Purpose: Students recognize the techniques that speakers and writers sometimes use to mislead their audience.
1. Students learn the importance of listening critically by discussing incidents of miscommunication.
Share with students an anecdote from your own experience—preferably humorous—in which a miscommunication between two people caused a misunderstanding. Have students share similar experiences.
Ask students what caused the misunderstandings. (Student responses should include incomprehensible/vague vocabulary and misinterpretation of meaning.) Point out that what is said by one person is not always what is heard by another. Explain that critical listening can help people avoid such problems.
Explain to students that listening critically often means filtering out the tone, or the way things are said, in order to understand the information being conveyed. Critical listening means judging the validity of a speaker’s words and message. Say, “You listen critically in order to analyze and evaluate a speaker’s words.”
2. Students identify several techniques of misleading communication.
Elicit from students a definition of the word “ambiguous.” Lead students to the understanding that when something is ambiguous, its meaning is difficult to understand. Explain that speakers and writers often want to either soften the reality of what they are saying or make the information appropriate for a particular audience. Sometimes, they choose to use ambiguous words or phrases that may result in misleading communication. Discuss the difference between ambiguous messages, misleading communication, and lying.
Distribute a copy of the “Critical Listening: Misleading Communication” activity sheet to each student. Ask volunteers to read the definitions of the techniques. Discuss the definitions with the class and answer any questions students may have about them.
3. Students offer examples of misleading communication.
Have students recall the experiences class members shared at the beginning of this activity. Have students use the activity sheet to identify and share what caused each misunderstanding.
4. Students recognize the reasons why people might intentionally use misleading messages.
As a class, brainstorm when and why people might knowingly apply one of these techniques. Ask:
- Who might try to use an opinion as a fact? (Possible responses: a politician trying to convince people to support a policy, a teen asking for permission to stay out later than usual, television and radio commercials.)
- When might someone use negative or positive connotations? (Students may respond: when a person is trying to persuade through appeals to emotion rather than logic.)
- Why might someone use euphemisms? (Students may say: to avoid a negative reaction that a more accurate word might cause; for example, using “collateral damage” instead of “civilian deaths.”)
- When might a person use inflated language? (Students may respond: to fit in with a style of language from a certain profession or discipline, to try to sound impressive.)
5. Students briefly review the definitions of the four techniques.
Call on volunteers to name and define the four techniques of misleading communication in their own words.