and ads they thought were the most effective and why.

Step 4: When all students have presented their work, ask the class which products and ads they enjoyed most and which ones they think would be the most effective and why.

Instructions for Your Students

Archie Costello is a ___________________.

We could finish that sentence so many ways…

  • brilliant student of human psychology.
  • master of manipulation.
  • con man.
  • sadist.
  • jerk.

… and they'd all be true.

That's the thing about Archie: it's easy to see him ten years after Trinity as a powerful CEO, a successful politician—or a convicted felon.

For this activity, we're going to go with CEO. We'll assume Archie managed to keep his hands clean and stay out of trouble long enough to put his powers of persuasion to work as an ad man. And not just any ad man—the CEO of Costello, Inc., the nation's foremost PR firm.

"PR for Public Relations, in case you don't know, Obie." - Archie Costello, The Chocolate War, Chapter 2

Lucky you! You've been hired by Costello, Inc. to work on an ad campaign for a new product.

Good luck with that, by the way, because the thing about Costello, Inc., is that they're all about convincing people to do things they don't want to do; to believe things they wouldn't normally believe; to buy products they don't really need or want… which, come to think of it, isn't so different from what a lot of marketing is about anyway.

Step 1: Come up with your product. Is it a pen that doesn't write? A downhill racing bike without brakes? A class president who doesn't even attend your school? A six month old box of chocolates? (Hmmm… that last one sounds familiar.) Remember, you're supposed to be taking something unpopular or undesirable and getting people to buy it anyway.

Step 2: Choose your method. Consider the methods that advertisers use to get you to buy their products. Then decide what's going to work best for your marketing campaign. Fear? Intimidation? Pretty colors? Kittens?

Step 3: Make your ad, and be creative about it—you'll be presenting your work to the class when it's done. Get out the colored pencils, the markers, your webcam, or your favorite graphic design app. Use persuasive words, use color, use kittens. Make a video or create a presentation. Use posters, use props. However you choose to do it, be sure to include both text and visual elements—words and pictures. And be ready to explain what psychological techniques you're using to convince people to buy.

Review some classic techniques by looking at The Sneaky Psychology of Advertising.

Step 4: Presentation time. Clear your throat, take a sip of water, and don't forget to breathe. You've only got a few minutes, so be sure to hit these three key points:

  • Describe your product
  • Present your ad
  • Explain what techniques you used to convince people to buy

That's it! That's not so bad, is it? Practice it in front of your mirror a few times first and it'll be even easier. We bet you'll nail it.

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE CHOCOLATE WAR?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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