Ideas for Integrating Media Literacy
Ideas for intergrating media literacy are organized by grade levels. The 12 Basic Ways to Integrate Media Literacy and Critical Thinking into Any Curriculum booklet is applicable to all grade levels.
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Ideas for Incorporating Media Literacy Strategies for All Grades (General Critical Thinking Skills)
- Analyze nutritional claims in advertising and their implications (like "part of a nutritious breakfast," "light" or "low calorie").
- Discuss editing techniques and special camera effects used in TV commercials (can a toy really do that, etc.) and TV programs (what would happen if a person did that in real life?), and camera techniques or airbrushing in print advertising (is that a real person? does her face really look like that?).
- Encourage children to think about what the advertising message really says (and doesn't say) about the product and what it does or what comes with it or the evidence that it really works, compared to what is implied about the product in the advertisement.
- Identify and discuss the use of "puffery" to make products look better in advertisements, including the use of sound effects, "makeup" for food products, enhanced colors, elaborate backgrounds, etc.
- Point out the use of celebrities in advertising to give products credibility and attract attention.
- Discuss distortions of reality in the media (especially in movies and TV programs) (e.g., Lassie running into a burning house to save someone, tarantulas shown as dangerously poisonous, serious car accidents in which no one is hurt, victims of crime shown as mostly white people).
- Discuss the financial basis for commercial television (audiences are sold to advertisers), movies, the internet, public television, and other media.
- Point out the "formal features" of each medium (special visual and auditory effects), including laugh tracks, sound effects, music, selectivity in camera shots and angles, etc. to create specific expectations and emotions (and if possible, give children the opportunity to create their own video programs using these same techniques).
- Discuss the implied messages about different groups of people in the media (e.g., females, people of color, elderly people) both by the ways in which they are portrayed and also by their absence from much of the media.
- Discuss how problems are solved on TV programs and in movies (often through violence) or in advertising (usually through the purchase of a product) and discuss other ways the problems might have been resolved.
Ideas for Incorporating Media Literacy Strategies for Early Elementary Grades (and above)
- Show TV commercials and play "guess what they're selling."
- Have children find examples of advertising in the classroom (e.g., on T-shirts, lunchboxes, sneakers).
- Read product packages, looking for certain words (fruit, new, sugar, fat, free), discussing the differences in certain spellings of the same word (fruit vs. froot, light vs. lite).
- Read stories and comics that also appear as cartoons or programs or movies, discussing how they are different in different media.
- Use products and product claims to practice categorization skills (developing categories of products, what is violence, what is fruit - should you include fruit snacks, fruit "drinks"?).
- Practice estimation, construction of bar charts, comparisons of more and less by analyzing different actions and characters on TV or in movies (e.g., acts of violence by good guys vs. bad guys; counting the people of color compared to white people) or in advertising (e.g., how many commercials there are an hour, on different types of programs.)
Ideas for Incorporating Media Literacy Strategies for Late Elementary Grades (and above)
- Read and interpret the disclaimers in TV commercials.
- Write about different print pictures, passing the pictures around from child to child, and then comparing answers to see that different interpretations can be made of the same picture.
- Write new endings for TV programs or movies, or write scripts for TV commercials advertising a new product.
- Create bar charts comparing the "world" of TV to the real world (for different races, ages, genders, occupations).
- Find and analyze percentages reported on products and in advertising (e.g., 5% fruit juice; four out of five doctors).
- Keep activity logs for time spent using different forms of media vs. doing other activities (e.g., doing homework, talking with parents, doing physical exercise) and summarize with bar or circle charts for individuals and class as a whole.
Ideas for Incorporating Media Literacy Strategies for Middle School Grades (and above)
- Analyze descriptors (adverbs, adjectives) used to describe different products or people.
- Compare the same current events stories covered in different media (TV, newspapers, magazines, radio) and analyze how the information is presented differently.
- Write scripts for TV commercials or programs, or new endings for existing programs.
- Write and produce a TV commercial or print advertisement.
- Discuss the history of the introduction of television and other media into our culture, with key events that have influenced other historical events and issues (e.g., politics).
- Analyze the cities and parts of the country or world that are most often
shown on television compared to those that are never shown, and discuss how
realistically they are shown, and what people from other countries would think
about Americans if they only "knew" us through television and movies.
- Conduct frequency counts of various aspects of media content, summarizing by different types of media (e.g., amount of violence, amount of advertising), using geometry to calculate area of coverage for print media.
- Calculate size distortions and other exaggerations in the media by computing proportions.
- Consider statistics that are left out to distort perception.
- Use excerpts and ideas from some of the science oriented programs (e.g. Bill Nye the Science Guy, National Geographic, Kratt's Creatures ) to introduce topics and generate discussion.
- Analyze unrealistic claims and portrayals shown in the media from a scientific
standpoint (e.g., distortions in physical abilities, consequences of a fistfight).
- Analyze drug, nutrition, and health messages in TV programs, magazine articles, and advertising.
- Analyze the body shapes and weights of leading media and sports celebrities with respect to what is normal and healthy, including issues of eating disorders.
Ideas for Incorporating Media Literacy Strategies for High School Grades
- Get previews of scripts, and follow them as programs air.
- Analyze slang terms and implied messages of verbal content in the media.
- Use the internet to access information for a research paper, discussing how to judge the validity of information from various sources on the internet (and in other media).
- Write opinion pieces about different media issues (media effects, government regulation, etc.).
- Compare and contrast a film and its original script.
Analyze the Nielsen ratings, or conduct own phone survey of TV viewing and compute results.
- Follow current events on the news, comparing different media in the nature of the coverage and implications about different cultures and countries.
- Analyze the role of the media in political campaigns and government functioning.
- Compare media use and availability in different countries, and discuss the
implications for the country's population and place in the world order.
Use physics to analyze distortions in the size and shape of products and other content in media (e.g., making dinosaurs look enormous, making small toys look larger than they really are).
Conduct experiments to see if advertising claims are true about various products.
Conduct chemical analyses of products advertised in the media (foods, vitamins, soda, drugs).
Analyze use of color, lighting, scenery to create specific moods and impressions.
Analyze the different musical instruments and types of music used in advertising on TV and radio, and discuss the moods and images they create.
Analyze how lyrics may influence perceptions of reality. Example, what is "Love" according to popular lyrics?
Analyze claims and demonstrations of exercise and fitness products in the media, what is desirable and what is healthy.
Discuss how various media (e.g., television) have changed the rules of various sports, and how sports are reported.
12 Basic Ways to Integrate Media Literacy and Critical Thinking
into Any Curriculum
By Cyndy Scheibe and Faith Rogow
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, critically evaluate, and produce communication in a variety of forms. At Project Look Sharp we define "media" very broadly to incllude books, newspapers, magazines, radio television, movies, videos, billboards, recorded music, video games, and the Internet.
Media literacy education began in the 1970s with an emphasis on protection (from the so-called "evil effects" of media) and discrimination (between so-called "good" and "bad" media content); most media literacy materials and initiatives were aimed at parents. Since then, there has been a shift toward an emphasis on media literacy as empowerment (stressing critical thinking and production skills); more materials are now aimed at schools and teachers. The empowerment model emphasizes the political, social, and economic implications of media messages and stresses the importance of using media effectively and wisely.
This information is designed for teachers and support staff at all grade levels who are interested in using media literacy in their classroom curricula. The principles are based on teh concept of weaving media literacy training into the curriculum whenever and wherever possible throughout the school year. We feel that this approach is much more effective than simply treating media literacy as a special, isolated topic and may better meet the needs of teachers who are already overwhelmed with teh demands of a full curriculum.
The following 12 principles are general guidelines for thinking about ways to integrate media literacy into any curricular area. For each principle, media literacy can be incorporated through the use and analysis of existing media content (as illustration material, material to critique, etc.) and/or through media production (creating new messages using print, audio, video or digital media). The activities listed for each principle are meant as examples only. Following the same general ideas, you may think of additional activities that meet the needs of your class or curricular area. We encourage you to share your ideas and experiences with us as you build media literacy into your classroom curriculum.
- Use media to practice general observation, critical thinking, analysis,
perspective-taking, and production skills by encouraging students to think
critically about information presented in any media message (including the
information from their textbooks or the popular media they use at home) pointing
out ways in which media messages might be interpreted differently by people
from different backgrounds or groups fostering observation and general memory
skills by asking students to look for specific things when they view videos
or read print material, and then asking them about those things afterwards
allowing students to go beyond the curricular issue at hand to identify and
comment on incidental aspects of a media message (e.g., the characteristics
of the people presenting the material, the techniques used to attract attention,
and the ways in which advertising and product messages intrude into other
types of media content) fostering creative skills through encouraging the
production of media messages about a topic.
- Use media to stimulate interest in a new topic by showing an exciting or
familiar video clip or reading a short book or story (fiction or nonfiction)
about the topic having students work in small groups to read, analyze, and
discuss a controversial magazine, newspaper, or online article about the topic
using a short video, magazine illustration, or brief article to stimulate
discussion, encouraging students to express what they already know or their
opinion about a topic showing students how to search for information about
the topic on the Internet encouraging students to plan and design a media
product (montage of pictures, a video, a newspaper or magazine report) about
the topic for other students to view.
- Identify ways in which students may be already familiar with a topic through
media by giving examples from popular media content to illustrate what students
might already know about a topic or things they might be familiar with that
relate to the topic drawing links between the way a topic is typically treated
academically and how it might be used in popular media (e.g., written poetry
vs. song lyrics or advertising jingles) clarifying the way specific terminology
related to the topic might be used differently in an academic sense than it
might be in the popular culture building on the intuitive knowledge students
have gained from media about the content area (e.g., about story and character
development, problem solving, terminology, rhyming).
- Use media as a standard pedagogical tool by providing information about
the topic through a variety of different media sources (books, newspaper/magazine
articles, instructional videos, websites), comparing the usefulness of different
media, and addressing conflicting information that may come from different
sources using media to convey information more richly and effectively than
would be possible with a standard classroom discussion or demonstration encouraging
students to follow (and write about) current events reported in the media
about a topic using media content as assigned homework (reading material,
searching for information about a topic in newspapers or magazines, etc.)
encouraging students to share information in class that they have gotten from
various media sources (inside or outside of class).
- Identify erroneous beliefs about a topic fostered by media content by analyzing
media content that misrepresents a topic or presents false or misleading information
about a topic identifying misleading ways in which data are presented in the
media (citing statistics incorrectly, drawing false conclusions from data,
presenting unclear figures and tables, etc.) identifying false beliefs held
by students about a topic that may have come from fictional media content
encouraging students to create their own false or misleading media messages
(PSAs, commercials, digitally manipulated print advertisements, etc.) and
then having them present the message and "debunk" it for the other
students in the class.
- Develop an awareness of issues of credibility and bias in the media by teaching
how to recognize the source (speaker) of a media message and the purpose of
producing the message, and how that might influence the objective nature of
information clarifying the distinction between fiction and nonfiction in different
types of media reporting on a specific topic identifying ways to decide what
are credible sources about this topic within different types of media (e.g.,
books, magazines/journals, the Internet) emphasizing the importance of getting
information from many different sources and how to give weight to different
pieces of information (e.g., if the information is based on research or other
evidence vs. personal opinion) producing media messages about this topic,
emphasizing ways in which bias can be introduced through the words and tone
used to present the topic, sources of information used, what is selected to
be presented and what is left out, etc. exploring how media messages reflect
the identity of the creator or presenter of the message, and how the same
message might come across differently if it were presented or created by someone
of a different background, age, race, gender, etc.
- Compare the ways different media present information about a topic by contrasting
ways in which information about a topic might be presented in a documentary,
a TV news report, a newspaper article, an advertisement, or an educational
children's program about a specific topic (what is emphasized, what is left
out, what techniques are used to present the information, etc.) comparing
the amount of time/space devoted to a topic in different media from the same
time period (and discussing why the difference occurs) analyzing different
conclusions that might be drawn by people exposed to information presented
in one medium vs. another discussing the strengths of different media to best
get across a particular message producing reports about the topic using different
forms of media, or manipulating the same information and visuals to convey
- Analyze the effect that specific media have had on a particular issue or
topic historically and/or across different cultures by discussing the role
that the media have played (if any) in the history of this topic (i.e., ways
in which the media have changed the nature of this issue or topic) discussing
how people of earlier generations might have learned about this topic, what
sources of information were available to them compared to sources available
to us now, and what difference that would make in people's lives exploring
the level of knowledge about a topic in different cultures and how that knowledge
is influenced by the media available identifying media forms that are dominant
or available in other cultures that may be seldom used in the United States,
and vice versa.
- Use media to build and practice specific curricular skills by using print
media (books, newspapers, magazines) to practice reading and comprehension
skills substituting excerpts from existing media content for standard story
problems or practice examples (e.g., to practice math skills, to correct grammar
or spelling, to identify adjectives or adverbs) using media production to
practice specific skills (e.g., grammar, poetry, math used in timing and proportions
of media messages, scientific principles involved in calculating size, distance,
and lighting) preparing examples for practicing skills that include media
literacy information (e.g., comparing the lengths of news stories about different
topics, computing the Nielsen ratings for different shows, analyzing the ways
in which two products are described in advertisements) fostering computer
skills by encouraging students to search for information on the Internet,
develop multimedia projects, and use computers to present information about
- Use media to express students' opinions and illustrate their understanding
of the world by encouraging students to analyze media messages for distortions
and bias issues of particular interest to them (e.g., messages about sex and
gender, messages promoting harmful behaviors, race and age distortions in
the "media world" compared to the real world, and advertising targeted
to people their age) encouraging students to express their feelings and knowledge
through media messages that they produce encouraging thoughtful critiques
of various media productions promoting discussion of different points of view
about popular media articles and productions.
- Use media as an assessment tool by having students summarize their knowledge
about a topic in a final report that employs other forms of media beyond the
standard written report (e.g., computer- illustrated reports, audio or video
productions, photographic illustrations) encouraging students to work in groups
to illustrate their understanding of a topic by creating mock media productions
(e.g., newspapers, advertisements, news reports, live or videotaped skits)
presenting, at the end of a unit, a media message (e.g., from a newspaper,
magazine, or video) that contains false information about the topic and seeing
if students can identify what is correct and what is incorrect in the message.
- Use media to connect students to the community and work toward positive change by finding collaborative possibilities for projects with community institutions (museums, libraries, galleries) that may involve students analyzing or creating media messages having students contact community service agencies related to the curricular area and offer their assistance with production (e.g., photography, video, design and layout, or computer skills) to help with agency projects encouraging older students to teach production techniques or media literacy principles to younger students in the same schoolusing media forums (e.g., local community access TV, newspapers, and magazines) to communicate messages or share research projects about the topic.