OVERVIEW & RATIONALE
Through lecture, class discussion, and group activities, this lesson plan will introduce student journalists to review writing by studying examples across multiple media platforms. Students will explore reviews as a type of critical evaluation; and consider the review as both a journalistic form and a consumer guide.
GOALS FOR UNDERSTANDING // ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS
- What is the purpose of a review?
- What is the value of a review to a reader/viewer?
- In which media platforms are reviews published and broadcast?
- What topics and categories are worthy of review?
- What are the elements of a successful review?
What is the value of providing concrete examples to back up opinions in a review?
What common errors might review writers make that challenge the usefulness and validity of a review?
OVERVIEW & TIMELINE
LECTURE Part I (25 minutes) – DEFINING REVIEWS
Q: I need some good suggestions for something fun to do this weekend. Can anyone suggest something – like a book or a movie or a video game, or a fun place to visit? WHY did you make that suggestion?
That simple exchange – you make a recommendation and then back it up with some good reasons – is the basis for all REVIEW WRITING.
REVIEWS are a common form of opinion writing, and those who write reviews are sometimes called CRITICS. Reviews aren’t just for complaining about something you don’t like, or gushing with praise over something you love.
A good review is a CRITICAL EVALUATION.
Reviews generally are short, around 600 words, so you’ve got to be concise, coherent, and specific. You are picking apart the pieces of the whole, and analyzing them for their value.
Very briefly summarize the plot of the book/movie/program, or the genre of the music, or the category of product or service, etc. – and then quickly move on to the “meat” of the review, i.e. whether the product gets the “thumbs-up” or the dreaded “don’t bother,” including concrete examples of why you arrived at this opinion.
Q: What do we mean when we say something is a “good value?” People want to “get” something in exchange for their money AND in exchange for their investment of time.
As the “critic,” your job is to explain specifically what the product offers to the consumer—or, in the case of a bad review, what the product lacks—so they can decide if it is worth their money and time.
As the critic, it is not your job to tell the consumer whether you liked the product; it is your job to help consumers decide if they’ll like the product. You do this by providing specific examples to back up your opinion.
Q: Name some other reasons reviews why reviews are of value to readers/viewers.
- For expert analysis.
- For interpretation and clarification.
- To become more informed on a topic.
- To compare and contrast viewpoints.
- To “comparison shop” without leaving home.
- For entertainment.
Q: Where do you see reviews – i.e. critical evaluations — in the media?
Journalism formats — Print newspapers, entertainment broadcasts on both TV and radio, online news and entertainment websites, mobile media, social media.
(Instructor may choose to show local media examples on overhead or Smart Board.)
Q: Do you see product and service reviews anywhere else?
Consumer sites—It is now customary for consumer websites to invite “customer feedback” and consumers are very eager to share their experiences – good and bad. (Some sites, such as www.yelp.com , were designed expressly for reviews of anything users choose to review – including
Part I (15 minutes)
The instructor will divide the class into small groups. Each group will be instructed to brainstorm a written list of possible topics and subjects of reviews. (If groups have access to a computer lab, they may be encouraged to search the Internet as a brainstorming tool.)
Q: What can a writer review?
While entertainment products such as books, films, TV programs, theatre, music, etc., are popular subjects — ANYTHING that’s put out there and available for the public to see or use or purchase, or that affects the public (e.g. public policy), can be reviewed!
Part II (15 minutes)
The class will reconvene as a large group and compare and contrast lists. The instructor will use the groups’ lists to compile one master list, which can then be distributed to the class as a resource.
The list may include such diverse topics as:
Food fashion restaurants new products Government policies video games websites public art architecture apps elective classes public spaces Public events Internship opportunities
Private events (e.g. festivals, fundraisers, etc.)
Local businesses/ services, e.g. health clubs, tutoring services, spas/salons, etc.
As you can imagine, the quality of the review writing on these customer feedback sites varies
(Instructor may choose to show consumer reviews on overhead or Smart Board.)
(30 minutes total) — What can be reviewed?
ACTIVITY #2 (25 minutes) – Comparing 3 Reviews
INTRODUCTION: We’ve now seen how broad the list is when it comes to what can be reviewed. AND we’ve determined that we need to help readers/viewers/consumers decide if the product/service/policy is worth their time and money.
The instructor will distribute HANDOUT #1 –Compare Three Reviews (attached below) with the following three reviews of the same book. Students will be instructed to read each review silently, and then participate in the instructor’s guided discussion.
INSTRUCTOR’S GUIDE: Comparing Three Reviews
REVIEW #1 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I’m 13 now but I was 12 years old when I first read this book. I’d never really been into books at that point in my life, but my mom gave it to me anyhow and one weekend my cousin was supposed to sleep over but then she couldn’t. I was really bored but then I thought I’d read this book because the main character was around the same age as me so I thought I’d be more interested in it. I got sucked in to a world of exciting magic and wizards and I even reread this book a couple of times, that’s how much I liked it. I would recommend it to anybody.
Q: Can the readers decide if the book is worth their time or money? Why or why not?
A good review is NOT a personal ramble, i.e. your mom got you the book, you don’t like to read, recalling that time your cousin couldn’t sleep over, etc.
This fan review, similar to what one might find on a customer feedback site, is a personal ramble. The writer mentions how old he was when he first read the book, and how shocked he was that his girlfriend hadn’t read it. He says he was “sucked into a world of magic” but doesn’t provide examples of this absorbing world. In the end, he says he would “recommend it to anyone” but doesn’t give any concrete reasons why he’s recommending it beyond the fact that he liked it.
REVIEW #2 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
This novel is about Harry Potter. He is an orphan and when he’s eleven years old he discovers that he’s really a wizard and that when he was younger an evil wizard killed his parents and tried to kill Harry too but Harry survived. Harry gets invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He makes friends with other students and meets many creatures in the wizard world and has some trouble with the school’s headmaster and then gets into a battle with the evil wizard who killed his parents. This is a very exciting book and I really think everybody will like it.
Q: Can the readers decide if the book is worth their time or money? Why?
A good review is NOT simply a summary of the story – and that’s the biggest beginner’s error, i.e. just giving a kind of “book report” of what happened.
Q: Why isn’t a summary enough? Maybe I already like other books about wizards so shouldn’t this summary be enough for me to take the reviewer’s advice to read the book? No! It’s a book about wizards but what if it’s a poorly written book about wizards?! Won’t I feel like I wasted my time and my money after I read it?
REVIEW #3 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (book 1) by J.K. Rowling
Although this novel is aimed at young teen readers, children and adults alike will enjoy this delightful adventure from the award-winning British author J.K. Rowling. After years of neglect at the hands of his aunt and uncle, young orphan Harry Potter suddenly learns he is a wizard and must attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Most surprising of all, Harry learns he is a legend in the witch world because he survived an attack years ago by an evil sorcerer. And so the fun begins, with Harry going off to a magical school filled with enchantment, suspense and danger galore! Rowling creates a range of intriguing characters, from Harry’s new boarding school friends to a cast of creepy wizard-world creatures. Some of those characters may be a little too creepy for very young readers but overall, the storyline manages to be funny, suspenseful, scary, and inspiring – all without ever feeling like the plot is confusing or unfocused. The dialogue is fresh and unique and Rowling writes riveting and imaginative adventure scenes. (You’ll love the magical game of Quidditch and wish you had a flying broom so you could play, too!) This novel is a little over 300 pages long but don’t be surprised if you find yourself reading it all in one sitting because you can’t wait to see what happens next — especially when young Harry finds himself facing an old enemy in an epic battle of good versus evil! Rating: 5 out of 5
Q: Can the readers decide if the book is worth their time or money? Why?
The instructor will lead students through the review and ask them to identify the following passages:
- A brief summary of the story as well as the suggested age range for the reader, e.g. aimed at young teens but points out adults will like it too.
- The genre of the book (adventure)
- The tone (“suspenseful” but also moments where it’s funny and inspiring)
- Memorable elements such as “creepy creatures … and a magical game calledQuidditch.”
- No spoilers! It hints at an epic battle Harry seems unlikely to win but doesn’t reveal ifor how the hero pulls it off.
- Also notice that even though the reviewer likes the book, the review still points outsomething that was a negative, i.e. Some of the characters may be too creepy for young children.
o Q: Do you think it is a good idea to add negatives and positives? WHY? Is anything ever really all good or all bad? If your review doesn’t have some balance, then readers think you’re writing a “love letter,” or a total slam piece.
- Finally, it ends up with a very clear recommendation: The book is so good you won’t be able to put it down.
- Many reviews even include a rating system, such as 5 out of 5 stars. TAKE-AWAY: Details are crucial to back up the critic’s opinion.
LECTURE Part II — IDENTIFYING “FEATURES & BENEFITS” (25 minutes)
So far, we’ve defined reviews as critical evaluations, and, we’ve learned that anything available for public consumption can be the subject of a review. We’ve also read three very different reviews of the same book and evaluated whether the information in each review would help the reader/viewer decide if the product provided good value for their time and money.
Q: Consider more specifically the kind of information readers/viewers need to decide if a product is a good value for their investment of time and money.
- Specific details about the positive features that contribute to a product’s value.
- Specific details about what the product lacks in terms of value for time/money.
- Whether the product “makes good” on promises, e.g. If a movie is billed as a comedy, does it make youlaugh? If a vacation spot is advertised as a luxury resort, does it pamper guests with opulent spaces, extravagant amenities and top-of-the-line service? If a public policy is billed as positive change for the community, can you quantify how many people it will truly help, and precisely how the policy will improve lives?
Analysis and interpretation.
o Scholarly examination of the content.
o Explanation/ educational information to help readers understand the product. o Comparison/contrast to similar products.
o Context to understand the product in relation to the marketplace.
Q: It’s easy to think about features and benefits when you talk about a tangible product – for instance, a car. What are some of the features of a car? What are the benefits of the feature?
Examples: FEATURE—DUAL-SIDE AIR BAGS BENEFIT – It’s a safer car. FEATURE—FUEL-EFFICIENT BENEFIT – Eco-friendly and economical
Movies, books, CDs, TV shows – they’re all products, too, and they also have FEATURES & BENEFITS. Your REVIEW can provide valuable information about the features of a product and whether those features provide the benefits they promise.
BUT . . . when talking about “features & benefits,” only offer information upon which the reader/viewer can act.
Q: Which of these comments provides specific feedback on the features of a fiction novel?
1. The plot wasn’t bad but I just wasn’t “feeling it.”
2. The plot has holes but the writer is true to herself as an artist.
3. The plot felt juvenile and was a poor imitation of Harry Potter.
4. While the plot was original, the author spent the majority of the time providing lengthy descriptions of details of the setting, many of which were unnecessary to understanding the plot. It became distracting and the time could have been better spent providing dialogue or internal thoughts for better indirect characterization of the protagonist and antagonist.
Comment #4 provides specific feedback about features of the writing. Other comments are vague, colloquial, and open to interpretation. What does it mean to “be true to yourself as an artist”? Does comment #3 give examples to show what makes the novel “a poor imitation of Harry Potter”? We’re all likely to interpret poetic and abstract comments differently.
You must specifically describe features and benefits in order for your review to be useful as a critical evaluation. Don’t simply describe something as “cool” or “boring.” Provide readers with concrete descriptions and precise examples of how the product succeeds or fails in achieving its promised benefits.
Assessment (Homework assignment)—(5 minutes-explanation)
INTRODUCTION: To provide students with practice identifying the features and benefits of items before writing a review, the instructor will lead students through the first category on HANDOUT #2 –PRODUCT FEATURES WORKSHEET (attached).
Students will complete HANDOUT #2-PRODUCT FEATURES WORKSHEET as a homework assignment.
NOTE: This worksheet may serve as the basis for a later assignment in which a student writes a review for a specific product.
INSTRUCTIONS: Complete WORKSHEET as homework. Think specifically about the features, benefits and drawbacks of each category, to help consumers weigh a product’s value.
For each category, determine a specific brand, e.g. For Products, you may describe the features and benefits of an iPhone; or a specific brand of cosmetic product (L’Oreal lipstick, Vidal Sassoon extra- hold hairspray, etc.). For Travel, you might choose the specific location such as Disneyworld. For Public Space, you might choose the specific location such as Central Park.
Gina Catanzarite © 2013 All Rights Reserved