Lesson Plans

Put the VT to work in your classroom

Words That Sell

Lesson Question:

How can the Visual Thesaurus help students evaluate the messages that brand names are intended to communicate?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students are asked to evaluate particular brand names that were developed from words in the English language. Students are then asked to develop their own original brand names to sell products that they feel have been poorly named.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  1. evaluate some existing brand names
  2. analyze (with the help of the VT) how words' definitions, associations and connotations can communicate a message about a product
  3. develop original brand names that use words to inspire consumers to buy particular products


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • various popular magazines (optional)

Warm Up:

Writing a journal entry:
  • In their journals or notebooks, have students respond in writing to the following prompt: "Pretend that you have just won A NEW CAR on your favorite game show. The game show host offers you a choice of a Ford Focus, Ford Fusion, or Ford Freestyle. You've never heard of any of these car names, so you are forced to choose on 'brand name' alone. Which car would you choose and why? What good associations with that brand name led you to this choice? Or, what bad associations with the other brand names led you to avoid choosing those cars?"
  • After students finish writing, have them share their car choices with the class and discuss how their personal associations with the different brand names may have influenced their decisions. For example, some students might have chosen the Freestyle because their associations with "freedom" or "style," while other students may have chosen the Fusion simply because they liked the sound of its name.


Defining the words behind the brands with the VT:
  • Display the VT webs for the words "focus," "fusion," and "freestyle" on the white board and point out the noun definitions for the words that appear first in the meaning lists on the right side of the screen [i.e., "focus" meaning "the concentration of attention or energy on something"; "fusion" meaning "an occurrence that involves the production of a union"; and "freestyle" meaning "a race (as in swimming) in which each contestant has a free choice of the style to use].
Analyzing brand communication:
  • Explain to students that one responsibility of a marketer is to come up with brand names that will sell a company's or a client's products based on consumers' associations with particular words or names.
  • Have a brief discussion where students speculate--based on the words' definitions--about why car marketers chose to use the words focus, fusion, and freestyle as car brand names. Do the literal definitions of the words change students' associations with the different cars? For example, learning that "freestyle" is a type of race could lead students to associate the Freestyle with speed and learning that "fusion" involves the production of a union may make students curious about what is "coming together" in the Ford Fusion.
  • If possible, show students image of the three different Ford cars and discuss whether the cars' images match their names' connotations. Images of the Focus and Fusion are available at fordvehicles.com, while the Freestyle (no longer in production) can be seen on its Wikipedia page.
  • After you have analyzed how the words' meanings were intended to provoke positive feelings and associations with the different Ford products, ask students about why they think all these names begin with the letter "f". Point out that the repetition of the "f" sound with Ford (alliteration) and the two syllable words following Ford are both intended to create a pleasing or catchy sound.
Researching and evaluating brand names:
  • Organize the class into small groups and have each group choose a different product category to research on-line or in magazines in order to evaluate the different brand names in that product category. If students are struggling with identifying a product category, you could suggest one of the following product types: perfume, soap, cosmetics, deodorant, candy, beverages, technology, clothing, pet food, cleaning products, etc.
  • Direct groups to try to choose at least a few brand names for their product category that were developed from English words that could be researched on the VT (e.g., Enigma perfume, Microsoft Excel software, Hefty garbage bags, Origins cosmetics, Polo clothing, etc.).
  • Groups should evaluate the different brand names for their product categories and then choose to present to the class which name they feel is the most effective for selling the type of product they are researching.
  • During group presentations of winning brand names, students should explain what they feel the brand name communicates about their products and why they think the brand names "sound good" as well.
  • If appropriate, groups could also use the Visual Thesaurus to aid them in their presentations to explain the different definitions or connotations associated with a particular word used as a brand name. For example, if a group is arguing that Allure is a better brand name for perfume than Enigma, students could display the two word webs for these names and argue that a word that is associated with "tempting" and "enticing" (i.e., allure) is a better name for a perfume than a word that is associated with "riddles" and "brain teasers" (i.e., enigma).


Developing original brand names:
  • Have students read "professional namer" Nancy Friedman's VT article Think Like a Name Developer to gain additional tips on how to come up with brand names that will effectively sell products.
  • Ask students (individually or in small groups) to develop their own original brand names for existing products that they believe have been poorly named.
  • To help groups get started, have them each think about a word that applies to the product they wish to name. Then, have students use the VT to create a word web for that word to help them explore related words that might work well as brand names. For example, if students are developing a brand name for a shampoo that makes your hair shine, the VT could inspire them to think of "Gleam Shampoo" as a brand name since the word gleam is featured in shine's word web.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Once students have developed original brand names for products, they could expand this project to include by also developing a logo and print ad to help "sell" their products to the class.


  • Groups' evaluations of existing brand names can be assessed based on how well they support their brand name choices by explaining how the brand names' power is derived from word definitions or associations.
  • Students' original brand names can be assessed for creativity and presentation.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Level III [Grades 6-8]

1. Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., establishes tone and mood, uses figurative language, uses sensory images and comparisons, uses a thesaurus to choose effective wording)

Level IV [Grades 9-12]

1. Uses precise and descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas and supports different purposes (e.g., to stimulate the imagination of the reader, to translate concepts into simpler or more easily understood terms, to achieve a specific tone, to explain concepts in literature)

Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Level III [Grade: 6-8]

3. Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics (e.g., magazines, newspapers, dictionaries, schedules, journals, phone directories, globes, atlases, almanacs, technological sources)

4. Determines the appropriateness of an information source for a research topic

Level IV [Grade: 9-12]

2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet)

Standard 9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

Level III [Grade: 6-8]

2. Uses a variety of criteria to evaluate and form viewpoints of visual media (e.g., evaluates the effectiveness of informational media, such as web sites, documentaries, news programs; recognizes a range of viewpoints and arguments; establishes criteria for selecting or avoiding specific programs)

Level IV [Grade: 9-12]

2. Uses a variety of criteria (e.g., clarity, accuracy, effectiveness, bias, relevance of facts) to evaluate informational media (e.g., web sites, documentaries, news programs)

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