By Chris Bourret 

This is the second of a two-part post on researching health topics online. The previous post looked at how to help students navigate the Medline Plus website to do research. This post follows up on that, by having students use their research to record themselves doing a Public Service Announcement (PSA). Having students research on their own and do a PSA can be fun and motivating, encourages collaboration among students, builds their content knowledge and language skills, and is an example of an alternative assessment that covers multiple “anchors” of the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCR).The goal for the students is to do a one-minute video or audio PSA on one of the health problems they’ve already researched. As a warm up, I ask the class how a government or health agency would try to “get the word out” about a disease or condition that can affect the public. I write students’ answers down on a screen, and we discuss. I then explain that a PSA is a way to get this kind of information out to the public. I provide a definition on the screen:

PSAs are…

  • Short messages produced on film or video.
  • Given to radio and television stations to be broadcast.
  • Used to encourage action & raise awareness, as people see and hear information.
Next, I ask students to think if they’ve ever seen or heard a PSA before, and what the problem or issue was. Then it’s time to play a sample PSA – like this one on fire safety.
After watching the short clip, I put up some questions for whole class discussion:
  1. What is the problem?
  2. Why is it serious?
  3. What can people do to prevent the problem?

Having the questions available for students throughout the lesson is a good guide for them to know what to include in their own PSAs. I explain to them that they can use what they have learned in their research to teach people about their problem, and that they need to answer these questions clearly and in a short amount of time. I also mention that video PSA’s contain few words, but I want them to say more in their PSA. So I tell them that they will be videotaping themselves speaking to the camera, using language more like what they’d hear on a radio PSA, which contains more text. I explain that this way, they’ll have more language practice.

To illustrate the differences, I first show a video PSA text from the AdCouncil’s website about seat- belt safety, with students in pairs or small groups answering the three previous questions together after watching the clip. After going over the answers to the three questions, I play a “radio ad,” which I’ve recorded on my computer in my own voice using the text found on the same web page. As students listen, I assign fill-in-the-blank items that students have to complete as they listen to the text, followed by a few comprehension questions. ​

From 2008 to 2012, 1,609 children ages eight to 14 died while traveling in passenger vehicles. 50 percent of them were unrestrained at the time of their death.

As a parent, sometimes you have to let your kids have their way. But your kid’s safety should never be up for negotiation, no matter how much they push back on the seat belts being uncomfortable, unnecessary for just a “short drive” or any other excuse. No matter what kids say, as a parent, you have to explain to them that seat belts are necessary, all the time. It is not up for negotiation. Never give up, until they buckle up. See more at:

Next, I hand out the text, and ask students if all three of the questions from above have been answered in the text and how effective they think the language is. We go over any new vocabulary, and have them compare the visual and audio versions of the PSA. Then, for more practice, I do another listening activity, also self-recorded on my computer. The text comes from a Red Cross Radio PSA.

If a fire starts in your home, you and your family have just two minutes to escape. That’s why it’s important to have working smoke alarms and test them monthly. You should also develop an escape plan and practice that plan, so everyone in your family can get out in less than two minutes. A home fire can strike anywhere, anytime, devastating families. But we can change that. Make your plan today. The american red cross has other tools to help keep your family safe. Visit to learn more.

After listening and doing fill-ins, I have students in pairs answer the three questions again – What is the problem, why is it serious, and what action should people take?

We go over any new vocabulary, and I highlight some sentence structures they can use in their writing: “If” clauses, “You should”, the use of modals like “can, could, might”, etc. This is a good chance to do some grammar practice. After this, since students have seen and compared two model PSAs, I want them to know there is flexibility in the language they use, as long as the three important questions are answered in the text. To help with the writing process, I hand out some paragraph frames, which are useful for students as they craft what they want to say. I like to give some different models to provide them with some choices.

Paragraph Frames:

Paragraph Frames

The frames help students use certain language structures and patterns in making their PSAs. It also helps remind students of what information they should include from their online research – for example the website name they can direct people toward at the end.

I like to scaffold using the frames, first with the whole class, picking out a sample health problem and doing a PSA together. I write on the screen as students choose one of the models to use and take turns providing sentences. That creates one model for them to see. Next, I have students in pairs fill in the other two frames with sample problems I provide on cards. Once they’ve had some practice with the frames, I pass out a rubric. We look at the items together and I answer any questions students may have.


Next, I play a sample PSA, done by a tutor in a previous class, to give them a sample finished project.

I play the recording a few times, asking students in pairs to “grade” this sample with their rubrics. Then I pass out the script for them to read, to have another model.

Many people see a wild animal outside, and they think it’s cute. The fact is however, that wild animals could have rabies. This is a serious problem, because if that animal bites you or scratches you, you can die. However, you can protect yourself and your family by avoiding contact with wild animals. Don’t feed or handle them, even if they seem friendly. If you see an animal acting strangely, call animal control. And keep your vaccinations up to date for your cat or dog. By taking these steps, you can keep everyone safe. For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control website at

Having created a few frames together, gone over the rubric, and seen a finished recording, students now can craft their own PSAs. During the drafting, I monitor and help with editing of ideas and grammar, and they can peer review their drafts with a partner, using the rubric as a guide. Students practice reading to a partner, and then record their PSA using Google Voice. This gives me a chance to play their PSAs back to them so that they can hear themselves and check their pronunciation, intonation and word stress. In this practice, I often find students quite motivated to improve their speaking, as they know they are going to be recorded.

When students are ready, there are different recording options. If you want just an audio recording, you can have students re-record on your Google Voice, or use a laptop or voice recorder to tape students during class. For a visual recording, students can do this on their cell phones or laptops using Eyejot a site that allows the student to record themselves and e-mail the video link to you. The last few times I’ve done this activity, I’ve used a video camera, because it can create a sense of community, as students gather around the camera and help each other record their videos. It is great to see classmates giving pointers to each other about where to stand, devising ways to hold up each other’s PSA printouts so it appears that the reader is looking at the camera (hard to do!), and advising each other to do multiple takes to get it “just right.” The formed sense of community really helps most students overcome their fears of being recorded, as fellow classmates cheer them on. Of course, if students want to avoid the crowd, it might be better to allow them to record themselves on Eyejot, which they can do privately. When all the PSAs are ready, I transfer them to my laptop and we show them in class as a “PSA Party.” It is not unusual for students to ask me to save theirs on a flash drive, or upload it on a Learning Management System like Edmodo so they can show friends and families what they have done.

Student feedback on this activity has continually improved it. For example, students have recommended that it’s better to have a visual in the background as they were being recorded. Another is that it is better to print out the PSA script with a very large font, so that they can read it as they look into the camera. I also get very positive responses from students on the usefulness of this activity. Many report that they afterwards have less fear speaking in public and doing class presentations.

For a teacher, having the recording is a great alternative assessment to the usual writing modes or Power Point presentations. Moreover, it’s a great example of how, at the level/s you are teaching, you are also addressing reading, writing, speaking, and listening standards from the CCR. Just by these above activities, you are covering Speaking and Listening Anchor Strand 5 – Make use of digital media to express information and enhance understanding of presentations. (p. 32), as your main assessment. The online research and the script writing also cover Reading Anchor 2 – Summarize key details and ideas, (p. 15), and Writing Anchor 2 – Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey ideas and info clearly and accurately through selection, organization, and analysis of content. (p. 24) Having students research,

summarize, and record themselves helps them improve on these academic skills in a fun and creative way, while at the same time builds their self-efficacy.

Christopher Bourret is a Lead Teacher/Program Coordinator with Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI). Chris has taught for over two decades in higher education institutions and adult education programs, including five years in Poland for US Peace Corps. He helped pilot the Words2Learn project, which developed an app that accelerates learning of academic and health career related vocabulary for adults preparing to enter post-secondary education and technical training. Chris serves as Vice President for the Coordinating Council for Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners (RITELL).

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