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Mail Box Before E-commerce: A History of Canadian 
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Fashion to Furnishings
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Catalogues (1880-1975)
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Catalogue Lingo Past and Present

Social Studies, Language Arts

Change; Writing for a specific audience


  • Mail-order catalogues on this site
  • Contemporary catalogues brought in by students
  • Overhead projector and screen (optional)


  1. Ask each student to bring in one or more mail-order catalogues from home. Before class, print out a few pages from one or more historic catalogues, or set up a projector and screen.
  2. First, as a class, look at a few pages from one of the historical catalogues and select one item, such as a pair of shoes, a bike, or a stove; the item selected must also appear in modern catalogues.
  3. Next, select a similar item from a contemporary catalogue.
  4. Write out the texts accompanying each item on your whiteboard or project them onto a screen.
  5. As a class, compare the way both texts are written; look at word count, sentence structure, vocabulary and expressions used, and content.
  6. Ask each student to choose an item that they own and to write text for it that may have appeared in a catalogue in the past.
  7. Ask a few students to read out what they have written.
  8. Optionally, ask students to choose an historic item and write text that would accompany it in a contemporary catalogue.
  9. To extend this activity into an art activity, ask your students to design a catalogue page for the old catalogue using a modern-day item of their choice.


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