WT1 SL S3 (CK)

This sample written task is written by Michael Michell, who teaches at the International School of Amsterdam. The task is the product of a greater unit on the portrayal of women and sex in advertising. It takes its inspiration from Jean Kilbourne's 'Killing Us Softly'. Students watched this polemic presentation and discussed many of the ads that it features. Students explored the defining characteristics of opinion columns and more specifically the columns of Maureen Dowd. You can see that he imitates her writing style or 'voice' very well. 

After you view Killbourne's presentation and read the written task, assess his work according to the assessment criteria. Then compare your marks to the examiner's marks offered below. How do your marks differ from the examiner's?

Reminder: Written task 1 is not an essay. The written task presented here is an opinion column, which is very different from an essay. Opinion columns usually comment on a newsworthy event or story. They contain anecdotes and have narrative voice. They contain hard facts, humor and often a call to action. For more information on opinion columns see the opinion column page under text types.  

Primary source

Killing Us Softly
Jean Killbourne


Sample written task

 Written task SL Sample 3 (CK)

Out of the mouths of babes
Michael Michell 
International School of Amsterdam


For Part 2 of my English course we studied how women are portrayed by the media. We began by viewing Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 3 and reading Kilbourne’s book The More You Subtract, The More You Add. I refer to statistics and facts from this sources in the written task. 

The Calvin Klein ad pictured here, the one that I refer to in my written task, is one I also used for an “ad critique presentation” (IB further oral activity). We spent time in class asking ourselves who was responsible for several problems, including the social construction of gender, beauty and sexuality to the often dangerous behaviors advertisements seem to promote (eating disorders, objectification of women, violence against women, hyper-masculinity, and others). We also discussed ways in which individuals and groups can resist these problems and promote social change.

An opinion column seemed to be the ideal forum for me to write.  I wanted to move from the specific problems I saw in this ad and speak to the larger issues it points to.  I read many writers of Op-Eds and decided to model mine after New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd because her voice combines comic elements with biting commentary.  Her columns, like many other Op-Ed writers, are grounded in the writer’s personal life. It contains not only her opinion, but many newsworthy statistics and a call to action.

I believe that have met several of the learning outcomes for Part 2. I have examined different forms of communication within the media, by looking at a range of texts, from ads and opinion columns to documentaries and counter ads. I have also shown an awareness of the potential for ideological influence of the media, by looking at both sexist ads and counter-propaganda, such as Kilbourne’s speech. 


Jhally, Sut. Director. (2000).  Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women featuring Jean Kilbourne. New York: Media Education Foundation.

Kilbourne, Jean. (2000).  The more you subtract, the more you add: Cutting girls down to size.  In Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel.  Charmichael, CA: Touchstone Press.

Written task

My child walked into the study last night while I was hammering away on a column about W.’s inability to use the English language in a speech he delivered to the National Education Association conference this past weekend.

“Mommy, look at me.  I’m beautiful.”

I turned around, reading glasses perched on the end of my nose, peering over the top to see my eight-year-old posing, nearly naked, hips jutting provocatively forward and gently sucking a thumb, in one of her father’s dress shirts from the laundry basket and CK written in my red lipstick on the pocket, only one lower button closing the shirt so my baby’s privates were just covered like the proverbial fig leaf.  I was horrified.  Horrified at what she was communicating – already – without awareness.

I shook my head, dismayed, “Daniela, let’s get you into your jammies and off to bed.”  As I walked into her room, I told her how I feel about the advertisement she was mimicking.  I told her about women’s strength and real “girl power.”  And then I helped her change, and read her several pages of Stargirl until she drifted off to sleep.

It is no surprise that Daniela and so many others, especially children and young people, are influenced by the images they see – everywhere and all the time – telling the same stories of beauty:  expose yourself, be thin, be childlike and vulnerable, be sexually available, be like the image you see.  As Daniela gets older she will be socialized to know that girls and women are to be available, to be sexy, to be vulnerable and that boys and men are different:  they are to be hard, powerful, in control, and forceful.

If we believe the statistics, and I do, the consequences for the health, happiness, and welfare for our society are dire:  the average American sees 3,000 advertisements a day, computer retouching of images is so pervasive that no images of human models escape “reworking,” only 5% of American women have body types seen in most advertising, 4 of 5 American women are dissatisfied with their bodies, 5-10 million women struggle with a serious eating disorder, and on and on and on.  The list of consequences is legion.

Who is responsible?  The ad agencies?  They own a share, but we are all responsible.  We buy the magazines.  We watch the television.  We purchase the products.  But we have choices.  We don’t have to buy products that exploit and manipulate.

More importantly, we can and should communicate to companies directly about what we think and feel in response to their advertisements, and how they will affect our choices as consumers.  For many readers this may seem daunting.  It does take commitment and effort, but there are resources that can help.  For guidance on writing such letters, as well as a rich body of information about media issues, visit the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting website (http://www.fair.org).  For a superb archive of actual letters praising and condemning specific advertisements and ad campaigns, visit the About-Face website (http://www.about-face.org).  In many cases, response letters are included, and in a few of these we see how the consumer has affected change.

In his 1950 Nobel acceptance speech, American writer William Faulkner said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty, and truth, and compassion against injustice, and lying, and greed.  If people all over the world…would do this it would change the Earth.”           

Faulkner’s right.  We can change the world.  But we must “Be the change we seek in the world,” as Gandhi said.

We must act.  We must educate ourselves and each other.  We must educate our children about the images they see.  We must never let a teachable moment pass.  We must never let those images rule our children and us.  We must act – with our voices, with our wallets, with our pens and computers.

Examiner's comments

Criterion A - Rationale - 2 marks

The rationale explains how the task is connected to the coursework.

The rationale explains how the task is connected to the coursework.

Criterion B - Task and content - 8 marks

The content of a task should lend itself well to the type of text that one chooses. The task should demonstrate an understanding of the course work and topics studied. Finally, there should be evidence that the student has understood the conventions of writing a particular text type.

7 out of 8 - This task is very appropriate for the content. The voice of Maureen Dowd has been carefully studied and replicated. You can see the student demonstrating his understanding of the coursework and Jean Killbourne's film. Having said this, the Calvin Klein text is only analyzed in passing. This could have received a little more attention.

Criterion C - Organization - 5 marks

The task is organized effectively and appropriately with a regard for the text type. There must be a sense of coherence.

4 out of 5 - The task moves nicely from an anecdote to a social commentary. It is illustrated effectively with statistics and interesting quotes. It has the structural conventions of an opinion column. Unfortunately, the task falls short of the minimum word count requirement of 800.

Criterion D - Language - 5 marks

The language of the task must be appropriate to the nature of the task. This means that students use an appropriate and effective register and style. Whatever the nature of the task, ideas must be communicated effectively.

5 out of 5 - The choice of vocabulary and the use of syntax are superb! The narrative voice is characteristic of Maureen Dowd.

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