From journalism to history to media literacy education, there are many ways that the Political TV Ad Archive can be used to engage students in the classroom. Yesterday we posted how MIT Media Lab students used Political TV Ad Archive data to analyze trends and create visualizations. But there are many, many more possibilities—the options below are just a start.

These ideas can be adapted and expanded for participants of different ages.

Nancy Watzman digs into Political TV Ad Archive data with AP history students at East High School in Denver

Nancy Watzman digs into Political TV Ad Archive data with AP History students at East High School in Denver.


  1. As a group, examine a selection of ads in the Political TV Ad Archive using the Key Questions of Media Literacy:
  • Who created the message and what is the purpose?*
  • What techniques are used to attract and hold attention?
  • What lifestyles, values and points of view are depicted?
  • How might different people interpret this message?
  • What is omitted?

*Note: educators may wish to first conduct some research on the many different ad sponsor types, including PACs, Super PACs, candidate committees, and nonprofit organizations. Here is a good chart summarizing the different types of ad sponsors, created by the Campaign Legal Center.

  1. Have students break off into pairs and use analyze each ad using the worksheet available in this lesson plan created by Frank W. Baker, which makes use of the Political TV Ad Archive.


  1. As a large group, compare and contrast some modern campaign ads in the Political TV Ad Archive to historical ads available in through the Internet Archive, such as these Eisenhower ads from 1956. Discuss together: What’s similar about the historical ads and the contemporary ones? What’s different? What factors do you think contribute to these differences? How would you change the historical ads to make them appeal to modern audiences?
  1. Have students break into groups and use these search for different TV shows using the archive advanced search tool to search for specific programs representing different genres (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Dr. Phil, 2 Broke Girls, Jeopardy, American Idol, etc.). Have each group record their observations about what they find: How many results did they find? What do they notice about the results? Do they see a specific candidate more than others? A specific sponsor? A specific type of ad? As a class, discuss results together. What do students think attracts certain candidates and sponsors to certain programs?


  1. The Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island has developed a resource for examining and understanding the techniques used in contemporary propaganda, including activating strong emotions, simplifying information and ideas, responding to audience needs and values, and attacking opponents. Examine a selection of ads in Political TV Ad Archive and have students work in small groups to see if they fit into any of these categories.


  1. If you have video editing software available, have students download and remix ads to create entirely new messages. (Click on the Internet Archive Icon on each ad for additional formats for download options.) Have students work in small groups to create a new audio script for an existing ad. Can they keep the images the same and create an entirely different message?
  1. Have students work in small groups to create a video mash-up along a particular theme, using multiple candidate ads and/or historical ad footage available in the Internet Archive, particularly the TV News Archive.


  1. Divide students into groups and have them research the claims presented in a political ad in the collection. What claims are made in the ad? Are they true or untrue? How can they find out? What search terms would they use to fact-check these claims? How can they tell if fact-checking sources are credible or not?
  1. Have students work in small groups to see changes in candidate’s websites over time. Visit the Political TV Ad Archive’s collection of archived candidate websites and social media sites. Have students click on one of the candidate websites listed. Select two (or more) dates that the selected site has been archived and compare and contrast what the candidate’s site looked like at different points in time. What’s similar? What’s different? Is the design the same? Is the content the same? Has anything been removed from the site? What factors might account for these changes?


    1. Have students create an infographic or data visualization based on the information available on the Political TV Ad Archive site (using the data download, if appropriate.) See examples of visualizations created by journalists in the visualization gallery on our press page.

Do you have other ideas about how to use the Political TV Ad Archive in the classroom? Let us know what they are—contact us at or @PolitAdArchive.