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Making a Public Service Announcement

What is a PSA?

A public service announcement, commonly known by the PSA acronym, is a message spread in the interest of the public. The objectives of PSAs are to raise awareness and change public attitudes, opinions, or even behavior towards an issue. These messages can be instructional, inspirational, or even shocking to elicit emotion and action.

Why Have Your Students Create a PSA?

A PSA can be a very powerful way to heighten awareness on a certain issue. Many PSA campaigns have educated the public or contributed to social change. The number of people who smoke cigarettes has decreased dramatically since the 1960s, not only because of legal restrictions, but also because the general public as a whole has become more aware of the severe health risks. Consider the effects of famous PSA characters on your own life such as Smokey the Bear or McGruff the Crime Dog and slogans like, “Don’t drink and drive” or “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.”

A public service announcement does not need to be a nation-wide endeavor, and can be made in several different types of media. The most commonly used media for PSAs are video on television and the internet, and audio during radio shows or podcasts, but there are many instances of PSAs in print media. On Storyboard That, you can make a digital public service announcement that can be disseminated via email, printed out, or projected during a presentation. You can even add audio!

How to Write a Public Service Announcement

Public service announcements are for the benefit of the public, and usually contain a message that you should take away. What do you want to say? Should you tell a story or make a bold statement? Here are a few steps on how to write a PSA storyboard.

1. Choose an Issue

Select a topic or issue that would benefit the public. This topic may address social or environmental issues such as bullying, littering, or industrial pollution, but also might be on a smaller scale like “push in your chair” or “cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.” Think about what message you want to get across and to whom you are directing this message.

2. Hook Your Audience

A good PSA will be noteworthy for at least one reason. Maybe a PSA will grab attention because of its comedy, shock value, emotionality, or importance to the audience. Make use of the various character positions and expressions to demonstrate an array of emotions. Use eye-catching images in your storyboard cells from the Storyboard That library and Photos For Class, and try not to leave much empty white space. Use dialogue bubbles or other text boxes to explain your message. A very different, but effective, strategy is to limit the text to a single word or slogan, or to leave text out entirely.

3. Get Your Facts Straight

Research the topic as necessary. If you have incorrect information, your message will quickly lose its credibility. Make sure the factual information that you present, such as statistics examples, is correct and relevant. Use a blend of figurative language, images, and jokes to prove a point, but be sure that you are not insinuating untrue things. Choose appropriate scenes, characters, and items that enhance your message.

4. Be Straightforward

Your public service announcement should be clear and concise. Get your point across without dawdling. If you choose to make a more thought-provoking message, you still want your audience to understand after a moment of consideration, rather than spend time puzzling over the higher meaning.

How Can I Use PSAs in the Classroom?

  • Use PSA storyboards as an introduction to a unit on persuasive writing. Public service announcements usually do not have legitimate opposing stances, but many public service announcements want to persuade the audience in some way. Creating a PSA storyboard can help students think about their passions, important issues in our society, and convincing reasons to back up claims.

  • Make storyboards to understand and address contemporary issues in your school, town, country, or world. PSAs can cover numerous serious topics like racism, sex trafficking, drunk driving, drugs, but also smaller concerns in modern life. Here at Storyboard That, we love seeing what the next generation is thinking and how they are going to tackle the problems they are actively inheriting.

  • Use storyboards as a means of planning for video assignments. PSAs are great templates for advertisements, and often occur alongside commercials on TV, on radio, or in print. Storyboarding is very useful when planning for the needs of filming: set, actors, props, etc. The Fridge and The Arrest storyboards above are two examples of storyboards that could be easily turned into a video.

  • For recurring issues in your classroom or a reminder about rules and expectations, a comic strip can make a delightful public service announcement. Sometimes making light of a simple (and potentially important) issue, can make a discussion on it easier to start or even have a bigger impact on students.

  • You or your students can create posters and PSA infographics to hang in the classroom or in the halls of the school to start a movement, like encouraging recycling or reminding their peers about bullying or peer pressure. Often these types of PSAs have a clear statement and call to action, and are made with vibrant, eye-catching colors.

Example PSA Activities

Example Rubric

Public Service Announcement Storyboard
Create a multiple-cell storyboard public service announcement. Public service announcement must address an issue important to students. Make a storyboard that is easy to understand, uses words and pictures effectively to convey a message, and indicates evidence to support the message.
4 Points
3 Points
2 Points
1 Points
Message Clarity
The intended message is clear, poignant, and thought-provoking.
The intended message is easily understood.
The message comes through, but it is not understood right away.
It is difficult to find the meaning or message in the storyboard.
(slogan, dialogue, explanation)
Text is carefully chosen to provide the most impact.
Text is used effectively alone or in conjunction with images.
The included text does not enhance the meaning of the message or the images.
Text is confusing or does not make sense with the message.
Images help to create a strong connection between message and viewer.
Scenes, characters, or items are appropriate for the message. The images are used effectively alone or in conjunction with the text.
Scenes, characters, and items are appropriate for the message.
Images are confusing or do not make sense with the message.
Reasons or evidence are very convincing. This storyboard has changed my thinking or inspired me to action.
Reasons or evidence are convincing. It is easy to see why one should think or do what is indicated in the storyboard.
There are some reasons or evidence provided, but they are not all convincing.
Little to no evidence to support the message is provided.

Follow-Up Discussion Questions

Showcase or present a public service announcement storyboard. Discuss the effectiveness of the various elements. Use some of these questions to guide the discussion.

  1. What message should you take away? Is the message presented explicitly or implicitly?

  2. Who is the intended audience? Where would you post or present this public service announcement?

  3. Do you believe it? Do you understand why you should [follow the message]?

  4. Do you have an emotional reaction or a personal connection? What in the PSA makes you feel that way?

  5. Are you convinced by this PSA? What are the reasons or evidence, if any, provided on the storyboard?

  6. What would make this a stronger PSA?

  7. How else could you present the same message in a different way? (i.e. use comedy as opposed to emotional connection) Which approach is more effective?

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