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9 lessons to boost media literacy

By Frank Baker 10/31/2016 Literacies Standards

Each year more of our students become tethered to electronic devices for communication, entertainment and information. This connectivity is a channel to knowledge, creativity and collaboration. But these devices also invite a barrage of media messages that students must learn to interpret.   

The challenge for educators is teaching students to apply media literacy — or critical thinking — to all of the messages students are exposed to.

I created the Media Literacy Clearinghouse to help educators find appropriate resources for teaching media literacy within any subject. An Instagram photo, a headline from the morning news, the cover or ad from a magazine, a tweet about last night’s talk show guest — all are fodder for you to use to engage your students. 

Never a better time to teach media literacy

In the United States, we’re in the midst of a unique presidential campaign, one that is using new methods for reaching and influencing the electorate. If you live in one of the so-called battleground states, then you’ve already been bombarded by TV or YouTube ads by super PACs and the candidates themselves. 

Even though many people employ ad blockers or ad skipping TV technology, the web and broadcast industries continue to find new and innovative ways to reach target audiences. That's why the best approach is not protecting students from the messages but engaging them in ad analysis so they understand media literacy.

I use these ads in most of my media literacy workshops to help students better understand how these persuasive messages work — through editing, symbolism, colors and other production techniques.

Here are a few lessons to help students learn to critically analyze media:

  • Select an international news story and have students scour international news sources to locate alternative versions of the same story. Ask them to compare and contrast, and explain how the story was reported and what might have been omitted.
  • Choose a magazine cover illustration (a timely choice would be one of the presidential candidates) and have students deconstruct it. Then assign students to recreate the cover using a digital tool.
  • Contact area TV station sales departments and inquire about ad rates for presidential candidates. Ask students to present the ad rates, and compare and contrast why rates differ from one TV market to another. Have them explore why political action committees pay more for ad time than actual candidates.
  • Have younger students watch holiday toy ads, one that targets boys and one that targets girls. Teach them about deconstructing commercials to detect persuasion techniques used to sell during the holidays.
  • Have students bring in a favorite ad from a magazine or download one from the web.
    Using analysis worksheets from The Media Literacy Clearinghouse, have students create a Prezi or PowerPoint explaining the persuasive and production techniques.
  • Assign students to read a lengthy news story and ask them to create a tweet of the salient points in the article.
  • Remove the caption from a news photo and ask students to conduct a visual literacy “close read.”
  • When teaching with a film, introduce the “languages of film” and assign students one of the languages to use to analyze and interpret.
  • Have students create an instruction manual for a piece of hardware or software, incorporating images.

Media literacy is also an important component of the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students. The Knowledge Constructor standard expects students to evaluate the accuracy, perspective and credibility and relevance of information, media, data other resources. 

To address the Creative Communicator standard, student must create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations and publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.

Finally, the Global Collaborator standard expects students to use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.

Those who control the messages know how to push our buttons — to get us to buy products and vote for candidates. By helping our students to critically assess media messages, we are teaching them to be savvy media consumers.


Frank W. Baker is a K-12 media educator and author of the ISTE book Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom, Second Edition. H created the Media Literacy Clearninghouse in 1998 to help teachers find appropriate resources for teaching about media literacy. 

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