Like a lot of American households, ours is routinely inundated with several tons of mail order catalogues per year, only a third of which have items we’d ever actually think of purchasing.
Mail order catalogues owe their origins to Aaron Montgomery Ward back in 1872. From a simple one-page list of household merchandise and ordering instructions, his first foray into items-by-mail expanded to a fully illustrated book of useful goods for the home and individual and included clothing, tools, furniture and toys. For rural families in particular, the arrival of the catalogue was synonymous with “dream book” and encouraged recipients to speculate about what kinds of fabulous things they would buy if money were truly no object. All of this month’s lesson plans revolve around catalogue purchases and how they can be used to develop plots for video production.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. On average, how many mail-order catalogues does your family receive every week?
2. Which catalogues do you find the most interesting for browsing?
3. How much shopping do you and your family do via mail-order versus in-store shopping?
4. What’s the most unusual item you have ever seen advertised in a mail-order catalogue? What was peculiar about it?
5. Every Christmas, Neiman Marcus publishes a fabulous “wish book” of ostentatiously priced items such as private tropical islands, his and hers submarines, and lavishly appointed private jets. If you were to write an original ad for the most ridiculously priced item imaginable, what would it be?
6. Have you ever been disappointed by a mail-order purchase? If so, why? Did you try to return it? Why or why not?
7. What’s the last thing you purchased from a catalogue?
8. What’s the next thing you’re going to purchase from a catalogue?
Your Assignment: The directions for this batch of lesson plans are all exactly the same. Specifically, your task is to choose any of the pictured catalogue products and develop a one-page film or TV show synopsis based on the following checklist:
Who is the purchaser of the item and what is his/her motivation? For instance, is it bought for personal use or as a gift to someone else?
If it’s intended to be a present, who is the recipient, what is the occasion, and what is his/her reaction upon opening it?
How or why will this product become the plot’s anchor point around which everything else revolves?
When and where will the story take place?
What genre (comedy, drama, supernatural, etc.) will it follow?
The Garden Yeti
Night Vision Goggles
Dr. Who USB Hub
Inflatable Unicorn Horn
The Toilet Monster
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 144 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.